Queen Elizabeth I

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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)
NPG 5175


Key findings: The handling suggests that this painting was made in an English workshop.

Historical summary
Purchased at Sotheby’s in 1978. Previously in the collection of the Earl of Warwick at Warwick Castle.

It is likely that this painting was made to commemorate the coronation at a later date and it appears to have been copied from a miniature produced around 1559, now lost. A miniature in the collection of Wellbeck Abbey showing the queen in her coronation robes (previously attributed to either Nicholas Hilliard or Levina Teerlinc) was probably designed to record the coronation in 1559 although differences in costume make it likely that this, too, was copied from another work (Cooper, 2003, pp. 42-3; Arnold, 1978, p. 727).

This frontal image of the queen in her coronation robes formed the standard pattern face mask that came to be used on her first seal, on documents, in woodcuts (e.g. Bishop’s Bible, title page) and on coins (Strong, 1969, pp. 109-110).

Notes on likely authorship
This is possibly a copy of a lost original from c.1559. It is not possible to identify an artist for this work, but the style and handling would suggest an English workshop.

Commentary on painting style, technique
The painting style is not very sophisticated and there is little texture or blending of the brushstrokes. Although the overall composition is a powerful one, the jewels and costume are rendered in a schematic way without great attention to detail. Azurite, of good quality, has been used extensively, especially in the face and hair. The highlights in the hair have been thickly applied and blended wet-in-wet with darker hair colour. Originally the outline of the head was softened by individual strands. These have been obscured by later retouching.

The gold robe of the cloak, bodice and skirt is gold leaf over an orange mordant. The pattern on the fabric has been marked out with translucent paint which now appears brown and this is more dominant than originally intended. In many areas of the fabric, ruff, chain, cord and tassels lead-tin yellow has been used for highlights, thickly built up to create impasto. The tassels appear simply and crudely rendered, yet the brown paint is original.

In many areas there are remnants of glazes on the gold with red and green pigment particles, although it is unclear what role these glazes played in the overall scheme of fabric pattern. The red jewels have been created by painting a red glaze over the gold leaf.

There is some evidence of pentimenti:
- the end of the thumb on the left hand appears to have been extended over the blue paint of the orb.
- on the right hand the end of the little finger has been painted on top of the gold fabric of the skirt (although the x-ray confirms that this was part of the original composition).
- the x-ray shows that the fur collar on the cloak was originally planned to be slightly longer than it appears in the final composition.
- the iris of the right eye may also have been changed.

Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. The panel is made of four boards of Baltic oak. The date for the last tree ring was found to be 1581 which provides a conjectural usage-date of 1589-1621. It is possible the painting was produced for a ceremonial purpose late in Elizabeth’s reign, perhaps even for her funeral, but more evidence would be needed to substantiate this.

Drawing and transfer technique
Very little evidence of underdrawing has been found. In some areas there appear to be painted lines under elements of the composition in a purple/red tone. It is unclear if these lines mark out the entire composition. Infrared reflectography has revealed some marks around the hands, especially the left, but these are heavily outlined in paint which would obscure any underdrawing. However, it is impossible to imagine that the artist would have been able to create this image without transferring a pattern of some kind.

Relevance to other known versions
- miniature, English school, c.1570, (Wellbeck Abbey). Listed by George Vertue as within the current collection in 1743.

Other versions are:
- National Gallery of Ireland
- Windsor (given by M. D. C. Stok of the Hague, 1959)

