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Queen Elizabeth I

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- subject matching 'Jewellery - Crowns and tiaras'

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Queen Elizabeth I, by Unknown artist, 1585-1590 - NPG 2471 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

Queen Elizabeth I

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, 1585-1590
37 1/2 in. x 32 1/4 in. (953 mm x 819 mm)
NPG 2471


A number of versions of this portrait type survive that may have been produced in the same studio.

This portrait was discovered in a cottage at Coolham Green, near Shipley, Sussex in 1890. It had been built into the panelling of the wall immediately over a fireplace in front of the chimney flue and the surface was so obscured by dirt and smoke that it looked like a blackened panel of wood. The back of the panel had been left bare and a quantity of broken tiles and other rubbish had accumulated against it.

Soon after its discovery it was suggested that the portrait may have been in the collection of the Viscounts Montague at Cowdray, which was pillaged in 1643 and suffered a devastating fire in 1793 (see 1969 catalogue link to p.104). No portrait of Elizabeth is listed in the Cowdray inventories of c.1680, 1682, and 1777 and research has shown that individuals outside the nobility and gentry also owned portraits of the queen; it is therefore not possible to determine who originally owned the work. The painting was acquired by Robert Downing, surveyor to Lord Leconfield and by 1910 had passed into the possession of Sir Aston Webb. The painting was bequeathed to the Gallery by Webb in 1930.

Historical context
The face pattern is that of the ‘Darnley’ portrait of Elizabeth I. The survival of a group of similar portraits provides evidence of the increase in the production of royal portraits in the 1580s.

Notes on attribution
A number of portraits of Elizabeth I survive that use a similar face pattern and incorporate some of the same compositional elements: an arabesque patterned background, a crimson velvet chair, a black dress with blackwork sleeves covered in gauze and a fan. They may have been produced in the same studio; Strong attributed the group to John Bettes the Younger on the grounds of its similarity to a portrait of an unknown woman bearing the monogram IB and dated 1587 (St. Olave’s School, Bromley). However, a number of works bearing the IB monogram have subsequently emerged, such as the portrait of a member of the Tyrell Family in the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art in Moscow, and these are stylistically very different. The attribution to Bettes can therefore no longer be sustained and the painting must remain the work of an unidentified artist.

Justification for dating
The queen’s likeness is derived from the ‘Darnley’ portrait of c. 1575. The portrait is therefore likely to have been produced before the ‘Ditchley’ pattern of the queen was made in 1592 (NPG 2561), and possibly before the likeness used in the ‘Armada’ portrait of c.1588 (NPG 541). This is confirmed by the costume and the materials and techniques in use are also consistent with a work of this date; dendrochronological analysis provided a felling-date range for the wood used in the panel of 1578-1593.

The panel has a strong warp and was evidently thinned before a cradle was attached; the cradle has since been removed. The paint surface has a history of instability and there are restored losses scattered over the surface. The flesh paint and the black costume are considerably worn and restored. The background cloth was originally green, painted with a copper green glaze over a grey underlayer, but this has been overpainted. Most of the pattern is still visible but x-ray reveals that there are folds in the background cloth that are now concealed. These were evidently painted with a lead bearing pigment, probably lead-tin yellow, and can be compared with the background in similar portraits of Elizabeth, such as at the National Maritime Museum.

Painting technique
The paint was applied in an orderly and systematic manner. Initial underlayers in appropriate tones were applied in the reserve areas for each element; for example in the face, collar, cuff, sleeves. The fine details of the facial features, lace, and jewels were then painted in. The black underskirt was blocked in and the feathers and hands were applied over it. The red jewels on the sleeves were painted in an unusual manner, with red lake used for the main base of the jewel and a brighter opaque red pigment used as the highlight; this is the reverse order to the usual method.

Drawing and transfer technique
Infrared reflectography revealed some carbon-based underdrawing in the face and hands that appears to derive from a pattern. There is also some evidence of underdrawing in red paint in the hands and fan, and it is likely that red lake was used to mark out these elements of the composition once the black of the dress had been painted.

