THE CHOLMONDELEY LADIES' (1600-10): Oil on wood, 35 x 67 in., artist unknown. It was owned by the Cholmondeley* family of Cheshire. © Tate Gallery, London Resource
*Cholmondeley is pronounced as Chumley (feel better? I did upon discovering this...I know I couldnt remember let alone wrap my mouth around all those letters and have it come out as something concievable.

While strolling through the Tate Britain, I was stunned by the sixteenth century paintings grouped as the "British School". The stiff, 1600s paperdoll qualities these images have combined with a purely english palette (which I had forgotten I adored...they sure understand grey, warm grey, gold and reds). Clean as a whistle. The jewel in that collection was this gorgeous picture of the Cholmondeley ladies or sisters. It is a total show stopper. I was literally winded by the wonderful naive qualities of the work while the subject matter is puzzling and intriguing. What is the story? Who are these women? Why are they woodenly holding these children, whose very knowing and calm demeanors suggest wisdom and patience beyond their babyhood. What is the message? Who are these women? Are they sisters or friends? Do they represent something? Look at their eyes...and the sheer perserverance these English ladies evince. Do you think they are doing all of this for the greater glory of England? Wearing those starched collars and boned bodices just after childbirth is a high bar...

There is a great Christian Science Monitor article that digs into this picture a little here>>

Historical references suggest:
"The painting was recorded in 1882 as "an antient [sic] painting of two ladies, said to be born and married on the same day, represented with children in their arms" in "the passage leading to the sleeping rooms" of one of the family's houses.

Hopkins guesses that the mothers may have shared the same birthday, though some years apart, and that "they may have been married in the same chapel." He further speculates that they may have given birth to either their first or second children "on the same date.""

The Tate details the image this way:
"According to the inscription (bottom left), this painting shows ‘Two Ladies of the Cholmondeley Family, Who were born the same day, Married the same day, And brought to Bed [gave birth] the same day’. To mark this dynastic event, they are formally presented in bed, their babies wrapped in scarlet fabric. Identical at a superficial glance, the lace, jewellery and eye colours of the ladies and infants are in fact carefully differentiated. The format echoes tomb sculpture of the period. The ladies, whose precise identities are unclear, were probably painted by an artist based in Chester, near the Cholmondeley estates."