Arnold, Janet, ‘The “Coronation” Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I’, Burlington Magazine, vol.120, November 1978, pp. 726-41
Cooke, Henry Thomas, A Historical and Descriptive Guide to Warwick Castle, Warwick, 1847, p. 80
Cooper, T., ‘Miniature of Elizabeth I in her Coronation Robes’, in S. Doran ed., Elizabeth: The Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, London, 2003, pp. 42-43 (no. 28)
Cooper, T., ‘Portrait of Elizabeth I in her Coronation Robes’, in S. Doran ed., Elizabeth: The Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, London, 2003, p. 43 (no. 29)
Field, William, An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Town and Castle of Warwick, Leamington, 1817, p. 220
Fletcher, John, ‘The Date of the Portrait of Elizabeth I in her Coronation Robes’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 120, November 1978, pp. 726, 753
Frye, Susan, Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation, 1993, pp. 101-103
O'Donoghue, Freeman, A Descriptive and Classified Catalogue of the Portraits of Queen Elizabeth, London, 1894, p. 2 (no. 4)
Strong, Roy, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth, 1963, pp. 54-56, (no. 7)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp. 109-110
Strong, Roy, The Elizabethan Image, Tate Gallery, 1969, p. 42 (no. 71)
Strong, Roy, Gloriana: Portraits of Elizabeth I, 1987, pp. 163-164
Art Treasures of the Midlands, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 1934 (no. 76)
Catalogue of the Fist Exhibition of National Portraits, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1866, p. 45 (no. 257)
Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor, The New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1890, p. 109 (no. 354)
Sotheby's, Wednesday 14th December 1977, ‘Queen Elizabeth in her Coronation Robes’, pp. 68-69


X-ray mosaic 01. X-ray image of the whole pai…
IRR detail 01. Infrared reflectogram of the e…
IRR mosaic 02. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
Micro 03. Showing underpainted line on the up…
Micro 06. Highlights in the hair showing thic…
Micro 07. Detail of the nose (7.1 x mag).
Micro 08. Detail of damage on the ruff, showi…
Micro 09. Detail of the ruff showing remains…
Micro 10. Detail of the background near the o…
Micro 11. Detail of the fur collar, showing t…
Micro 12. Pearl on the jewelled collar with a…
Micro 13. Detail of diamond on the chain, sho…
Micro 14. Detail of the orb, showing the hand…
Micro 16. Remnants of a green glaze, and lead…
Micro 17. Detail of the pattern on the skirt…
Micro 18. Raised lead-tin yellow used to indi…
Micro 19. Detail of the tassel with raised hi…
Micro 20. Strands of the tassel scored into t…
UV 01. Front of the panel in ultra violet lig…
Detail 05. Detail of the orb.

Compare Images (what's this? )

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Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.

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The boards of the panel are very thin for the large size. Movement in the panel joins in the past has lead to paint loss in these areas. The current supports on the reverse and the conditions in which the panel are kept have prevented any new splits occurring. The panel is very fragile and moves when handled. The paint layers have suffered from extensive loss, damage and over cleaning in the past - especially the gilding. They currently appear to be in good condition.

There is much restoration across the panel, especially in the blue background. Retouching in the face has been well carried out but in the costume it is very crude and visually disturbing. The varnish is in a good condition with no discolouration. The background has been heavily retouched in a free manner. The retouching of the damage around the panel joins appears lighter than the surrounding area. This makes the correct reading of the folds in the fabric behind the sitter difficult and confusing.

The left side of the face has suffered from extreme cracking in the past which is clearly visible in x-ray. The retouching in this area is much finer and less noticeable than cruder retouching in other areas of the panel. The fur trim running down the edge of the cloak and across the lap is badly damaged. Many of the dark spots in the ermine are repainted. The gold fabric has been broadly repainted with metallic paint, this is especially obvious along the bottom edge.


Support type: Eastern Baltic oak

Number of boards: 4

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The panel is particularly thin for the scale - the joints are very flexible and move when the panel is handled. When acquired by the Gallery in 1978 it had numerous non-original wooden batons and supports fixed onto the reverse. These were removed during treatment in 1979 to mend a split in the panel. Smaller wooden batons were fixed onto the reverse following the panel joins, for extra support. The wooden batons used to support the panel joins in the 1979 treatment are still present, and although the joints are flexible the panel has not split again. There is a red coating covering most of the reverse which pre-dates the 1979 treatment. A second coating of linseed oil and ketone-N resin was applied in 1979.

