Queen Elizabeth I
9 of 23 portraits on display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
Queen Elizabeth I
by Unknown continental artist
oil on panel, circa 1575
44 1/2 in. x 31 in. (1130 mm x 787 mm)
Key findings: This portrait is the work of a highly skilled continental artist and was probably produced directly following a drawing from the life.
The portrait was purchased by the Gallery from the Earl of Darnley in 1925 and was previously in the earl’s collection at Cobham Hall, Kent. It was possibly painted for William Brooke, Lord Cobham (1527-97), Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, whose son forfeited his estates for his part in the Maine Plot of 1603, which meant that Cobham passed to the Dukes of Richmond and Lennox. It then descended via the Baroness Clifton to John Bligh, 1st Earl of Darnley (1687-1728).
The portrait is probably the source of a face pattern of the queen which was in use throughout the 1580s and into the 1590s. The pattern was reused in conjunction with different arrangements of dress and jewels, and could be turned to the right or left. No other face pattern of the queen was so widely disseminated, indicating the success of this composition. Strong argued that ‘as the finest example of this face mask it ought perhaps to be the pattern portrait from which all the unending repetitions stem’ (Strong, 1969, p. 102). It would seem highly probable that this portrait was produced directly following a drawing from the life. The energetic and spontaneous underdrawn lines used to mark out the body indicate a search for a suitable composition and do not follow a pattern. The features of the face are carefully delineated and would appear to be transferred following a drawing from the life.
Notes on likely authorship and justification
Strong attributed the portrait to Federico Zuccaro, who visited England in 1575 and is known to have drawn the queen, on the grounds that ‘a sitting by the Queen to an eminent Italian painter cannot have been other than a major event designed to produce a pattern image’ (Strong, 1987, p. 87). However, stylistically it appears more Northern in character. It therefore appears to be by a very highly skilled continental artist, who has yet to be identified.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The painting techniques display the artist’s knowledge and skill in manipulating oil paint to a very high level. The fan and the pendant jewel were painted at a late stage in the painting process, and were fluidly executed with great confidence and spontaneity. Most of the painting appears to have been carried out by a single hand, painting rapidly and confidently. However, the repeating pattern of the embroidered costume, where the handling is more systematic, is more likely to have been applied by the workshop. The crown is also painted in a particularly systematic way and is almost certainly a very late addition which was painted by a different, less talented artist, and thus may have been requested by a patron.
The paint was applied wet-in-wet, using pure colour and pigment mixtures. The tone of the painting was considerably warmer and redder originally. Red lake has faded in many parts, particularly in the flesh, the hair, the dress pattern, some of the frogging on the doublet, and the tablecloth. The outlines of the embroidered dress pattern would originally have been a rich purple but have become brown due to the discolouration of the smalt in the paint mixture and the fading of red lake.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials used are entirely consistent with a work from this period. Analysis of the wooden panel by dendrochronology has indicated that the wood comes from a tree that could not have been felled before 1561.
Drawing and transfer technique
There is underdrawing in several parts of the painting but the changes made at both drawing and painting stages indicate that a strict pattern was not used in planning all the elements; for example, the position and the dimensions of the fan were altered at both the drawing and the painting stages. By contrast the embroidered dress pattern is underdrawn with fine lines and the paint carefully follows these outlines.
Relevance to other known versions
There are no directly comparable versions of this portrait. However, a number of portraits using this face pattern appear to stem from NPG 2082, and these can be divided into various groups (Strong, 1969, pp. 110-111).
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.102-103, 109-12
Strong, Roy, Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, 1987, pp. 85-9
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The ground and paint are generally in good condition. Some close-networked craquelure is evident, some of which appears slightly raised, particularly around the fan. The paint and ground layers appear stable. All joins are filled and retouched, but otherwise retouchings are small but numerous. There are two repaired splits parallel to the two central joins: one to the left in the upper half and one to the right in the lower half. There is an uneven convex warp across the panel and small repaired splits in each corner; these splits are stable at present. The varnish is clear and even.
