Queen Elizabeth I

1 portrait

Queen Elizabeth I, by Unknown continental artist, circa 1575 - NPG 2082 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Queen Elizabeth I

by Unknown continental artist
oil on panel, circa 1575
44 1/2 in. x 31 in. (1130 mm x 787 mm)
Purchased, 1925
Primary Collection
NPG 2082


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  • Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Reigned 1558-1603. Sitter associated with 125 portraits.

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One of the most important surviving images of Elizabeth I, this portrait was almost certainly painted from life, and the resulting pattern for the queen's face was to be repeated for the remainder of her reign. It is known as the 'Darnley portrait' after a previous owner. It shows Elizabeth looking cold, haughty and imperious, wearing a rather masculine doublet with a lace ruff collar, a double string of pearls looped around her neck and carrying an ostrich-feather fan. The portrait may have been painted by a Flemish artist, perhaps one visiting England for a short period. It is likely that it was commissioned by a courtier close to the queen, and it is possible that the pendant or the ostrich feather fan may have been a gift from that person. Behind her on a table lies her crown. It was an image that was much reproduced and is rather more lifelike than some of the later portraits which created the idea of an ageless Virgin Queen. Technical analysis has shown that the colours in this painting have faded over time. Elizabeth's now extremely pale complexion would have been much rosier, however, the red pigments in the flesh paint have faded over time. The golden brown pattern on her dress would originally have been crimson, perhaps with a purple tinge.

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