Dendrochronology (what's this? )


An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.

Number of boards: 4

Last date of tree ring: 1581


The panel is made of four boards in vertical alignment, labelled A to D from the left (from the front) for analysis. Boards A, C and D are of a uniform size, whilst board B is unusually thin and tapers in width from top to bottom: it was too narrow to provide sufficient rings for analysis. Boards A and D have such a close match of sequencing that they are likely to be derived from adjacent parts of the same board. None of the boards contain sapwood, which means that a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel. The last heartwood tree rings in boards A, C and D were dated to 1576, 1577 and 1581 respectively. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests that these boards were derived from trees felled after 1589. Boards A and C were both 300 mm wide at the bottom edge and board D was 305 mm wide. These dimensions all fall within the typical width range for eastern Baltic boards used in panel paintings. As the measured boards are unlikely to have been significantly trimmed and this picture is undated, it is suitable to apply an Eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR- usage range to this panel; this gives a conjectural usage-date range of 1589-1621.

X-radiography (what's this? )


A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.

X-rays were taken at the National Gallery before treatment by John Hargreaves in 1979 (see x-ray mosaic 01).

The x-ray shows the damage along the panel joins, particularly on the left-hand join. The large split that was treated in 1979 is also evident as well as the numerous wood supports on the reverse which were later removed. Extensive craquelure and damage in the paint layers is also clear - the lightest passages of the painting appear to be the worst affected, in particular the ermine trim of the robes and the sitter's face. In the ermine trim, just underneath the orb, there are unusual scratches which appear to have happened before the paint had dried, these look accidental and do not form part of the painting technique but it is unclear what caused them. The background has a different craquelure from the rest of the painting. It has extensive cracking in a regular square formation but with rounded edges of a soft, crumbly appearance. In the 1979 report by John Hargreaves it was noted the painting had been 'rubbed', notably in the background.

There is little evidence of brushwork which relates to a priming layer, which would further support the idea that the priming layer on top of the chalk ground was thinly applied (see Surface examination and Paint sampling).

The painting style is quite simple - the face is the one area which has been quite worked up with brushstrokes modelling the features. Slight texturing of the fur is more evident in the x-ray. The small areas of impasto on the jewels, cord and fabric stand out very well in x-ray due to the lead-containing pigment. These highlights also confirm that the position of the cord holding the cape at the neck , which appears extensively restored, is correct. The highlights in the hair do not stand out as clearly in x-ray which would indicate they are not made with lead-containing pigments.

Changes in composition/pentimenti
The fur collar on the cape was originally painted slightly longer than it now appears.

Infrared reflectography (what's this? )

Infra-Red Reflectographyclose

A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.

There is very little underdrawing evident in infrared reflectography. There are some marks around the hands, especially the hand on the right (see IRR mosaic 02), but they are heavily outlined in paint so it is difficult to tell what is underneath.

There is no underdrawing evident in the face. Infrared reflectography does show a possible change in composition. The iris of the eye on the left could have originally been painted in lower than it now appears (see IRR detail 01).

Paint sampling (what's this? )

Paint Samplingclose

Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.

Paint samples were taken to analyse the pigments and layer structure of the painting in March 2009.

Microscopic samples of many of the pigments were set as dispersions. Paint samples confirm the extensive use of azurite across the painting and also show that the azurite was of a very high quality, as are the exceptionally bright and large particles of orange earth pigments used in the mordant for the gilding.

Preparation layers
The ground layer contains natural chalk. Above this a thin priming layer has been applied containing lead white, with a little red lead and plant black, creating a grey tone across the panel (see sample 4). In the cross-section from sample 10 the mordant appears to have been applied over the chalk ground and there does not appear to be any priming. It seems unlikely that there is no priming in this sample. A thin line with black particles can be seen between the chalk ground and the mordant which might be part of the priming layer.

