IB Extended Essay: To what extent is it possible to speculate on the intentions of Master John and Duncan Grant in their depictions of Mary I and Vanessa Bell?

Today I thought I’d post something rather different, my IB Extended Essay, which I wrote in the summer of 2015. I began writing this essay with the intention of reading History of Art at university, and I’m pleased to say that writing this essay helped to confirm my decision; I will start my course in October 2017.

The two portraits examined in my essay come from two periods of British history that I find the most interesting. Writing about two portraits painted 400 years apart may seem like a curious task. However, the more I looked at each paintings and researched their context; I was able to examine the extent to which the role of portraiture reflects the society in which it was painted.



The aim of this essay is to investigate to what extent it is possible to speculate on the intentions of Master John and Duncan Grant in their depictions of Mary I1 and Vanessa Bell2. Visits to the National Portrait Gallery, where both works are on display, allowed me to make primary, visual observations on the two portraits in question: Queen Mary I, by Master John, 1544 and Vanessa Bell, by Duncan Grant, 1918. I combined these observations with research surrounding the context in which the two works were produced, including a discussion with Charlotte Bolland,3 in order to develop my investigation.

The scope of this essay is only concerned with the two portraits in question, and not the wider intentions of the respective artists. Although the two respective contexts are explored, this investigation is limited to the two individual pieces, and so does not include analysis of work by other contemporary artists, nor other artworks by the same artists. 
The essay concludes that although both artists intended to convey a relationship involving the sitter, the long period between the two portraits draws attention not only to the different type of relationship, but also to the change in the role of the artist. However, there are challenges when speculating on the artists’ intentions: a lack of historical information about Master John and the difficulty in understanding the relationship between Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Despite the apparent visual connections between the two portraits, Master John’s passive role in depicting the reconciliation between Mary I and her father, Henry VIII, is a contrast to Duncan Grant’s intimate role in reinforcing his love for Vanessa Bell.


Click on the link below to read the essay in full.



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