Other known versions
The face mask is that of the ‘Darnley’ portrait and there are a number of surviving portraits with a similar composition:
- Hever Castle
- Private Collection (reversed)
- Madresfield Court (holding a sieve)
- The National Maritime Museum
- Royal Collection, RCIN405749
- sold at Sothebys on 22nd November 2007

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, XIII, 1890, pp. 122-125
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, London, 1969, p. 104
Strong, Roy, The English Icon, 1969, pp. 187-194
Strong, Roy, Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, 1987, pp. 116-9
Town, Edward, ‘Bettes, John II’, in ‘A Biographical Dictionary of London Painters, 1547-1625’, The Walpole Society, 76, 2014, pp. 35-36

Exhibition history
‘London’s Lost Jewels: The Mystery of the Cheapside Hoard’, Museum of London, 2014
‘Searching for Shakespeare’, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2006
‘Heroes and Villains: Scarfe at the National Portrait Gallery’, Millennium Galleries, Sheffield, 2005
‘Great Britain – USSR: An Historical Exhibition’, Arts Council exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1967
‘Coronation Exhibition of Sixteenth-Century Portraits’, Manchester City Art Gallery, Manchester, 1953


Micro 01. Detail of the eye on the left (7.1…
Micro 02. Detail of the eye on the right (7.1…
Micro 03. Detail of lips (7.1 x mag).
Micro 04. Detail of azurite particles in the…
Micro 06. Original bright green background la…
Micro 07. Original background paint concealed…
Micro 08. Detail of jewel on headdress (7.1 x…
Micro 09. Detail of lace on ruff, showing wea…
Micro 10. Detail of chair, showing layer buil…
Micro 11. Deterioration in the paint layers o…
Micro 12. Jewels decorating the dress (7.1 x…
Micro 13. Detail of ruby heart-shaped pendant…
Micro 14. Detail of veil (7.1 x mag).
Micro 15. Detail of blackwork on sleeve with…
Micro 16. Detail of purple flower on sleeve,…
Micro 17. Detail of lace on the cuff, showing…
Micro 18. Detail of fingertips (7.1 x mag).
Micro 19. Detail showing layer structure of t…
Micro 20. Detail of red underpaint (12.5 x ma…
DIRR detail 01. Digital infrared reflectogram…

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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 panel has a strong warp and flexes when moved. It has evidently been thinned before a cradle (now removed) was attached. There is a repaired split in the panel at the bottom left. There has been a history of blistering and tenting in the paint surface, which has been treated several times. There is a raised unstable area in the hair that requires treatment. There is considerable restoration down the left join. There are restored paint losses scattered over the paint surface, especially in the upper part of the fan. The flesh paint and the black costume are considerably worn and restored. The background has considerable overpaint. There are very matt, slightly opaque retouchings. The varnish is relatively even and clear, and also relatively undiscoloured, but rather matt.


Support type: Eastern Baltic oak

Number of boards: 3

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

A cradle attached to the back of the panel was removed in 1985. The shape of the cradle is indicated by marks left on the back. The back was sealed with three coats of Paraloid B67. The panel has a strong warp, with the centre curving forward 30 mm from the flat plane. The left join has been separated and rejoined but the right join is in good condition and does not appear to have been disjoined, although some additional glue can been at the back.

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: 3

Last date of tree ring: 1570


For analysis the boards were labelled A to C from the left (from the front). There is sapwood present on the outermost edges of boards A and C, which means that a felling date range can be applied to the panel. The tree-ring sequence obtained from board C could not be dated. The sequences obtained from boards A and B matched strongly and are derived from a single tree. The last measured heartwood rings are 1569 and 1570. Adding the minimum and maximum expected number of sapwood rings to these suggests that the boards were derived from a tree felled between 1578 and 1593. AT 335 mm and 333 mm, the boards are slightly wider than typical Baltic boards.