Beneath the extensive gilding for the cloth of gold is an orange/yellow mordant layer containing bright orange earth pigments. This appears to lie directly on the chalk ground. In sample 5 the mordant layer can clearly be seen with thin gold leaf lying over it. Remnants of green on top of the gold could be seen under the microscope but the sampling could not confirm whether this might have been a more extensive copper based green glaze. Sample 10 shows a layer of grey paint on top of the gilding with a thick translucent layer above, the layers are separated by a thin translucent interlayer. The upper translucent layer appears greenish and is possibly pigmented; this layer does not fluoresce in ultra violet light as a resin/varnish would. It is unclear what function these remnants of paint would have played in the finished composition. The lead-tin yellow highlights, used extensively across the costume, were the final details to be applied, as can be seen in sample 5 where a highlight lies above the background paint. Sample 2 was taken from a loss in the gold chain which appeared to contain a green particle; in cross-section it was clear that the green particle was in fact azurite.

Other aspects of the costume
Sample 2 from the gold leaf on the chain shows high quality azurite particles, with bright orange particles next to it which may be the mordant for the gold. The function of the azurite in this sample is not clear, but it may be associated with the diamonds on the chain where there is azurite mixed into the highlights, or might be a spot of pigment flicked onto the chain when the background was painted.

The original background contains three paint layers (see sample 4). The first layer is very thick and contains closely packed smalt. This layer appears very dark in cross-section due to the discolouration of the smalt in oil. Above this lies a thin layer of pure azurite followed by a thicker layer of azurite mixed with lead white. There are also a few scattered particles of a purple pigment which may be red lake with a purple hue and was possibly added to make the background resemble ultramarine. No dirt or interlayers were found between the different blue layers, which indicates that they were applied during the same period of the painting's construction. Sample 3 shows a small sample of retouching above the original paint layer which appears to contain indigo.

Surface examination (what's this? )

Surface Examinationclose

An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.

Painting style and method
The painting style is straightforward and simple. There is little texture in the blending. The gold of the costume is gold leaf and lead-tin yellow has been used in many details to imitate gold threads. Good quality azurite has been used extensively in the background, and also in the hair, face and pearls.

Preparation layers
The panel is prepared with a chalk ground which can be seen in areas of damage and abrasion. There is a thin, grey priming layer visible in paint sample cross-section and in areas of damage across the panel (see micro 08). The grey priming layer appears to have been left exposed in the ruff, forming a base layer for highlights and shadows to be added to create the texture of the fabric. In infrared reflectography little evidence of underdrawing was found. In some areas there appear to be painted lines in a purple/red tone (see micro 03) under elements of the composition. It is unclear if these lines mark out the entire composition.

Paint layer structure
Face and flesh paint
The flesh is very simply handled with little texture or modelling in the brushstrokes. The flesh paint and features all contain a large amount of azurite particles which can clearly be seen with the naked eye. Shadowing across the features has been achieved by using large particles of azurite mixed into the flesh paint. The shadowing under the nostrils has been created using a mix of azurite and orange pigments resulting in a purple tone (see micro 07). Vermilion has been used in the cheeks in a higher concentration than in other areas of the flesh paint and can also be seen in the lips which are modelled with a red lake glaze.

The tip of the thumb of the hand on the right appears to have been elongated - it extends over the blue paint of the orb. Despite restoration around this area this change seems to have been made in the original composition. On the hand on the left the end of the little finger has been painted on top of the gold fabric of the skirt. It has been applied in a free, brushy manner and now appears very translucent. The x-ray confirms that this was part of the original composition.

The hair paint also includes particles of azurite. The highlights in the hair have been thickly applied and blended wet-in-wet with darker hair colour (see micro 06). The retouching in the background has been crudely painted around the outline of the figure and covers details in the hair. The hair originally had individual strands softening the outline of the hair and extending over the background - traces of yellow paint are visible underneath the overpaint (see micro 10).

