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Portrait of an Unknown Woman

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  3,164 ratings  ·  348 reviews

The year is 1527. The great portraitist Hans Holbein, who has fled the reformation in Europe, is making his first trip to England under commission to Sir Thomas More. In the course of six years, Holbein will become a close friend to the More family and paint two nearly identical family portraits. But closer examination of the paintings reveals that the second holds severa

Kindle Edition, 464 pages
Published (first published 2006)
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I have a deep interest in Thomas More's family, so when I saw this novel about his foster daughter Margaret Giggs Clement, I had to check it out. Unfortunately, although the author has given Giggs an engaging character and she deftly plumbs the contradictions posed by More's humanist and anti-heretical personae, the book quickly becomes a farrago of melodrama and conspiracy theories.

At times, Bennett's historical inaccuracies and stylistic descent into the literary equivalent of Cheez Whiz were
Sep 09, 2010 Hannah rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Tracy Chevalier
Rating clarification: 4.5 stars

Portrait of an Unknown Woman is an intelligent, thoughtful and interesting historical novel which weaves a vivid, "what-if" fictional story around the beautiful and lush 2nd portrait of the Thomas More family as painted by Hans Holbein.

The story primarily focuses on Thomas More's foster daughter, Meg Griggs, but Bennett also gives the reader a realistic peak into what Thomas More and Hans Holbein might also have been like had we been privy to their inner-most thoug
Ever wonder about the real story behind the Princes in the Tower? Portrait of an Unknown Woman presents one version that is plausible, even probable. Thomas More, a powerful and influential part of Henry VIII's court, his family, and Hans Holbein are brought to life again and shown with both shining perfection as well as dismal human failings. The mystery of the ultimate fates of the Princes in the Tower is deftly told, incorporating many historic figures, but primarily focuses on the perspectiv ...more
Stephanie Mason
Fantastic historical fiction! This poignant story is a small glimpse into the life of Sir Thomas More and his family during one of the most turbulent times in Western history. There are so many elements to this book, my mind can't leave it alone. First there's the history, a time period I already find fascinating mainly because of how it changed the world/culture of religion. The amazing way in which Vanora Bennett presents the story allows the reader to see both sides of the controversial issue ...more
Great read, I'm a huge fan of historical fiction (Anya Seton, Sarah Dunant, Tracy Chevalier, Katherine McMahon) and this novel did not disappoint. The story is effectively told from a variety of points of view (a young ward of More's called Meg. Holbein).
People have commented that the book is 'boring' - well, it's a pity they're not subtle or sensitive like the plot or the characterisation. It's a slow burner, but then not everything in life should be rushed!
The novel is a fictionalised account
I really loved this book and I totally agree that it was nice to be away from Tudor Court and more on the streets of London. I've not read an awful lot about the Princes of the Tower so I was able to go with that theory for the books sake. Just googled 'John Clement Plantagenet prince' and you get a lot of results linked to Holbeins painting so maybe there is something there. However I'm pretty sure when I went to the Tower of London the tour guide said that they did discover the skeletons of tw ...more

I enjoyed this perspective on those crazy power mongers who lived during the reign of Henry VIII. Vanora Bennett creates a fictional account of the life of Meg Griggs, Thomas More's adopted daughter. Thomas More being one of King Henry VIII's devoted servants and a staunch defender of Catholicism. Bennett offers us insights into the mind of those who are so devoted that they would risk their lives to defend their ideals and harshly punish those who criticize them.

Meg More is a skilled healer, a
Laurie Bridges
Can I mark the book as "read" if I quit in the middle? Since I met the author at the American Libraries Association midwinter conference and got an autograph in the book I feel an obligation to like this book. I really kept plugging along even though I lost interest fairly early on...but, I'm giving myself permission to be done.

This book is based on paintings done of a family in England during the reign of King Henry the VIII. The story seems to starts like a harlequin romance climax (haha, get
In her historical fiction debut, “Portrait of an Unknown Woman,” Vanora Bennett has brought a crucial slice of English history to life with compelling characterizations and a keen eye for period detail. Based on the rise and fall of humanist author and statesman Sir Thomas More during the English Reformation and the German artist, Hans Holbein, who created a painting of More’s family during that time, “Portrait” is a work rendered in stunning clarity and often breathtaking prose.

