Sir Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake
by Unknown artist
oil on panel, circa 1581
71 3/8 in. x 44 1/2 in. (1813 mm x 1130 mm)
Sitterback to top
- Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596), Admiral and circumnavigator. Sitter associated with 39 portraits.
This portraitback to top
The public clamoured for Drake's likeness. The demand was met in court circles by grandiose full-length portraits such as this one. Drake is fashionably dressed in a satin doublet with slashed sleeves and brilliant red jerkin and hose. The crest above his coat of arms shows the hand of God leading his ship, the Golden Hind. Technical analysis shows that the head and upper body were painted on a single board which was later extended. The painting of the tiled floor was designed to imitate marble.
Linked publicationsback to top
- I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 8
- Audio Guide
- Smartify image discovery app
- Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 161 Read entry
One of the most famous English seafarers, Sir Francis Drake is best known for his circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580. He earnt his fame and fortune through his skilful seamanship and outstandingly successful piracy; the Spanish called him El Draque (The Dragon), and his raids on Spanish shipping contributed to the decision by Philip II of Spain to launch an Armada against England in 1588. During this attack Drake acted as second in command of the English fleet. He died in 1596 during a raid in the West Indies and was buried at sea. Drake is depicted at full length in this portrait, wearing a satin doublet with slashed sleeves and a brilliant red jerkin and hose, and with his hand resting on a globe. Very unusually, the construction of the panel suggests that it was originally a bust-length portrait that has been extended through the careful addition of extra panels; there is nothing to suggest that the two sections are not of a very similar date. The crest above Drake's coat of arms, which was granted to him in June 1581, shows the hand of God leading his ship, the Golden Hind, with the inscription Auxilio Divino ('By divine aid'). Drake also took the motto Sic Parvis Magna ('Greatness from small beginnings').
- Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 129
- Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 21
- Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 13 Read entry
A portrait of a successful Elizabethan: circumnavigator; scourge of Spanish colonies and commerce; Vice-Admiral of the English navy against the Armada; well-dressed social climber – ‘So much out of so little’, says Drake’s Latin motto.
- Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 25
- John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 25
- Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 48
- Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 61
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 186
- Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 257
- Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 69
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
- Face of Britain: Fame (14 September 2015 - 4 January 2016)
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1581back to top
Current affairsSir Francis Drake is knighted on board his ship the Golden Hind.
The heir to the French crown, François, Duke of Anjou comes to England to finalise marriage negotiations with Elizabeth I. He returns home unsuccessful the following year.
Parliament passes legislation against Catholicism.
The Jesuit missionary Edmund Campion is executed for treason.
Art and scienceThe mathematician Norman Robert publishes a pioneering study of magnetism The Newe Attractive
The first ballet Ballet Comique de la Reine by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx is performed in Paris.
InternationalThe Oath of Abjuration - the seven northern, Protestant provinces of the Netherlands formally renounce their allegiance to Philip II of Spain and become an independent republic, the United Provinces .
Stephen Báthory of Poland invades Russia as part of the Livonian war.
Akbar, Mughal Emperor of India, conquers Kabul (in present-day Afghanistan).
Arjan Dev becomes the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus.
Make a donation
Support our Make History appeal and help us transform the Gallery.
A unique range of books, accessories and gifts. Every purchase supports the Gallery’s work.
Bring a familiar face home
Refresh your home gallery with a huge selection of custom art prints .
- Making History: Printed Portraiture in Tudor and Stuart Britain
- Tudor Miniatures
- Who do you think you were?
- Tudor and Elizabethan matching pairs
- Silhouettes display, 2004-05
- Return to Life: A New Look at the Portrait Bust
- 2019 Anniversaries
- William Hazlitt's Spirit of the Age
- Mary, Queen of Scots: Fact and Fiction
- Restoration Lives: Samuel Pepys and His Circle
- Brilliant Women
- Chartist Portraits
- Mary, Queen of Scots
- Nelson: before and after Trafalgar
- Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Art Conservation Project
- Rebel women
- Theodore de Mayerne
- Popular Prints of Victoria and Albert
- Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
- Searching for Shakespeare
- Abolition Trail
Tell us more
Framed & unframed prints
Choose your favourite portrait from our Collection as a framed or unframed print for your home.