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-ray shows that the left panel join has been rejoined; the right join has not been repaired and is in good condition (see x-ray mosaic 01). There is a slight crack over the join on some parts of the paint surface and a fine indented line of damage in the paint surface along the lower edge that was probably caused by a framing method. There is a little damage at the right edge of the lower-right corner that is related to the same framing method. The broad brushwork of the priming layer can be seen in x-ray. It is clear where the initial paint layers were laid into the reserves for each area; for example the face, the cuffs, the collar, and the sleeves. The detail was then applied over the underlayer, including the features in the face, the lace on the collar and cuffs, and the pattern and jewels on the sleeves. The hands were painted onto a reserve left after the skirt was painted but without a preliminary underlayer. In the background x-ray shows that beneath the black overpaint there are folds in the background fabric, painted with a lead-based pigment, which is probably lead-tin yellow. This can be compared with similar background fabric in comparable portraits of Elizabeth I, for example at the National Maritime Museum. The embroidered pattern in the background appears clear and crisp in x-ray, but the current appearance of the background has been softened with dark overpaint. X-ray shows that the edges of the flesh paint on the hands extend a little beyond the reserves left for the hands and overlaps the black costume. All the jewels were applied over the black costume paint.

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.

Infrared reflectography shows standard fine black underdrawing in the face and hands that is evidently from a pattern (see DIRR detail 01). The underdrawing appears to have been executed in a dry medium: the material is broken up along the surface in a way that suggests a dry tool running over the rough surface of the priming. Infrared reflectography shows that the underskirt seems to have been blocked in and then the feathers and hands were applied over it. Red paint noticed in surface examination may have been used to mark outlines for these features as it would have shown clearly over the dark paint of the skirt (see Surface examination).

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 taken by Joyce Plesters (National Gallery) in 1971, identified a copper green glaze in the dark background and confirmed that the dress is black.

Paint samples were taken for analysis by Libby Sheldon in July 2011.

There is a chalk ground. The priming is a surprisingly thick, pale warm grey layer with lead white, red lead and traces of charcoal black.

Grey veil
Sample 1: Cross-section shows the ground and the grey priming with a thin translucent layer over it, which appears to be oil (and contains traces of red). The grey dress paint, with lead white and large particles of plant black (probably charcoal), lies above this with a very thin, slightly lighter layer over it.

Sleeve on the right
Sample 2: Cross-section shows the thick priming with traces of the thin translucent layer (noted in sample 1) over it. An intense black layer lies over this, made with large slightly rounded particles that appear to be lamp black, with possibly some bone black also. A slightly greyer and looser dark paint lies over the intense black layer. Some intermittent white over the two black layers may be part of occasional crusting. In some parts there is a thin layer of white lying over the intense black layer; this is probably the thin gauze outer layer of the sleeve.

Red jewel on the upper right sleeve
Sample 5: Dispersion shows the dull red outer part of jewel, which appears to be red earth and could be burnt red ochre.

Pearl on headdress
Sample 3: Shows ground and priming. A dark grey layer lies over the priming and underneath the copper green glaze of the background, which was applied first. A thin mid-grey layer lies over the green glaze. There is a layer of overpaint over the grey layer.

Sample 4: Cross-section shows the thick priming, the thick translucent copper green layer and a fine red layer on top of the green. The dark brown/black overpaint lies over this. The red layer over the green contains mostly red lead, which is likely to be in the background pattern. There does not appear to be any lead-tin yellow present; however, it is likely that the folds in the background fabric were painted with lead-tin yellow.

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 process is orderly and systematic.

Preparation layers
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground and a pale priming layer. Above this, there is underdrawing in a sparkly grey material. Some elements of the fan and hands appear to have been marked out over the black paint in red lake.

Paint 1
There is a pinkish grey underlayer beneath the face, which appears to have been applied only in this area. The flesh appears very pale, with fine particles of crimson red lake and vermilion mixed in a high proportion of lead white; it seems likely that this red lake has faded. The shadow of the nose is executed with very fluid paint containing small quantities of black and red lake. The lower lip has been painted with a pigment mixture containing vermilion, red lake, lead white and a little black (see micro 03). The upper lip is darker and contains scattered particles of a finely ground blue pigment (see micro 04). It is likely that this is later overpaint. The parting of the lips has been defined with a red lake glaze.