Although some re
Jul 15, 2008 treehugger rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of "the Other Boleyn Girl", those interested in King Henry VIII
Shelves: art, audiobooks
I picked up this book hoping for another "Girl with the Pearl Earring", but was sorely disappointed.

The main thing that struck me about the book was it's incredible length, and unbelievable non-action. There was no climax. There was only weak plot. It took FOREVER to listen to the 12 discs that made up this audiobook, and I was counting the minutes after the 4th disc. That's a lot of minutes.

Also, there was a lot of "twinkling" and "dimpling" mentioned in this in, he "twinkled" down
Set in the time of Henry VIII the title is slightly misleading. The book is about the family of Thomas More, the famous courtier who opposed the marriage of the king to Anne Boleyn. Hans Holbein arrives to paint a family portrait and falls in love with one of More's wards who has been brought up as his daughter. The book is about far more than a painting and a family, it includes a fanciful story of what may have happened to the Princes in the Tower. It is an interesting novel but should never b ...more
Alright all now I am 90% convinced it is me. I have yet another 3 out of 5 book here. Although with this one it wasn't another case of a rushed ending at least.

I don't really know why they called it Portrait of an Unknown Woman since the art aspect of it played precious little role in the book over all. Maybe it is my fault for expecting something similar to Tracy Chevalier's books, one of the best known of those being Girl with a Pearl Earring. It seemed to me that this book was possibly trying
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
“Portrait of an Unknown Woman” is told from the viewpoint of Meg Giggs, adopted daughter of Sir Thomas More, sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the third. When the book opens the More family is awaiting the arrival of Hans Holbein, who is to paint a family portrait. Just before Holbein arrives John Clement, former tutor to the family, arrives. He has been studying medicine on the Continent and he and Meg hope to marry. Meg herself is something of a physician only her learning is more co ...more
This book is based on a picture by Hans Nolbein, a portait of Thomas More and his family. Thomas More was a philosopher in King Henry VIII's court, during the Reformation. He was a humanist, and ended up being a persecutor of Martin Luther's followers. The story is told from the perspective of Thomas More's adopted daughter, Meg, who appears in the fam;ily portrait. The author gets quite graphic when describing the persecution. It's funny that in history we are studying the Pilgrims and the Puri ...more
"Portrait of an Unknown Woman" promises a story about one woman's relationship with the painter Hans Holbein. It's actually about Holbein, the lady (Meg, adopted daughter of Thomas More) and marital drama, with More's increasingly fanatical politics a a backdrop.

Right off the bat, I'd like to express my relief at the fact that the saintly Thomas More myth perpetuated by "A Man for All Seasons" and even "The Tudors" seems to be wearing off. Hilary Mantel's Cromwell-sympathizing trilogy has played
Annika Hipple
(*Review written in January 2011. Updated to add some missing words that had accidentally gotten deleted, which I only discovered years later.)

This could have been a great book. Thomas More was a key figure during the reign of Henry VIII and played such an important role in shaping posterity's negative view of Richard III that the story of his family should have been a compelling one. And "Portrait of an Unknown Woman" has plenty of admirable qualities (I'd like to have given it 2 1/2 stars). Th
I would really give this book 3.5 stars. I picked it up randomly at Barnes & Noble and had low expectations -- let's face it, most historical fictions are cheesy and lacking any depth.

I agree that the book would appeal to those who are interested in a conspiracy theory, but I must admit, the author exceeded my expectations with the depth of her characters. The book focuses around the main character and 3 supporting characters, one of whom is an artist. I particularly appreciated the depth th
The Book Maven
Ever since I read the second book in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' Morland Dynasty series, I have been completely and totally in love with English historical fiction. I will happily read just about anything set in England prior to 1945. Yum! So far, this novel is filling the basic requirement of filling my appetite, without really tempting my palate. My main issue with this book is that it is set in the 1520s, and yet the author has no compunctions about putting modern words and terms into the mouths o ...more
Portrait of an Unknown Woman revolves around the family of Sir Thomas More, the famous humanist and Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII. In the late 1520s, tensions in the country are rising between the Catholics and the reformists. Bennet skillfully works together the politics and everyday life of the period, and the dilemma faced by Meg Giggs, the adopted daughter of the More family, who is torn between her former tutor John Clement, and the young painter Hans Holbein, who visits the family. Some of ...more
Just arrived from USA.

