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Queen Elizabeth I

7 of 126 portraits of Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I, by Unknown artist, 1580s-1590s - NPG 200 - © National Portrait Gallery, London; photograph National Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London; photograph National Gallery, London

Queen Elizabeth I

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, 1580s-1590s
26 1/4 in. x 19 1/4 in. (666 mm x 488 mm)
Given by Mines Royal, Mineral and Battery Societies, 1865
Primary Collection
NPG 200

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Sitterback to top

  • Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Reigned 1558-1603. Sitter associated with 126 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

Paint loss from the surface has made it difficult to see how it would have originally looked, but has revealed information about the history of the painting. The portrait of Elizabeth has been painted over an unfinished portrait of an entirely different female sitter. The eyes and nose of the face underneath can now be seen where paint has been lost from Elizabeth's forehead. The identity of the original sitter remains a mystery but her headdress, which can be just made out, appears to date from the 1570s or 1580s.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG D40453: Artist's impression of how the serpent in NPG200 might originally have looked (source portrait)

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Events of 1580back to top

Current affairs

Sir Francis Drake completes his three-year circumnavigation of the globe and returns to England in triumph. Spanish and Italian soldiers land in Ireland to assist the Irish Catholic rebellion against English Protestant rule. Surrendering after the siege of Smerwick, the entire force is massacred under orders from the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Baron Grey of Wilton. England signs an advantageous trade treaty with the Ottoman Empire.

Art and science

The French scholar and nobleman Michel de Montaigne publishes Essais (Essays), an influential development of the essay as a literary form. Robert Smythson is employed by Sir Francis Willoughby as architect of Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, completed in 1588. It is one of the masterpieces of Elizabethan architecture.


Philip II of Spain invades Portugal and is proclaimed King. His conquest unites the vast colonial empires of Spain and Portugal. The heir to the French crown, François, Duke of Anjou is invited become the sovereign of the Netherlands by William of Orange, leader of the Dutch rebellion against Phillip II of Spain.

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