The iris has been marked in with a translucent brown paint and emphasised with an opaque grey/brown along the upper edge (see micro 01 and micro 02). The black of the pupil has been applied over these layers. The highlights on each pupil have been heavily restored but there is evidence of the original lead white highlight beneath the overpaint. The whites of the eyes have been painted after the iris and contain lead white mixed with a small amount of finely ground black. No blue pigment was found in the painting but charcoal black is used in the eyes and for other greyish blue effects. The corners of the eyes have been applied over the flesh paint and contain a pigment mixture consisting of an opaque red and lead white with a little red lake. The upper eyelid has been defined in brown. Around this area there are small strokes of a pigment mixture containing red and black applied with a fine brush.

A dark brown underlayer has been applied to the left side of the hair, which also acts as shadow on the left side of the face. The medium-rich paint has been applied with a stiff brush, creating parallel lines. The main area of the hair has then been applied in a light reddish brown colour made from a mixture of earth pigments. Highlights have been added as final touches to indicate the form of curls in the hair with a mixture of yellow and white.

Headdress and veil
A reddish brown paint has been applied as the initial layer of the jewelled headband (see micro 08). It seems likely that this paint layer was originally a brighter red. The black jewels have been painted over the top of this in a translucent, fluid dark brown paint mixture. Brushstrokes of a denser black have then been added to define the edges of the jewels and lead white highlights have been applied. The gold settings have been painted using ochres and lead-tin yellow, with the addition of a little red lake to add warmth. The fabric ruff of the headdress is very worn and has been retouched in many areas. The shape of the ruff was originally blocked in with a grey paint mixture of white and black, with white highlights added to mark the folds. The pearls attached to this ruff have been painted over the background. The pearls circling the head have been thinly painted and the highlights in the hair have been added while these were still wet, creating wet-in-wet blending. The basic shape of the veil has been painted in grey with thin layers of white applied for the highlights and folds in the cloth. The gold embroidery has been depicted using lead-tin yellow mixed with a bright orange pigment (see micro 14).

The black of the costume has been applied in two layers: a dark black layer has been applied first, with a dark brown layer composed of earth pigments, black and a little white painted over the top. A higher proportion of white has been added for areas of highlight indicating the folds in the fabric. The darker layers have pronounced protrusions across the surface, which are caused by the formation and migration of lead soaps. This has led to localised paint loss in the upper paint layers leaving a pattern of small, pale spots (see micro 11). It is not known what is causing this phenomenon to be localised to certain passages of the paint. The jewels of the dress have been applied over this dark underlayer. The small pearls of the dress have been painted with a circle of brownish grey, followed by a few strokes of lighter grey marking the outline and a highlight of lead white (see micro 12). The gold settings are painted in orange with lead-tin yellow highlights applied on top. The large heart-shaped jewel is marked out with an opaque red pigment, either vermilion or red ochre, mixed with a little black and white. A red lake glaze has then been applied over the top and the highlights have been painted in strokes of yellow and white (see micro 13). The black stones (diamonds) surrounding the heart have been indicated by painting the gold setting and allowing the black of the dress to show through, with small lead white highlights added. These jewels have also been painted over the pearls of the dress, although a reserve was left for the central ruby.

The jewelled collar at the shoulder has been painted in the same way as the jewelled band on the headdress, with the jewels applied over a reddish brown underlayer. The shape of the sleeves have been marked out with a thick white paint layer. Varnish residues remaining in the brushstrokes emphasise the textured paint in this area. The blackwork has been applied in a dense, fluid black paint that has become abraded over time following the texture of the brushstrokes underneath (see micro 15). The purple flowers on the sleeves have been achieved by applying a scumble of thin grey paint over an underlayer of red lake (see micro 16). The rubies on the sleeves have been painted in an unusual manner, with red lake forming the main base of the jewel and a brighter, opaque red pigment used for the highlights. The gold settings for the jewels have been painted in a bright orange with lead-tin yellow highlights. A transparent gauze fabric is indicated by a few strokes of white applied over the sleeve.

