Queen Elizabeth I
1 portrait on display in Room 3 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
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)
Key findings: The pigment used for the paint in the background has suffered from degradation and was a brilliant blue colour.
Purchased by Private Treaty Sale in 1965. Previously in the collection of Miss Hartley of Saltburne, Yorkshire; sold anonymously by Robinson and Fisher’s on 3 June 1937 (lot 116B) and afterwards in the collection of E. G. Spencer-Churchill of Northwick Park. A good version of the earliest portrait pattern of Elizabeth as Queen, sometimes known as the ‘Northwick Park’ pattern (Strong, 1969, p. 100). It may originally have hung as part of a group of royal portraits.
There are two versions of this pattern: the first is a half-length portrait of the queen which shows her hands holding a book and glove (see the Clopton version referred to below) and the second shows only the queen’s head and shoulders. NPG 4449 belongs to the latter type and shows no indications of having been cut down from a larger original.
Notes on likely authorship
The portrait is likely to derive from an English workshop and this pattern may originally have been replicated in many other versions as an early portrait type of the queen.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The painting technique is simple, often with only one layer of paint over the priming layer. The paint layers are mostly thin, with some thicker paint in the background. The fur is painted with fine brushstrokes. Gold leaf is used on the collar and on the gold chain and pendant. There is evidence for some changes in the nose, mouth and the collar during the drawing and painting stages. The pigment used in the background has been identified as smalt which has degraded and become brown. The background would originally have been bright blue and the lettering, painted in lead-tin yellow, would have been very noticeable against the blue, whereas now there is very little contrast with the surrounding brown.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period but the panel could not be dated by dendochronology. The costume is c.1560 and it is possible the portrait dates from the early part of Elizabeth’s reign, although this cannot be proven by technical analysis. It is evident from a draft proclamation of 1563 that numerous portraits of Elizabeth were in circulation in this early part of her reign. The proclamation was an attempt to regulate production of her portraits and indicated that those already produced were considered unsatisfactory. It is possible this portrait type may be an example of such an image (Cooper, 2003, p. 178).
Drawing and transfer technique
There is black underdrawing around the outline of the head, the nose, at the edges of the collar ruff and within the curves of the ruff. Infrared reflectography reveals that the face is outlined clearly with carbon based underdrawing, suggesting that an established pattern has been used. The underdrawing has shiny particles, indicating that it might be metalpoint or graphite. The strong lines have the appearance of having been applied, probably quite rapidly, to strengthen a transferred pattern, with one line straying away from the outline into the background at the left side. The method of transfer is not clear because lighter lines beneath the strong lines are not evident. Some lighter lines can be seen but these may be part of the strengthening. There is no apparent underdrawing for the mouth and the light lines around the eyes and eyebrows may be in the paint surface. The number of strong lines along the outline of the nose and nostrils, drawn more freely, show a search for the correct line. The painted collar does not follow the underdrawing. The x-ray reveals that the brushwork at the left outline of the nose and nostrils has a slightly confused lack of definition, which indicates perhaps that the painter was working out the shape during the painting stage.
Relevance to other known versions
Other versions of this portrait pattern are recorded at:
- Guildhall, Thetford Ancient House, Museum of Thetford Life, THEHM:DS.22
- National Gallery of Ireland, NGI.541
- formerly at Clopton House, now in the collection of Peter James Hall and on loan to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, Washington D.C
- Sotheby’s on 13 November 1996 – previously owned by Dr Broadbent, physician to the Queen at Grange Court, Essex (probably the same the as portrait in the saleroom at Phillips on 26 April 1994)
- Philip Mould Fine Paintings in 2008 – previously in the collection of Mr N. Browne of Appledore, Kent
- a version previously at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York was sold in 1956 and reappeared on the art market in 1961 at Berry Hill Galleries
- a round panel, 6 inches in diameter was sold at Christie’s on 17 June 1966 (lot 151) to Bryan
Cooper, Tarnya, ‘The Queen’s Visual Presence’ in Susan Doran (ed.) Elizabeth: The Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, London, 2003, pp. 175-81
Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006
Nicoll, Allardyce, The Elizabethans, 1957, p. 6
Strong, Roy, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth, 1963, p. 56 (no. 8)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp. 100, 109-112
Strong, Roy, The Elizabethan Image, Tate Gallery, 1969, p. 11 (no. 4)
Strong, Roy, Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, 1987, p. 59
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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.
