fbpx
Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Queen Elizabeth I – Portraits of the Last Tudor Rose

The Woburn Abbey version of the Armada Portrait, unknown English artist (formerly attributed to George Gower), 1588, Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, UK.

History

Queen Elizabeth I – Portraits of the Last Tudor Rose

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII of England and his second wife Anne Boleyn. Being a girl was hard enough in the face of Henry’s desperation for a son and heir, but after the annulment of her father’s marriage to Anne and the subsequent execution of her mother, she was also declared illegitimate. After a turn of fate, she became a queen and now we know Elizabeth I from many exquisite portraits.

Elizabeth was neglected for many years and was brought up away from court at Hatfield House. Here, she received a reasonable education. However, it was Henry’s sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr, who took it upon herself to educate the young woman. Katherine did so as thoroughly as befitted a princess of the realm, to include – unusually – the art of public speaking. The portrait below of Queen Elizabeth I as a young princess shows not only a girl dressed in appropriately rich fabrics and jewels, but also a rather thoughtful, learned, and composed young lady. A young lady who is preparing for a future that she is not yet fully aware of.

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I: William Scots (attr.), The Young Elizabeth, c. 1546-7, Royal Collection, London, UK.
William Scots (attr.), The Young Elizabeth, c. 1546-7, Royal Collection, London, UK.

Upon the death of Henry in 1547, Elizabeth found herself living in the household of her stepmother. Despite the problematic few years still to come, during which there were three accessions to the throne – her younger half-brother Edward in 1547, Lady Jane Grey in 1553, and almost immediately after that her older half-sister Mary also in 1553 – she finally came to the throne herself in 1558, aged twenty-five, where she remained for the next forty-four years. The painting below, known as the Coronation Portrait, depicts Queen Elizabeth I sumptuously draped in the finest cloth of gold (previously worn by Mary I). She holds an orb to symbolize Godly power and a scepter to signify temporal power and sovereignty. Of course, she also wears the crown.

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I: The Coronation Portrait, unknown English artist, c. 1600, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.
The Coronation Portrait, unknown English artist, c. 1600, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

Elizabeth’s rule was characterized by the cautious handling of political, foreign, and religious affairs. There was also an overall sense of fairness and tolerance. Of course, her reign was not without its problems: the events surrounding the plots of Mary Queen of Scots – the Babington Plot in particular – resulted in the trial and execution of Mary by Elizabeth (1586-7).

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I:
François Clouet, Mary Queen of Scots, c. 1558, Royal Collection, London, UK.
François Clouet, Mary Queen of Scots, c. 1558, Royal Collection, London, UK.

Another key event in the reign of Elizabeth I was the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Shortly after this, the Queen delivered one of her most well-known speeches to troops at Tilbury. This increased her popularity among her people, turning her into a living legend.

Below is one of three versions of the Elizabeth I Armada Portrait, in which the Queen is unusually set in a maritime context. Two different stages of the Spanish Armada’s downfall are depicted in the background to the left and right. The Queen’s back is turned against the dark, stormy seas of the right-hand scene. Her gaze is towards the light, echoed in the many suns embroidered upon her sleeves and skirt. Her hand rests on a globe, symbolizing her strength and dominion over the seas, and a crown sits above that representing her obvious power and status as monarch. Pearls symbolize chastity and female associations with the moon. The overall picture is one of radiant female strength and infallible royal authority.

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I: The Woburn Abbey version of the Armada Portrait, unknown English artist (formerly attributed to George Gower), 1588, Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, UK.
The Woburn Abbey version of the Armada Portrait, unknown English artist (formerly attributed to George Gower), 1588, Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, UK.

Elizabeth was also responsible for stabilizing and reinstating the Church of England. She removed the Pope as its head and instead became its Supreme Governor herself. She introduced a new Book of Common Prayer and ensured that an English translation of the Bible became widely available. Elizabeth also saw to it that public worship was conducted in English rather than in Latin.

One of the most important portraits of Queen Elizabeth I is the Darnley portrait of c.1575. It is believed that this was one of few portraits that were painted from life. The face of Elizabeth as depicted here became the template for many other representations of her afterwards.