Ruff and cuffs
The dark grey circular collar has been painted with broad textured brushstrokes. A reserve has been left for the fabric and lace of the ruff and the grey paint of the collar has been painted slightly into this reserve. The ruff is a pale grey, with highlights and folds of the fabric painted in white. The lace pattern has been painted in varying thicknesses of lead white (see micro 09). Where the lace has been thinly applied it has become abraded, following the texture of the brushstrokes of the grey layer of paint below. The cuffs have been painted using a similar technique, with a grey underlayer blocking out the basic shape; this can clearly be seen in x-ray. Details of the fabric folds and highlights have then been applied over the top (see micro 17). The lace of the cuff that extends over the lower end of the sleeve also has a thin grey underlayer, which has been applied over the white paint of the sleeves. The lace detail has then been added in a thick-bodied lead white.

A reserve was left in the black of the dress for the hands. A mixture of lead white, black and a small amount of finely ground vermilion has been used for the flesh. The paint has been thinly applied directly over the pale priming; there is no evidence of the grey underlayer used for the face. The fingers and shadows have been modelled with a mixture of grey. The hands are very worn and the fingertips of each hand are heavily retouched (see micro 18).

A bright red paint can be seen through paint losses around the outline of the fan and between the individual feathers (see micro 20). It seems likely that certain elements of the composition have been loosely marked in place using this red paint as it is also evident around the hands. It is possible that red lake was used to mark out these elements of the composition once the black of the dress had been painted in. The basic shape of the fan has been blocked in using a pale brown paint layer. The darker shadows of the feathers have been painted first and the lighter details have been built up over this layer. The pigment mixture used for the elements of the fan consists of lead white and black in varying proportions, with some wet-in-wet blending (see micro 19).

Lead soap protrusions are evident in the red of the chair. A dark underlayer of grey has been applied with brighter brushstrokes of an opaque red - either vermilion or earth red - applied over the top in broad brushstrokes. The decorative pattern of gold thread has been applied in lead-tin yellow with a warmer orange paint for some elements (see micro 10). Remnants of a red lake glaze are visible in many areas, which appears to have been applied after the gold thread pattern.

The background colour is currently black but was originally green (see Paint sampling). The original bright green colour is evident where there are small losses in the upper paint layers (see micro 06). A cool grey layer can also be seen, which is likely to be an underlayer for the green glaze. X-ray shows that there were folds in the fabric, which were probably painted with lead-tin yellow . This can be compared with the fabric in the background of other versions of the portrait, such as the one at the National Maritime Museum. The positions of these folds can be seen in the paint surface with raking light. The decorative pattern of the background is original. The outline of the basic pattern was marked out in grey paint, over which the small brushstrokes of lead-tin yellow were applied (see micro 07). The dark overpaint covers a lot of the decoration, making it hard to read.

Order of construction
- Green background
- Flesh
- Hair
- Black of dress
- Dark grey collar
- Hands
- Ruff and cuffs
- Headdress
- Veil
- Sleeves
- Jewelled collar of sleeves
- Gauze of sleeves
- Embroidery on veil
- Fan

Vermilion, red lake, red lead, earth pigments, charcoal black, lamp black, possibly bone black, lead white, copper green glaze, lead-tin yellow

Restoration observations
The paint surface is worn in many parts and the flesh paint, black costume and background are considerably restored. The restoration is visually adequate but lacks fine detail. Some of the restoration is opaque and matt. The varnish is slightly matt but reasonably even and clear.

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

A thin overall opaque fluorescence, where thin residues of old varnish remain following careful cleaning, is evident in ultra violet light (see UV 01). The restoration down the left join, in the face and other areas, appears dark in ultra violet light, whilst older areas of restoration appear a little less dark.


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: Late 20th century.


Burnished water gilt frame with painted central frieze and painted outside edge.