Number of boards: 4
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The lower edge of the panel is roughly sawn, suggesting that it may have been cut down at some stage. The right-hand board (from the back) is considerably narrower than the other two boards (approximately 170 mm in width in comparison to 270 mm and 20 mm for the central and left-hand boards respectively). Without the presence of the wooden addition along the outer edge of the right-hand board, the composition would cut off through the sitter's arm and costume. This evidence, combined with information derived from dendrochronological analysis suggests that the original right-hand board (from the back) has been trimmed by approximately 100 mm in total (see Dendrochronology). Taking into account the width of the non-original wooden addition, it is likely that the painting would have originally been approximately 50 mm wider than we see it today. The panel has undergone a certain amount of structural work in the past. Two deep horizontal grooves can be seen on the upper and lower edges of the panel, indicating that wooden batons were once used to support the panel. The batons were probably removed during the 1948 restoration campaign, which also included lightly shaving the reverse of the panel and attaching small diamond shaped buttons along the panel joins. Small rectangular buttons were also attached to each of the four corners. Evidence of woodworm damage can be seen on the reverse of the left-hand board (from the back). A wax-based coating appears to have been applied to the reverse in this area.
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: 1553
The four board panel was labelled A-D from the left (from the front). Board A, which is a later repair, contains too few rings for analysis and therefore could not be dated. No sapwood was found on any of the boards. Comparison between the boards shows that boards B and D derive from the same tree. The last rings on boards B, C and D date from 1542, 1553 and 1541 respectively. Adding the minimum number of sapwood rings to board C suggests it could not have been felled before 1561. The dimensions of the central and left-hand original boards (C and D) are within a typical range for Baltic oak boards, suggesting there is little chance they have been trimmed. It is most likely that board B was originally of the same width as board D, as they derive from the same tree, but only the outer part of it has survived. It therefore seems likely that the painting was originally wider (approximately 290-300 mm).
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 narrow repair board at the left side can be seen clearly with x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01). The broadly applied priming is visible over all parts of the original panel. It is evident that the background was painted up to the edge of the reserve for the hair. The pentimenti along the tops of the shoulders can be seen with x-ray. At the painting stage there was still some uncertainty about the shape of the hand on the left. There seem to have been several slight changes made during painting, and the final change at the left edge of the hand is clearly evident. It can be seen that the hand on the right was painted with far more confidence than the hand on the left. The fluid and fluent quality of the brushwork in the portrait and costume is evident. There are small areas where the paint has been scraped accidentally, perhaps caught with the brush handle, when the paint was still wet. The dress pattern applied beneath the upper part of the fan can be seen with x-ray. There is an interesting craquelure round the edges of some of the dress pattern, where very fine crack lines can be seen round many of the foliage sprays; this follows the slightly indented lines of the fine underdrawing.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Black underdrawing can be seen in the hands, the face, indicating folds in the sleeves, positions for the cuffs, waist and frogging on the doublet and a position for the fan (see IRR mosaic 01). This appears to have been carried out with a wet medium used sparingly on the brush, allowing it to skip over the texture of the priming layer. Strong outlines in the face, for the features and the left side of the face, show that a pattern was evidently used. The drawing in the hands is evidently freehand, showing a search for the correct shape and position of the hands. The lines for the hand on the right are particularly numerous. There are freely drawn lines for the frogging, the folds in the dress and the fan. The drawn position of the fan does not relate to the final painted position, which is significantly lower. A small circle was drawn at the edge of the hand on the left to indicate the fan handle. Lines drawn for the hand on the left indicate that the fingers were to be curved round the fan handle. Infrared reflectography shows that a reserve was left round the drawn position for the fan when an initial light grey paint layer was applied to the skirt. This reserve can be seen on the paint surface and was evidently left when the upper layer of light grey paint was applied. The grey paint was painted up to the edge of the reserve for the hand on the left. The fingers were extended at the painting stage and painted over the grey paint. There are very fine lines round the embroidery, which appear to be in a dry medium and have the appearance of metalpoint. It is possible that these lines were indented into the priming and this suggestion is supported by the fine cracks which can be seen in x-ray round the edges of the embroidery detail. Outlines to the embroidery on the costume appear pale when viewed using infrared reflectography, probably due to the thickness of the embroidery paint. The pentiment at the left side of the hand on the left and the dark strengthening of details in the costume are clearly visible with infrared reflectography.
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 October 2009.
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground and an unevenly applied priming layer containing primarily lead white and lamp black pigments, with occasional particles of red lead. The uneven nature of the priming suggests that it was broadly applied with the brush; this has been confirmed by x-ray analysis. The priming is also used as the first layer of the dress, providing the mid-tones in the grey fabric. Occasional traces red lake and another opaque red were also found in samples of the priming at the upper edge of the background, suggesting that the priming may vary in colour slightly.
