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Queen Elizabeth I ('The Ditchley portrait')

12 of 13 portraits on display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Queen Elizabeth I ('The Ditchley portrait'), by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, circa 1592 - NPG 2561 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Queen Elizabeth I ('The Ditchley portrait')

by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
oil on canvas, circa 1592
95 in. x 60 in. (2413 mm x 1524 mm)
Bequeathed by Harold Lee-Dillon, 17th Viscount Dillon, 1932
Primary Collection
NPG 2561


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

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Known as the 'Ditchley Portrait', this painting was produced for Sir Henry Lee who had been the Queen's Champion from 1559-90. It probably commemorates an elaborate symbolic entertainment which Lee organised for the Queen in September 1592, and which may have been held in the grounds of Lee's house at Ditchley, near Oxford, or at the nearby palace at Woodstock.. After his retirement in 1590 Lee lived at Ditchley with his mistress Anne Vavasour. The entertainment marked the Queen's forgiveness of Lee for becoming a 'stranger lady's thrall'. The portrait shows Elizabeth standing on the globe of the world, with her feet on Oxfordshire. The stormy sky, the clouds parting to reveal sunshine, and the inscriptions on the painting, make it plain that the portrait's symbolic theme is forgiveness. The three fragmentary Latin inscriptions can be interpreted as: (left) 'She gives and does not expect'; (right) 'She can but does not take revenge', and (bottom right) 'In giving back she increases (?)'. The sonnet (right), perhaps composed by Lee, though fragmentary, can mostly be reconstructed. Its subject is the sun, symbol of the monarch.

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