The gold robe of the cloak, bodice and skirt is gold leaf over an orange mordant. Under magnification it can be seen that lead soaps have disrupted the gold leaf, creating small round losses (see micro 08, micro 16 and micro 18). The pattern on the fabric has been marked out with translucent paint which now appears brown. In the skirt the gold thread of the patterned fabric has been created with horizontal lines of white paint. Thickly built up lead-tin yellow to create impasto has been used in many areas of the fabric, ruff, chain, cord and tassels for highlights and to imitate gold threads (see micro 17, micro 18 and micro 19). Much of this appears to have been abraded - this is especially obvious in the ruff where only a few dots have survived (see micro 09). The tassels appear simply and crudely rendered, but the brown paint is original. The brown paint has been scored through to create the impression of individual threads (see micro 20).

In many areas there are scattered red and green pigment particles which were thought to be remnants of glazes (see micro 16 and micro 18). This could not be confirmed from the paint samples and it is unclear how extensive they would have been or what role they played in the overall scheme of fabric pattern. In the ermine trim there has been little attempt to create the texture of fur, except for around the collar (see micro 11). The dark spots on the ermine are simply produced with dashes of dark liquid paint loosely blended into the white underneath (see micro 11). The ruff has been painted using thin white paint making use of the thin grey priming underneath as mid-tones and shadows.

Jewels, orb and sceptre
A panel join runs down the middle of the orb and there is much retouching in this area. In areas of the orb the blue paint has been applied in a 'dab and twist' technique creating a unique texture to the surface (see detail 05 and micro 14). Arnold states in her article that the orb may have been enamel (Arnold, 1978, p. 73) which could account for the texture the artist was trying to achieve. The sceptre is badly degraded with a lot of restoration, especially at the top. The crown has a lot of crude overpainting, especially in areas of red paint. The pearls are simply rendered with lighter paint on one side. The highlights have been built up using thick blobs of white paint. The pearls under the ruff have a lot of azurite in the grey to create the effect that they are in shadow (see micro 12). The red jewels are created by painting a red glaze over the gold leaf. The table-cut diamonds have highlights of white with azurite blended in (see micro 13).

The background has been extensively retouched, presumably due to abrasion or loss. The most recent restoration campaign appears as a liquid, purplish paint beneath which the original blue paint layers can be seen containing smalt and azurite (see micro 10). Areas that appear yellowish and blanched are actually the grey priming layer showing through areas of damage. (For a discussion of the layer structure and pigments used in the background, see Paint sampling).

Order of construction
- White natural chalk ground
- Thin grey priming
- Orange/yellow mordant
- Gold leaf
- Flesh paint, features and ermine
- Jewels and pattern of cloth of gold
- Background paint layers
- Lead-tin yellow highlights of costume and hair

Lead white, plant black, lead-tin yellow, orange earth, red lead, vermilion, crimson red lake, a purplish red lake, azurite, smalt.

Changes in composition/pentimenti
In x-ray it is clear that the fur collar on the cloak was originally planned to be slightly longer than it appears in the final composition.

Analysis using infrared reflectography suggests that the iris of the eye on the left has been changed.

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.

Viewed under ultraviolet light the painting has a patchy green fluorescence in many areas, particularly in the background. This is likely to be residues of an old resinous varnish (see UV 01). Retouchings show up as dark areas under ultra violet light. Many areas of the painting have been retouched, often clearly visible in normal light. The filling and retouching along the panel joins are particularly obvious and in normal light are confusing in relation to the painted folds of the hanging cloth in the background. On the left side of the face there are fine retouchings relating to severe raised cracking in this area as described in the 1979 treatment and evident in x-ray.

The ermine trim on the cloak is extensively retouched especially on the right-hand side and across her lap. Many of the jewels in the crown, on the sceptre and chains have been retouched and the brown pattern on the cord, tassels and gold cloth has been strengthened.


Frame type: Reproduction of a 1600's 'Sansovino' style frame.

Frame date: 19th century.