The flesh is composed of lead white, charcoal black, crimson lake and very finely ground vermilion; this mixture is visible on the painting surface using microscopy. The ear was painted with a good quantity of vermilion. Traces of a thin red lake glaze were found on the cheeks, suggest an extensive glaze has been lost.
In the left iris the particles of yellow appear more rounded and smoother than those in the right iris; these are mixed with a large quantity of good quality, translucent sienna. Traces of red and black are also visible.
Sample 10: A yellowish brown lake pigment was employed to paint the hair.
The grey, undecorated parts of the dress appear to utilise the pale grey priming layer for mid-tones. On the surface it is clear that darker pigments were added for shadows above.
Embroidery pattern on the skirt and sleeves
The embroidered pattern on the skirt and sleeves were painted using a variety of colours and textures. The yellows and orange/yellows within the pattern were painted using lead-tin yellow and either vermilion or crimson lake. In contrast, the outside raised edge to the embroidered pattern has a dull orange/brown, coarse appearance. Analysis of this paint (sample 3), found this raised paint mixture contains mostly smalt with red lake mixed with it. Two further samples were taken to investigate the composition of this paint further (samples 11 and 13). Scanning electron microscope/energy dispersive x-ray analysis was undertaken on sample 11 by Sally Marriott and Marika Spring at the National Gallery, London, in order to determine whether the smalt is an entirely faded rich blue, or whether it was always a colourless glass. The results of this analysis have confirmed that the smalt particles in this raised embroidered pattern were originally blue in colour, and therefore the likelihood is that this pattern would have been a rich purple.
There are grey spots in the paint for the frogging which might be deteriorated vermilion, and appear to be coming through from the layer below. The outline of the frogging seems to contain the same bulky material as the raised outline to the dress pattern and is assumed to be smalt, but was not sampled. The reds on the frogging vary in tone, which appears partly to be original intent, although there has been some degree of fading in the red lake in the red mixtures.
Cuffs and collar
The shadows are modelled with very fine black, which appears to be plant black, to give a greyish tone. Some vermilion was used in the paint mixture in the collar.
Sample1: Dispersion from the green ribbon of the pendant jewel, shows it to be composed of good quality azurite and lead-tin yellow.
The fan is composed of a complex mixture of pigments, including the brightest on the palette. Sample 4 shows the complex pigment mixture in an area of purple feathers and includes azurite, red lake, lead white, and an opaque orange/red which may be red lead. The green used in the fan is the same mixture of azurite and lead-tin yellow that was used to paint the pendant jewel ribbon. The dark feathers on the right side of the fan appear to have darkened with time. This has occurred as a result of a chemical reaction between the copper-based azurite pigment used and the oil, causing discolouration of the medium in this area and darkening the azurite and lead-tin yellow pigments used.
Jewels on the headdress
Sample 9: Shows that the jewels contain lead-tin yellow and yellow ochre. The reds used are good quality vermilion with crimson lake and black.
Sample 12: Cross-section taken from the right-hand edge, in a passage of rich colour where the red lake has been protected from light and remains unfaded. Sample 12 shows the preparation layers in addition to at least two layers of vermilion with a high proportion of red lake. There is considerable restoration but areas of original paint show that in some places a modifying lighter red with a high proportions of vermilion, lay over the darker more translucent red. This might indicate that a pattern of different opacity and translucency was depicted in the velvet fabric.
Sample 7: Cross-section taken from an area of background shows the full paint layer structure, including the grey priming and a layer of finely ground plant black above.
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 techniques adopted in this painting display the artist's knowledge and skill in the manipulation of oil paint to a very high level. The majority of the work appears to have been carried out by a single hand, painting rapidly and confidently, however the crown on the right-hand side and the repeating pattern of the embroidered costume are more likely to have been applied by the workshop. The handling in these areas, especially the crown, appears more systematic. Given the evidence of the number of changes made at both the drawing and painting stages, it appears that a strict pattern was not used in planning all elements of the portrait. (see IRR mosaic 01 and x-ray mosaic 01).
There is a chalk ground and a lead-based pale warm grey priming layer, which is variable in thickness. This is also used as the first paint layer of the dress, for the mid-tones. The priming is mostly lead white and lamp black, with some occasional traces of red lead and another red (see Paint sampling).
The underdrawing was probably executed in charcoal (see Infrared reflectography and micro 15).
