This is one of the most imaginative and fascinating ideas I've heard for a while. The National Portrait Gallery in London and the National Trust's Montacute House are jointly mounting a new display of thirteen portraits where the identity of the sitter is lost, mistaken or uncertain. All the pictures date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and are probably of courtiers, merchants, musicians and others who wished to be immortalised through art but whose identity is now forgotten.
Inspired by the mystery portraits, authors including Tracy Chevalier, Minette Waters, Terry Pratchett and Joanna Trollope have written short stories of what the lives of these sitters might have been like and have created fictional biographies and character sketches. These draw on the details in the paintings; the costumes, the background, the pets, decorations, furniture etc etc to create a richer picture. Minette Walters has written a poignant letter from the perspective of the wife of a man shown in a portrait, which brims with despair at her husband's extravagance. Sarah Singleton has written about the adventures of a spice merchant and amateur musician struggling to make his way in the world despite his illegitimate status. Full details of the exhibition and the intriguing ideas behind the stories are here. I can't wait to check it out and I don't mind admitting that I wish I'd been invited to take part! But since I wasn't, I plan a little mystery portrait event of my own at Ashdown House. Writing or re-writing the stories of the people in our fabulous Ashdown portrait collection would be a lot of fun!