Queen Elizabeth I ('Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses')
Queen Elizabeth I ('Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses')
attributed to Isaac Oliver
watercolour and bodycolour on vellum, circa 1590
4 1/2 in. x 6 1/8 in. (115 mm x 157 mm)
Purchased with support from Mark Weiss and the Portrait Fund, 2012
Sitterback to top
- Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Reigned 1558-1603. Sitter associated with 135 portraits.
Artistback to top
- Isaac Oliver (circa 1565-1617), Miniature painter. Artist associated with 72 portraits, Sitter in 5 portraits.
This portraitback to top
This previously unknown small-scale painting reinterprets the theme of Elizabeth and the three goddesses, also depicted in an oil painting of this title in the Royal Collection. The subject is a reworking of the classical legend known as the 'Judgement of Paris', in which a golden apple is awarded by Paris to the fairest of the three goddesses, the outcome of which led to the Trojan War. Here, rather than repeat Paris's folly, Elizabeth retains the golden orb for herself as she alone combines their separate virtues. The subject was designed to flatter the Queen, implying that the outcome of her reign would be peace and not war. The exceptionally high quality of this painting suggests that it may have been painted for the Elizabeth herself, or for someone close to her.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 148 Read entry
Elizabeth I's imagery became increasingly emblematic and allegorical throughout her reign as it became clear that she would not marry. This large 'cabinet' miniature reworks the classical legend of the Judgement of Paris, in which a golden apple was given to Paris to award to the goddess whom he thought to be the fairest, the outcome of which led to the Trojan War. Here, rather than repeat Paris's folly, Elizabeth retains the golden orb for herself as she combines the separate virtues of Juno, Pallas Athena and Venus; the subject was designed to flatter the queen by implying that the outcome of her reign would be peace rather than war. Hans Eworth created a similar image of Elizabeth in 1569 in an oil painting (Royal Collection), and it is possible that Oliver created this reworked version as a gift to present to the queen. The style of the queen's clothing suggests that the miniature dates from the late 1580s, and it is notable that Elizabeth's likeness seems very stylised in comparison to Oliver's individual portrait miniatures from the same period. It is likely that he did not have personal access to take the queen's portrait during this early period in his career, and he may instead have used one of Nicholas Hilliard's miniatures as a reference to create the image.
- 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. 134
- Cooper, Tarnya, Elizabeth I & Her People, 2013 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014), p. 60
- 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. 108
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 73
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
Subjects & Themesback to top
Mediaback to top
Events of 1590back to top
Current affairsKing James VI of Scotland brings his wife Anne of Denmark to Edinburgh for her coronation at Holyrood Abbey.
Death of Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I's Principal Secretary and spymaster.
The colonial governor John White returns to Roanoke Island (in present day North Carolina, USA) to find the settlement deserted. The lost colonists include his granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in America.
Art and scienceThe courtier, poet and soldier Sir Philip Sidney's pastoral romance Arcadia is published posthumously. It is one of the first English vernacular works to achieve a European readership, with translations into French, German, Dutch and Italian.
The poet and administrator Edmund Spenser publishes the first three books of The Faerie Queene, an epic allegorical poem in praise of Queen Elizabeth I.
InternationalHenry IV of France defeats the Catholic League under Charles, Duke of Mayenne at the Battle of Ivry. The King marches on Paris before being driven back by Catholic forces sent by Philip II of Spain.
Abbas I, Shah of Persia makes peace with the Ottoman Empire, allowing him to campaign agaist the Uzbeks.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeats the Hojo clan at the Siege of Odawara, Japan. The victory completes Hideyoshi's military reunification of Japan.
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