Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Elizabeth I when a Princess, 1547-58 

 Anglo-Italian School 

Elizabeth I when a Princess, 1547-58,  Anglo-Italian School
Oil on Panel
16th Century
30 x 15 inches, 76.2 x 38.1 cm
Probably Dukes of Somerset Sir John Ramsden 6th Bt., inventory of Bulstrode House 1930 Ramsden sale, Christies May 27th & 30th 1932 Lot 99; Bt Sykes £54.12 Anonymous sale, Sothebys May 30th 1962, Lot 25 Spanish Private Collection
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The rediscovery of this portrait is a major addition to the iconography of Elizabeth I. It also throws new light on the phenomenon of portrait commissioning in Tudor England in the middle years of the 16th century. Until now, this picture was thought to be a late copy, owing to the addition of two feebly painted outer panels, and the masking of the face with mid 20th century overpaint. Indeed, it seems that by the early 20th century the picture had lost its very identity as an image of Elizabeth.

The portrait is a contemporary version, by an as yet unidentified artist, of the earliest individual portrayal of Elizabeth. The seminal version is considered to be that in the Royal Collection, and until the re-emergence of this painting it was considered to be the only single portrait of Elizabeth as Princess to date from this period. It shows the Queen at the age of about thirteen in c.1546, twelve years before her accession to the throne in 1558 and, like this newly emerged portrait, is without certain authorship. The enduring attraction of the portrayal is that it affords us a rare glimpse of Elizabeth the individual, as opposed to Elizabeth the Queen. Too often our mental image of Elizabeth is the aged virgin Queen weighed down equally with flattery and jewels, her authoritarian glare being the only mortal expression emerging from a cosmetic mask. Contrastingly, in this portrait we are presented with a description of demure courtly composure and refinement, of youthful piety and observance, a touchingly human portrayal intriguingly free of monarchical references and iconography. Prosaically, given its date in the development of the genre, it also represents the earliest surviving portrayal of a girl in English oil painting.

The Royal Collection portrait appears to have been sent by Elizabeth as a gift to her brother Edward VI in 1547. The two siblings enjoyed a close relationship. Edward’s letters reveal how much he missed his sister when he acceded to the throne and Elizabeth remained at Hatfield Palace. In May 1547 Elizabeth sent a letter accompanying the portrait Edward had requested, saying; “For the face, I graunt. I might wel blushe to offer, but the mynde I shal never be ashamed to present… when you shal loke on my picture you wil witsafe to think that as you have but the outwarde shadow of the body afore you, so my inwarde minde wischeth that the body it selfe were oftener in your presence.”
The Royal Collection picture, therefore, was a mark and symbol of affection, commissioned purely for a private audience. This was unusual in Royal portraiture. Until then, the function of portrait paintings had largely been directed towards display or diplomacy. Holbein’s imposing Henry VIII was clearly designed to awe, as much as his controversial portrait of Anne of Cleves was designed (tragically) to impress. Similarly, the best portrait of Henry VII was commissioned only as part of marriage negotiations with the Emperor Maximilian. Princess Elizabeth’s portrait represents a significant advancement in function. Here, for the first time was an image of a young female princess of dubious legitimacy, whose mother had been beheaded for incestuous adultery, and whose very survival was in doubt.