The flesh is thinly painted above the pale priming. The paint mixture in the hands and face is mostly white with very small particles of vermilion and red lake. Much of the shadow and contour around the eyes, nose and mouth is defined by black underdrawing, showing through the thinly applied paint on the surface (see micro 02 and micro 04). Additional, deeper shadows were then applied above the pale flesh tones, using a higher proportion of black in the flesh paint. The lips were applied using a mixture of vermilion, lead white, black and red lake, with a rich red lake glaze to define the shadow and parting. Despite an inevitable increase in the transparency of the oil paint over time, it appears that the black underdrawing was intentionally used to create shadow and definition in the flesh. Fragments of red lake glaze remain on the surface of the cheek, suggesting a thin glaze was originally used to provide additional modelling and warmth in the flesh.
The hands were painted with the same paint mixture as the face, with brown and red lake used for shadows and contours (see micro 22). Microscopic examination of the hand on the left shows an additional red lake glaze on the surface, which appears to have been removed during a previous cleaning campaign (see micro 16). It appears likely that not only has there been a reduction in the overall warmth of the flesh tones through pigment fading, but this has also been accentuated by removal of glaze layers during past cleaning.
The eyes were smoothly blended wet-in-wet, using small, soft brushstrokes and thinly applied paint. The shape of the eyes was defined with the black underdrawing and a dark red/brown paint. With microscopy it can be seen that the upper eye lashes on the eye on the right are defined with underdrawing which shows through the thinly applied paint on the surface (see micro 02). The iris and pupils of both eyes are painted with a high proportion of black (possibly bone black), lead white, vermilion and ochre.
The hair was initially laid in above the pale priming using a thin layer of charcoal black, yellow ochre, red lake, lead white and occasional azurite, (see Paint sampling). In areas of highlight and definition, such as the curls, the paint is more thickly applied using an opaque mixture of yellow ochre, black, vermilion, lead white, red lake and lead-tin yellow (see micro 03). Where the hair and flesh meet, the paint is finely blended wet-in-wet. Given the level of fading elsewhere, it is clear that the hair was more vivid originally and that the red lake has faded.
The veil was thinly painted above the background using grey, composed of lead white, black, azurite and red. The edge of the veil was then defined with lead-tin yellow, ochre and black pigments, applied with a very thin brush. The green 'vein' detail to the painted fabric was thinly applied over the grey veil using a thin mixture of azurite and red earth.
The costume was painted with an initial thin layer of grey, composed of lead white, charcoal black and vermilion. Due to the thin nature of the paint, the pale priming shows through the upper paint layers, as a warm mid-tone (see micro 12 and micro 20). The thin, now brown, glaze embroidery pattern was then applied, followed by lead white and lead-tin yellow details above. The brighter pale highlights contain red lead and lead-tin yellow. An area of embroidery from the lower edge of the panel (which historically has been protected from light by a frame rebate) shows how the majority of the, now pale brown, embroidered details have undergone significant colour change in the presence of light. The outline to the embroidery would originally have been considerably warmer in tone. In contrast to the brown, mottled glaze in the majority of the costume, the edge of the panel shows the glaze was originally a much warmer and brighter orange. This colour change is most likely to be due to the use of light-sensitive red lake pigment, which has faded over time. A considerable amount of unfaded, transparent red lake glaze can be seen in the painted outlines of the embroidery along the lower edge. In most of the costume, the paint mixture of the outlines has become cloudy and the pink tone is lost. Surface examination has identified smalt in this degraded paint mixture. A few pale blue smalt particles can be seen at high magnification and paint sampling has identified the presence of a glass pigment to confirm this observation. Paint sample analysis shows that there is a greater proportion of smalt than red lake in the paint mixture and, therefore, the mixture would have originally appeared purple. Tonal variations in the folds in the fabric were also probably more evident originally.
The red embroidered frogging on the bodice was then applied using vermilion, lead-tin yellow and a considerable amount of red lake (see micro 19). Examination in ultra violet light shows that areas of red lake in both the costume and tablecloth do not display the characteristic orange fluorescence of madder lake. As with many areas of the painting, the red lake in the frogging has also faded considerably. It is evident that the tonal variations were intentional; there is a distinct tonal contrast between the frogging in the upper and lower parts of the bodice (see micro 26), with rich vermilion and red lake used for detail in the upper section, and red lake and white in the paler frogging at waist level. The fading of the red lake in the lower parts of the frogging, where it was mixed with white, has exaggerated the tonal variation. After painting the frogging, white and grey shadows and details were applied to the costume (see micro 08). The ruff, cuffs and pearl necklace were then added above. Given the evidence for significant colour change, it is likely that the costume would have originally been considerably warmer and brighter in tone, with less contrast between the now quite bright frogging and the rest of the painted fabric and flesh.
