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Queen Elizabeth I

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Queen Elizabeth I

by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, circa 1600
50 1/8 in. x 39 1/4 in. (1273 mm x 997 mm)
Purchased, 1978
Primary Collection
NPG 5175


The frame with its scrolls and festoons of fr…

Sitterback to top

  • Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Reigned 1558-1603. Sitter associated with 135 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This painting is known as 'The Coronation portrait', and shows the Queen crowned, wearing the cloth of gold that she wore at her coronation on 15 January 1559, previously worn by Mary I. She holds the orb and sceptre, symbols of her authority. The portrait appears to have been painted in about 1600, and is probably a copy of a lost original from circa 1559.

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 32 Read entry

    The only surviving child of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was twenty-five years old when she inherited the throne from her half-sister Mary. In 1557 the Venetian ambassador described her as ‘comely rather than handsome ... tall and well formed, with a good skin ... she has fine eyes and above all a beautiful hand of which she makes a display.’ This painting is known as the ‘Coronation portrait’ and shows Elizabeth crowned, wearing the cloth-of-gold robes that she wore at her coronation on 15 January 1559, which had been adapted from those worn by Mary I only five years earlier. Her hair is worn loose, which was traditional for the coronation of a queen, and she holds the orb and sceptre of state as symbols of her authority. The date of Elizabeth’s accession, 17 November, became a day of celebration, with tournaments at court and the ringing of bells in parishes across England. This portrait may have been made as part of these annual celebrations, as dendrochronological analysis shows that the wooden panel on which it is painted was made from a tree that was felled after 1589, thirty years after Elizabeth’s coronation.

  • 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. 141
  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 91 Read entry

    Elizabeth is depicted wearing the gold coronation robes with her hair worn loose, as was traditional for the coronation of a queen. She holds the orb and sceptre of state. Tree-ring dating shows that the painting was made many decades after Elizabeth's coronation on 15 January 1559; it may have formed part of the annual celebrations of Elizabeth's accession that occurred throughout her reign.

  • Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 8
  • Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 39 Read entry

    Painted some forty years after her coronation, this portrait may have been part of an attempt to rejuvenate the ageing Queen's image. It is a simple image: the pose is traditional and hieratic, obvious in its message and bland in its characterisation. Yet it has informed later characterisations of Elizabeth.

  • Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 20
  • MacLeod, Catharine; Rab, MacGibbon; Button, Victoria; Coombs, Katherine; Derbyshire, Alan, Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures from Hilliard and Oliver, 2019 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 21 February - 19 May 2019), p. 119
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 199
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 42
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 16, 150 Read entry

    Carved, stained and gilt pine, lap joint with a horizontal join at front, vertical at back, the carving planted on to a backing frame. Soon after acquisition by the National Portrait Galley in 1978 the frame was stripped and reduced in size at top and bottom centre before regessoing, regilding and refinishing. The main frame is 5 1⁄ 2 to 9 1⁄ 2 inches wide.

    This portrait, which originally hung at Warwick Castle, is in its third frame. It may have originally had a painted frame or flat profile, conceivably a grander version of the one on the portrait of Henry VIII (NPG 1376). It was probably in the 1670s or 1680s that it was given the Sunderland frame which can be seen on the portrait in photographs taken at the National Portrait Exhibition in 1866; 1 this frame was of the type found on the portrait of Judge Jeffreys (NPG 6047). After the fire at Warwick Castle in 1871, the portrait was reframed again, probably as part of Anthony Salvin's reconstruction, and given pride of place in the Great Hall. The design and manufacture of this frame is yet to be documented.

    The frame is an elaborate nineteenth-century variation on the Sansovino style popular in Venice at very much the time the portrait was painted in about 1600, but it is heavier and more grandiose than its Venetian prototypes. Such one-off romanticising of a royal portrait was not uncommon in the nineteenth century. At Charlecote, George Hammond Lucy reframed his portrait of Queen Elizabeth in 1836 at the considerable cost of £43.10s. In 1872 Sir Gilbert Scott gave the Westminster Abbey portrait of Richard II a magnificent new frame, made by Clayton & Bell to his design at a cost of £57.15s.

    1 A photograph of the picture in its frame, taken at the National Portrait Exhibition at the South Kensington Museum in 1866, is in the Picture Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 100
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 101

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1600back to top

Current affairs

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex is put on trial for failing to put an end to the rebellion in Ireland, attempting to negotiate a truce with the rebel leader Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and deserting his post.
Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, replaces Essex as Lord Deputy of Ireland.
The East India Company receives its Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I.
Birth of Prince Charles in Scotland (later King Charles I).

Art and science

William Shakespeare writes Hamlet.
The scientist William Gilbert writes De magnete ('on the magnet'), which pioneers research into the properties of the lodestone (magnetic iron ore) and introduces the terms 'electricity' and 'magnetic pole'.
The miniature painter Nicholas Hilliard works on his painting treatise The Art of Limning at this time.


Henry IV of France marries Marie de Medici from the powerful ruling family of Florence, Italy.
The Italian astronomer, philosopher and mathematician Giordano Bruno is sentenced to death by the Roman Inquisition and burned at the stake for heresy.
Following the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu seizes control of Japan at the Battle of Sekigahara.

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