Using this expanding rationale for the production of Royal portraiture at this date, it is possible to explain the purpose of this newly discovered portrait in the commissioning patterns of the young Elizabeth’s contemporaries. Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last and most cultured Queen, was the foremost patron of portraiture in mid-Tudor England, and her legacy to the advancement of English portraiture cannot be underestimated. Her chamber accounts show that she patronized John Bettes the Elder, Lucas Hornebolte, Hans Eworth , and probably William Scrots and Lavina Terlinc as well. She was the first Queen to actively disseminate her image; her fourth husband, the errant Thomas Seymour, wrote “give me one of your small pictures… if ye have any left…” In this case she did not, having already given many away, but she promised to have more made. She also gave Edward VI a portrait of herself and the King, with a similar example going to the Earl of Hertford, her brother-in-law, later Protector Somerset. Intriguingly, given the possible provenance of this portrait, Protector Somerset himself was apparently a collector of portraits, with his accounts for 1542 showing a payment to Holbein “that made queen Janes Pycture” and a “Mr Indes” who “brought a dore unto my lord with a picture of King Edward”, perhaps Edward IV . Clearly, therefore, we can see towards the end of Henry VIII’s reign the establishment of a culture of portrait commissioning, exchanging, and even copying among the royal family and, just as significantly, the Seymour family who dominated politics into the early 1550s. It is surely equally significant, for the early history of the present portrait, that Elizabeth came firmly within this circle, indeed was living with Catherine, and thus was presumably involved in her stepmother’s artistic activities.

Recent dendrochronoligical analysis of the German oak panel on which this portrait is painted gives an earliest possible felling date for the tree used of 1546. It is therefore likely that the portrait was painted from 1547 onwards. It was customary for panels to be used rapidly after the tree was felled, with sometimes minimal time for seasoning. Furthermore, the political difficulties of Elizabeth’s position in Queen Mary’s reign make it unlikely that the picture was made after Edward VI’s death in 1553. This, after all, is an image of a vulnerable teenager, not the forceful portrayal of a potential rival to the throne, and it would have had no political or propaganda applications. It would also have been implausible for such pictures to have been made after Elizabeth’s accession to the throne in 1558, when royal images were subject to ambitious political control, and seen more as tools to bolster Elizabeth’s monarchical status. It seems most likley that the present picture was commissioned as part of the royal family’s practice of distributing multiple portraits of themselves, and at a time when Elizabeth was in favour – ie from the late 1540s to the mid 1550s. We must also consider that the Royal Collection picture, owned by Edward VI, hung at one of the royal palaces (in 1547 it was at Westminster ), which further suggests that the production of the present version must have involved some form of royal permission or contact.

It is also likely that the artist who painted it would have come from within the circle of royal patronage, and this offers some interesting options. This painting has been replicated by an artist of some distinction. It differs markedly in tone, technique and characterisation from the clearly Flemish character of its source, which has paler flesh tones and enamel-like finish. This picture has been painted in a distinctly mannerist technique, with the result that many aspects, from the more attenuated facial modeling to the warmer colouring and application of paint, are more redolent of an Italian renaissance portrait. We must surely look, therefore, in the direction of the two Italian artists known to be in the royal service in this period. Little is known of each, particularly Bartholomew Penni, or Bartill Penn, who appears in Henry VIII’s accounts from 1542 onwards, and who dies in 1553. Penn’s brother, Luca, is better known and was a pupil of Raphael’s. We know more of Anthony Toto, who was appointed Henry VIII’s Serjeant painter in 1544, and who continued to be employed by Edward VI. Toto was a pupil in Florence of the Renaissance master Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. Vasari tells us that Toto painted many pictures, mainly religious scenes, throughout the 1530s. But he also painted portraits, and in 1552 presented King Edward VI with a portrait of a duke.

The provenance of this picture is obscured by the fact that by the 20th century it seems to have lost its identity. The picture was sold from the Ramsden collection in 1932. Sir John Ramsden, 5th Bt. married Lady Guendolen Seymour, daughter and co heir of Edward Adolphus, twelth Duke of Somerset, himself a direct descendant from Protector Somerset. Lady Guendolen inherited dozens of pictures from her father, including major Tudor portraits, as well as the estate of Bulstrode in Buckinghamshire, where this picture is listed in 1930. This picture is almost certainly that catalogued in the Bulstrode inventory as ‘L. Cranach Portrait of a lady in a pink jeweled dress, holding a book, panel 29” x 21 ½’ [D/RA/3-109q, Bulstrode Papers]. It seems that the picture’s condition, with the now-removed later panels and obscure identity, caused it to be among the less valued items at Bulstrode, and it does not therefore appear in any other inventory yet seen.
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