Sir Walter Ralegh

1 portrait on display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sir Walter Ralegh, by Unknown English artist, 1588 - NPG 7 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Walter Ralegh

by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, 1588
36 in. x 29 3/8 in. (914 mm x 746 mm)
Purchased, 1857
Primary Collection
NPG 7


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  • Sir Walter Ralegh (1554-1618), Soldier, sailor, poet and writer. Sitter in 47 portraits.

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Painted in the year of the attack by the Spanish Armada, this is one of the few contemporary portraits of Sir Walter Ralegh in his prime. Ralegh's dramatic costume is lavishly embellished with pearls, symbols of purity much favoured by Elizabeth I. The pearls on his cloak form the rays of a 'sun-in-splendour', a common heraldic device. Research and conservation has revealed a patch of wavy water beneath the crescent moon. Symbolic of Elizabeth I as the moon goddess Cynthia, the motif is also found in Ralegh's poetry, and indicates his willingness to be controlled by the queen as the moon controls the tides.

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