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I: The Darnley Portrait, unknown continental artist, c. 1575, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.
The Darnley Portrait, unknown continental artist, c. 1575, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

One of the most celebrated aspects of Elizabeth’s monarchy was the fact that she refused to marry, even when great pressure was placed upon her, such as by her own government. As a result, the association of the “Virgin Queen” became synonymous with her success as a monarch. The result was a cult-like status in which Elizabeth was held up as a paragon of unrivalled majestic and female purity.

Below is the Ditchley Portrait of Queen Elizabeth from c.1592. Here she is depicted bathed in light, all storms and darkness behind her, astride the world. This painting was commissioned by Sir Henry Lee, who was the Queen’s champion from 1559 to 1590. The impression is once again of absolute power and perfection. However, this time the face reveals perhaps a little of the aging that would normally be associated with a woman of sixty years. Here Elizabeth is shown in a youthful light – her skin flawless, her bodice low cut, her stature upright and slender – yet there is a hollowness to her eyes. Perhaps it is the Netherlandish will to paint realistically that revealed this detail where other artists may have been tempted to gloss over what, by now, must have been obvious signs of aging.

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I: Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, The Ditchley Portrait, c. 1592, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, The Ditchley Portrait, c. 1592, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

The Ditchley Portrait was followed only a few years later by a painting that has only recently been authenticated (2010-11), also attributed to the school of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Below, dating from c. 1595 is an image of Elizabeth that would almost certainly have been disapproved and most likely banned. This version of the Queen is rather more factual that fantastical. That is to say, it clearly shows the process of ageing in the lines advancing across her face, the forming of jowls, and sallow discoloration to her complexion. Still, there is grace to her demeanor and that certain, bright composure that can be seen in the early portrait at the beginning of this article remains with her. During her long lifetime and exceptional reign, Elizabeth I was subject to no one. However, eventually, no matter who we are, we all become subject to the passage of time.

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I: Queen Elizabeth I in Portraits Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I, attributed to the studio of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, c. 1595, private collection. Elizabethan Gardens of North Carolina.

Discover more Royal portraits:

Reader, writer and professional daydreamer (very accomplished at this last one). Huge fan of 20th Century illustrator Charles Keeping, totally in love with the stories of Robert Louis Stevenson and M.R.James, and fascinated by Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. Sarah studied Music and History of Art and has been writing for Daily Art since 2016. She works as a graphic artist/illustrator, and has a Gothic heart (likes skulls and horror movies, and names cats after Dracula characters). Being undeniably visual, she feels directly connected by art and music to the people of the past and therefore their experiences and feelings.

Comments

More in History

  • Courtyard, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Photo: Sean Dungan Courtyard, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Photo: Sean Dungan

    19th Century

    Her Life and Her Museum: Isabella Stewart Gardner

    By

    The story of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and its founder before the robbery in 1990.

  • ancient sculptures colors. Memos and color study of Treu Head, 140-150 CE, British Museum, London, UK ancient sculptures colors. Memos and color study of Treu Head, 140-150 CE, British Museum, London, UK

    Ancient

    Attention: Have You Seen Ancient Sculptures’ Colors?

    By

    We admire the beauty and plasticity of ancient sculptures, how harmoniously they fit into the surrounding landscape. But we rarely ask ourselves the question of whether they were presented in this form to people of ancient world. Warning: this may come as a shock. Ancient sculptures...

  • Abstraction

    Iconic Colors in Art History

    By

    Every person probably dreams of leaving a legacy to the world. For artists this is a central goal and they try to do it through their masterpieces of course. Some people even went further though… They gave their name to a hue! Iconic artists used colors...

  • 19th Century

    The True Star of Early Photography: Virginia Oldoini

    By

    Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Antonietta Teresa Maria Oldoini- in short, Countess of Castiglione- was a real celebrity of her times. I imagine that in our times she would be someone as famous as Kim K., or at least as some super popular fashion bloggers. Do you think you’ve never...

  • Irving Penn, The Twelve Most Photographed Models, New York, Condé Nast 1947. Source: Irving Penn Foundation. Irving Penn, The Twelve Most Photographed Models, New York, Condé Nast 1947. Source: Irving Penn Foundation.

    20th century

    Best 15 Fashion Photographers of All Time

    By

    From the very first moment of the invention of photography in 1816 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, the newly discovered medium became used in various ways and by various artists who- through a camera lens- captured everything that surrounded them. In the same way that early painters,...

To Top