Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), late 1590s 

Follower of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561/2-1636)

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), late 1590s, Follower of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
Oil on Panel
16th Century
30¾ x 22½ in (78.1 x 57.2 cm)
Berry-Hill Gallery, New York, 1958; Mrs Ruth Coltrane Cannon (1891-1965), North Carolina; Given to the Garden Club of North Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1959
R. Strong, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I (Oxford, 1963), p. 76, cat. no. 77, as on the New York art market in 1960; A. Riehl, The Face of Queenship: Early Modern Representations of Elizabeth I (Basingstoke, 2010), p.163, ill. p.165, fig. 13; A. Whitelock, 'Elizabeth I: The monarch behind the mask', in BBC History Magazine, June 2013, pp. 52-57; T. Herron & B. Kane, Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland (Washington, 2013), p.58, fig. 7.8
Garden Club of North Carolina since 1959; Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., 19 January – 19 May 2013
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Not often portrayed without her ‘mask of youth’, this highly evocative late-Elizabethan portrait depicts an ageing Queen Elizabeth I and derives from the ‘Ditchley’ portrait painted in the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.

The ‘Ditchley’ portrait (now in the National Portrait Gallery, London) was named after the house in which it originally hung in Oxfordshire, owned by Sir Henry Lee, Master of the Armoury and the Queen’s Champion, and is thought to have been painted to commemorate the queen’s visit to Ditchley in September 1592. The ‘Ditchley’ portrait is remarkable for its scale (it is the largest recorded portrait of Elizabeth) and also its content; Elizabeth is shown elaborately dressed and bejewelled, standing triumphantly on a map of England. The jewels and pearls adorning her hair and around her neck are almost identical to those in the present portrait.(1)

As the daughter of King Henry VIII, Elizabeth would have witnessed first-hand the importance of portraiture for promoting the monarchy; her father’s full-length portrait by Hans Holbein (1497/8-1543), for example, painted c.1537 when Elizabeth was still an infant, was one of the most influential power-portraits of the period and was copied endlessly in the following decades by supporters of the house of Tudor. Elizabeth would also have seen her father’s determination to disseminate images of her younger brother Edward (later King Edward VI) in anticipation of his succession, and would similarly have witnessed the destruction of her sister Mary’s portraits following her death and the protestant religious settlement that followed.

Well-aware of its potential for veneration or hatred, portraiture was used by Elizabeth with caution, and its distribution was monitored with meticulous attention. As Elizabeth grew older, the question of succession naturally arose, and with no immediately obvious heir to the throne, it was essential that Elizabeth maintained her image as a young and energetic leader. Fighting against the natural progress of time, therefore, Elizabeth and her Privy Council attempted to enforce a ‘mask of youth’ on the production of her likeness, and in July 1596 ordered that no more offending portraits were to be produced and those in existence be destroyed.(2) Needless to say, this was an impossible task, and try as they might, the Privy Council were unable to halt entirely the distribution of the ‘ageless’ monarch’s actual likeness.

Other examples of this bust-length portrait-type are in the collections of Burghley House, Lincolnshire and Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. Another example was previously in the collection of the Earls of Hardwick and is now in a private collection.(3)

(1) R. Strong, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits (London, 1969), vol. 1, p.106
(2) R. Strong, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I (Oxford, 1963), p.5
(3) Rt. Hon. Earl of Hardwick, his sale, Christie’s, 30 June 1888
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