Collar and cuffs
The collar and cuffs were first laid in with a thin pale grey composed of lead white, charcoal black, red lake and a little yellow ochre and azurite. The white details were then added into the still wet grey paint below, using a fine brush. Touches of very fine plant black were then applied for shadow (see micro 20).
Pearl necklace and the pendant jewel
The pearl necklace was applied over the costume, using lead white and black which were not fully mixed but applied wet-in-wet (see raking detail 02). Shadows cast against the costume were then defined by broad dark grey paint. Some of these were reinforced at a late stage with the same dark green paint used for the pendant jewel ribbon (see micro 21), suggesting a spontaneous working method. The pendant jewel and ribbon were painted at a late stage. A mixture of lead-tin yellow and azurite was used for the ribbon, with lead white in areas of highlight. The pendant jewel is expertly handled, with great fluidity and confidence. The paint was applied wet-in-wet, using pigment mixtures as well as pure colour, including thick red lake glazes, azurite, lead-tin yellow, black, lead white, vermilion and ochre (see micro 10 and micro 24).
In a similar manner to the handling of the pendant jewel, the fan was painted with great confidence and spontaneity. Small brushstrokes were used to paint individual feathers, which overlap and lightly blend as the colour was applied (see micro 13). Both microscopy and and infrared reflectography have shown clearly that the fan was altered in both the planning and painting stages before the artist settled on the current position and shape. Infrared reflectography shows a reserve and underdrawing for the fan in a higher position than it now appears, and includes underdrawing for a handle which was never painted (see IRR mosaic 01). A decision was made to lower the position of the fan after the drawing stage. At this point a thin initial layer of the grey costume paint was laid in, with a second layer applied up to the edge of the initial fan reserve. The painted embroidery details were then applied to the costume. Following this, the shape and size of the fan was altered above the painted costume. The embroidered pattern can be seen beneath the upper portion of the fan in both raking and normal light. The final shape and size of the fan appears much fuller and larger than was originally intended.
Chair and tablecloth
The sitter's left hand rests on a chair arm, which stands in front of the red embroidered tablecloth. At the right edge of the panel, the rich red lake glaze on the surface of the table cloth (see micro 14) has been protected from light by the frame rebate (in a similar manner to the costume at the lower edge of the panel). Where the paint has been exposed to light, it has faded to a pale red/orange, and lacks the depth of tone that it once had.
Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- Pale grey priming (lead white, charcoal black, occasional red), used also as the underlayer for the dress
- Underdrawing - charcoal
- Collar and cuffs laid in
- Fan and pendant jewel
- White detail on collar and cuffs
- Pearls on veil, in hair and necklace
- Dark shadows around pearls and in folds
Lead white, charcoal black, plant black, lamp black, sienna and ochre earth pigments, vermilion, red lake, red lead, lead-tin yellow, azurite, smalt
Changes in composition/pentimenti
Multiple changes have occurred in both the drawing and painting stages (see Infrared reflectography). Small alterations to the outline of the shoulder on the right and the hairline can be seen in addition to those which took place in the fan (see above). Alterations have occurred in the positioning of the fifth finger of the hand on the left, which was first drawn and painted higher and wider than we see it today. This was then covered when the hands were opened from their original curled position (see Infrared reflectography and micro 17).
The thin left edge board is not original. The retouchings are reasonably well matched.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
In ultra violet light an overall greenish fluorescence indicates the presence of natural resin varnish. Isolated areas of retouching are visible throughout, particularly in the flesh, ruff, background, tablecloth and lower portion of the costume (see UV 01). Restoration is also visible along the panel joins and areas of abrasion are particularly evident in the background and along the right-hand edge. The colour used in the costume embroidery pattern displays a slight yellow fluorescence, but does not appear to contain madder lake which fluoresces orange in ultra violet light. A slight orange fluorescence is visible in the frogging and fabric 'puffs' at the edge of the frogging and sleeves, which may be due to the presence of madder lake pigment. In ultra violet light a faint arched line can be seen along the top edge of the painting. Similarly wide, straight lines are also present along the lower and right-hand edges, suggesting the painting was displayed and perhaps varnished within a frame with a wide rebate. The width of these bands roughly corresponds to the width of the wooden extension on the left-hand side. The painted addition on the left hand edge is distinguishable in ultra violet light.
See this portrait
On display in Room 2 at the National Portrait Gallery