Queen Elizabeth I

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Queen Elizabeth I

by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, circa 1560
15 1/2 in. x 10 3/4 in. (394 mm x 273 mm)
Purchased, 1965
Primary Collection
NPG 4449

Sitterback to top

  • Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Reigned 1558-1603. Sitter associated with 138 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This portrait was probably painted just after Elizabeth's accession. It has a formulaic quality that suggests it was not painted from the life. It was probably one of many versions executed to fulfil a demand for the queen's likeness in the early years of her reign when she was still expected to enter into marriage and before she became associated with the more complex emblems of virginity that are often found in later portraits. Recent technical analysis has shown that the background was originally a vibrant shade of blue which has discoloured to a yellowish brown over time. This is due to the presence of an unstable blue pigment called 'smalt'. The inscription 'ELIZABETH REGINA' would therefore have originally stood out more clearly against the background. The Queen's features have been sketched out over a pale pink ground and then painted over in one thin layer. Some of the under drawing is still just visible beneath the paint layer. It may have hung originally as part of a group of royal portraits acting as a painted record of English monarchy.

Linked publicationsback to top

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1560back to top

Current affairs

Treaty of Edinburgh between England, France and Scotland. France removes forces from Scotland and Mary, Queen of Scots abandons her claim to the English crown.
An independent Scottish Parliament is established in Edinburgh, which in turn establishes the Church of Scotland. Influenced by the Protestant reformer John Knox, the reformed church abolishes papal authority in Scotland.

Art and science

Publication of Jing P'Ing Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase) by Hsu Wei, the first socially realistic Chinese novel.


Death of Francis II of France. He is succeeded by his brother Charles IX with his mother, Catherine de Medici, as Regent. His widow, Mary, Queen of Scots, returns to Scotland the following year.
Akbar, Mughal Emperor of India, establishes a new capital at Agra.

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