Marguerite (1492-1549) was the sister of King Francis I of France. The painting may be by his court artist Jean Clouet.
The cupid brooch on her hat and ring suggest the portrait may celebrate her marriage to the King of Navarre in 1527. The meaning of the bird, a rose-ringed parakeet, is uncertain. It could symbolise marital chastity, eloquence or have a family significance: a similar bird is found in another portrait of her brother by Clouet. The golden knots on her headdress resemble daisies - marguerites in French.
In 1816 William Roscoe thought this painting was a portrait of a Florentine lady by Leonardo da Vinci. The enigmatic smile of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa may have influenced the French court artist who painted this portrait. Both Leonardo and his famous painting were at the French court when Marguerite was there as a young woman.
The portrait was first identified as Marguerite by the German art historian, Passavant, who visited Roscoe in Lodge Lane, Liverpool, only days before he died in 1831. It was first attributed to Clouet in 1836 by Thomas Winstanley, the dealer from whom Roscoe bought many of his paintings.