The panel is in a good and stable condition. It has a slight convex warp. The paint layers have suffered from flaking in the past but are currently in a stable condition. There is extensive craquelure (following the vertical woodgrain) across the panel, and this is prominent in the pale flesh paint. Areas of gilding on the panel are very abraded. There are numerous retouchings, especially in the dark costume. There are small restored losses in the face, larger losses in the black costume and particularly in the fur collar on the right side. There are restored losses along the bottom edge and a horizontal line which is likely to be abrasion from the frame. There is also some slight abrasion at the top. The restoration has not discoloured and the varnish is clear and semi-matte.
Number of boards: 1
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The panel is in good condition. It has a very slight convex warp but otherwise shows no signs of movement. It does not appear to have been thinned at any time. Saw marks are visible on the reverse which are likely to be from when the panel was originally made and the board is bevelled along the bottom edge. There is a nail which comes through to the back of the panel from the front. In x-ray other nail holes are visible (see X-ray). There are no extra supports on the reverse of the panel. The panel is bevelled along the bottom edge.
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: 1
Last date of tree ring: n/a
Microscopic examination of the board ends shows that this board has unusually wide medullary rays, the board is somewhat tangential in section, and quite thin. These features make this a technically awkward panel for reliable recovery of its tree-ring sequence. The 223 ring sequence that was recovered does not match any other reference data sets and as a result the panel is undated by tree-ring analysis techniques at present.
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.
The wood grain is prominent. Circular nail holes can be seen at the bottom, right side and a row of four at the top-left corner. Nails are still present in some holes. The thin added strip of wood at the left is visible with the nails holding it in place. There is associated damage along the edge at the bottom left, with a broken edge of ground and paint, but there is no damage at the top (see x-ray 01).
A thin brushy layer of paint can be seen, which can be assumed to be the priming layer as it does not correspond with the composition in the upper layers of paint. The brushwork at the left outline of the nose and the nostrils has a slightly confused lack of definition, which indicates perhaps that the painter was working out the shape during the painting stage. The paint is less cracked in this area than in surrounding areas and appears to be a little thicker. Very dark lines of paint can be seen on the left side of the collar ruff following the curves. This is restoration. It appears very opaque and salmon pink on the paint surface when examined with the microscope. The inscription, painted with lead-tin yellow, is clearly visible.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
The face is outlined clearly with carbon-based drawing. The strong lines have the appearance of having been applied, probably quite rapidly, to strengthen a transferred pattern, with one line straying away from the outline into the background at the left side (see detail 01). The method of transfer is not clear because lighter lines beneath the strong lines are not evident. Some lighter lines can be seen but these may be part of the strengthening (see IRR mosaic 01).
There is no apparent drawing for the mouth and the light lines around the eyes and eyebrows may be in the paint surface. The number of strong lines along the outline of the nose and nostrils, drawn more freely, show a search for the correct line.
The painted collar does not follow the drawing. Outlines for the edge of the collar can be seen at the edge of the cheek on the right; the painted edge of the collar is lower than these lines. Some lines can also be seen beneath the painted collar where the painted curves do not follow the drawn curves. The drawing of the top edge of the collar on the left side of the face is a little higher than the painted edge.
Much of the underdrawing can be seen through the paint surface with the naked eye, and also with microscopy where the curving lines of the collar can be seen most clearly. The drawing has shiny particles, indicating that it might be metalpoint or graphite.
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 2003.
The panel has a chalk ground layer with a pale pink priming layer on top. The pink priming contains lead white with a small amount of red earth and lamp black. Pale pink grounds were commonly used by miniaturists and in small portraits.
Samples 1 and 2: Taken from background. The sample showed that the background, which now appears a light brown, was originally blue. The upper paint layer is composed of discoloured smalt particles and some lead white.
Sample 4: Taken from the gilded chain/necklace. Gold leaf sits over a warm yellow mordant which is directly on top of the pink priming. The gilding has been retouched in areas with a mordant containing white with red and yellow earth. An abraded layer of black paint was found over the original gold leaf. There is also a second layer of black in a high proportion of medium which is likely to be a later restoration. Traces of a brown glaze could have been an organic red used to enhance the gold or to act as a shadow.
The white of the fur is lead white with traces of blue pigment, possibly smalt. Grey sections of the fur contain varying proportions of charcoal black and brown. The flesh is coloured with lead white and traces of red - possibly vermilion.
Libby Sheldon 2009:
Sample 1: From the outline of the jaw line, where the drawing has a shiny appearance which suggested a tool such as silverpoint. Examination with polarising light showed reflective qualities in incident light, as does silver. It does not have the characteristics of black chalk or any other black pigments, such as carbon. Comparison with graphite showed some similarities but the material is closer to silver; energy dispersive x-ray analysis would give firm identification. This might suggest that the painting is drawn with both carbon medium and silverpoint. The use of carbon is indicated by the clear definition of the drawing seen with infrared reflectography.