Hans Holbein, the Younger, who had been recommended to More by his friend, Erasmus, arrived in England in 1526. Next year, he began a painting of Sir Thomas More and his family. A preparatory sketch for the original survives, but the painting itself was destroyed by fire in the eighteenth century. Fortunately, paintings which were created based on it by Rowland Lockey in the late sixteenth century, survive.
Weak and contrived writing
This book takes a painting as a starting point and weaves a story around its creation, creator, and subjects. I love this kind of book. There is also the added fun that it is another theory on the Princes in the Tower, a rich mine for historical fiction. The author not only creates the world well it makes you almost believe in a rather wild theory about the Princes in the Tower. I think that in the historical notes mentioning the average life expectancy for even the rich was 50 and that if true ...more
L. W.
This book isn't for everyone; I love history, I love painters, and I love great thinkers. This book is historical fiction, based on Thomas More, the chancellor for Henry VIII, told through the eyes of an adopted daughter. It is long, not very exciting, but I enjoyed it despite its simplicity and lack of mental challenge.
Linda Lipko
This was an interesting book, but it was a very slow read. It wasn't great...but it wasn't terrible either.
I would recommend reading it, but only if you have a lot of time because it does drag on and on and it is not a book that keeps you wanting to read it. I found that I skipped many pages.

The pages re. Hans Holbein and his paintings were interesting. I didn't know that More had an adopted daughter, so I appreciated learning this.

I think the author tried to wrap up too much in the final pages
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brittany B.
I loved this book!!

And in audio format, it is outstanding!!

I am really surprised by the lukewarm reviews. The only major issue I could find was the sometimes awkward transition from first to third person POV, but I was so enthralled with the story I didn't care. I was swept away, staying up all night to finish it.

I think this book is a work of subtle genius-- but not because of the secrets that are revealed. (Though the major revelation midway through the book is a creative and interesting
Oct 02, 2008 Linden rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adults interested in Sir Thomas More, Hans Holbein or history.
How often when you read a book do you know that you are likely to reread it at a later time? For me, that's rarely. I love the surprise of discovery, be it language, plot or turn of character. And these pleasures usually fade, no matter how wonderful, upon a second reading. There are some, however, that I do set aside for the future. Portrait of an Unknown Woman is one of these.

I am generally interested in things that can be found out by piecing history together, bit by other words, the
I had never heard of this book before, or the author. I just picked it up at the library and thought it sounded exciting by the back cover. But I was really disappointed. Normally I won't read what it says on the back cover before I read the book, because I don't want to be "prejudiced" when I read the book, but this time I would have been disappointed even if I hadn't read it.

It took me ages to get into the book, I had to read passages over and over again because it wasn't holding my attention
Portrait of an Unknown Woman is actually centered around a known historical figure, Meg Giggs, who was the adopted daughter of a more famous historical figure, Sir Thomas More. Vanora Bennett has built an intricate storyline around a theory inspired by a painting. As this story starts, Hans Holbein has come to the home of Sir Thomas More near the height of his power in Henry VIII's court to paint a family portrait. Through mostly a first-person narration by Meg, an intelligent, educated, and hea ...more
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 1 Feb 23, 2015 08:23AM  
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I became a journalist almost by accident. Having learned Russian and been hired after university by Reuters (to my own surprise and the slight dismay of traditionally-minded editors who weren’t sure a Guardian-reading blonde female would be tough enough for the job), I was then catapulted into the adrenaline-charged realm of conflict reporting. While on a trainee assignment in Paris, I fell in wit ...more
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“I felt, by turns, numb, hot with a monstrous embarrassment, and sick as though I'd eaten splinters of glass and was slowly shredding inside.” 1 likes
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