Sample 2: Red/Brown glaze on a gold element of the chain. Tested with energy dispersive x-ray analysis for the presence of copper. It appears to include umber and some ochres but further investigation suggests that this result was part of the mordant underlying the gold, rather than a supplement to the translucent brown observed on the surface.
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 technique is simple, often with one layer of paint over the priming layer. The paint layers are mostly thin, with some thicker paint in the background.
The panel is prepared with a white chalk ground. The priming layer over this is pale, mostly a mixture of lead white with a little red earth and some lamp black, applied with a broad brush. Most of the underdrawing detected with infrared reflectography is visible in the paint surface, and more clearly with microscopy when the shiny particles of the underdrawing can be seen (see micro 18). Paint sampling observations have suggested that some of underdrawing is executed in silverpoint (See Paint sampling), but much of the underdrawing is clearly visible with infrared reflectography and therefore must be drawn with a carbon medium. Black underdrawing can be seen around the outline of the head, the nose and at the edges of the collar ruff and within the curves of the ruff.
Paint layer structure
See detail 01. There is softening around the contours, particularly the shadow of the nose, where the paint is pulled down and across with soft small brushstrokes (see micro 03). The lips are simply painted in pale red (see micro 04). The surface abrasion follows striations in the ground layer. The darker red line for the separation of the lips runs into the shadows at the edges. The warm brown line along the upper edge of the eyelids and around the nostrils contains black and red particles which are probably vermilion. The flesh goes over the fabric of the black costume, which shows that part of it was painted after the costume was laid in.
The eyes are very simply described and modelled with no eyelashes (see micro 02). The irises are painted grey, with large black pupils - there is no blue pigment but charcoal black particles mixed into the white have a bluish appearance. The white of the eyes contain lead white with some black particles and a small scattering of vermilion.
The paint surface is abraded and brushstrokes of red, white and black paint mark out individual hairs overlapping the hat. The hair is simply painted with a brown underlayer. There are little strokes of red paint, especially at the hairline on the left side (see micro 08 and micro 15). Small red pigment particles, vermilion or red earth, can be seen with microscopy.
The black costume is very abraded, exposing striations in the priming layer (see micro 16). The fur is painted with fine brushstrokes. The fur was painted after the chain. The cluster of pearls which appear just under the fur have brushstrokes pulled through the wet paint indicating the hairs of the fur trim (see micro 09).
The cap is simply blocked in black with a gold trim of gilded leaf. At the edge of the cap the black paint is pulled out in tiny brushstrokes over the background (see micro 05).
The gold leaf is very abraded and this has exposed the yellow mordant layer in many parts (see micro 10). The position of the collar was changed a little between the drawing and painting stages (see micro 17) (see Infrared reflectography).
Most of the necklace and pendant appear very flat and the gold is very abraded. A small amount of red/brown glaze remains (see micro 12), which gives some depth to the necklace. The pearls are simply but well painted, with some impasto (see micro 13 and micro 14). There is white highlighting on the diamonds (flat cut and therefore they appear black). The small jewel which links the large pendant to the chain is green, the paint is worn but appears to be original as it runs under the mordant and gilding (see micro 20). The gilding seems to have been added at the end of the painting process, it is possible that there is some regilding. The green appears to have some restoration.
The background was painted in one layer over the priming layer. It is now brown, but has been identified as discoloured smalt and therefore was originally blue (see micro 07). Very brushy application of background paint can be seen around the figure, this is probably exaggerated by the discolouration of the pigment.
The inscription is painted with lead-tin yellow (see micro 06). The colour is almost lost in the brown colour of the background but it would have been much more evident when seen against a blue background. It has a very granulated appearance and there are dark residues on all the letters.
Order of construction
- White chalk ground
- Light pink priming
- Black costume
- Mordant for gilding
- Black detail on gilding
Lead white, lamp black, lead-tin yellow, vermilion, smalt, red ochre, yellow earth, earth pigments
Changes in composition/pentimenti
Some searching for the line of the nose and nostrils can be seen in the underdrawing. The top of the collar ruff on the left and top of the right-edge of the ruff are a little higher in the underdrawing than in the paint (See Infrared reflectography) (see micro 17).
X-ray indicates that there were changes in the shape of the mouth, and surface observation shows slightly thicker paint layers near the mouth and less craquelure than the surrounding areas (see X-ray).
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Faint patchy green fluorescence showing careful cleaning leaving old resinous varnish residues can be seen under examination in ultra violet light.
There is a lot of retouching in the face - evident as fine lines in vertical orientation - and this is related to small old paint losses and wear (see UV 01). There is a lot of retouching in the background and to the bottom left of the panel in the black costume and the ermine.