Princess Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and Electress Palatine
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Princess Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and Electress Palatine
by Robert Peake the Elder
oil on canvas, circa 1610
67 1/2 in. x 38 1/8 in. (1713 mm x 968 mm)
One of a number of portraits of James VI and I’s children painted by Robert Peake the Elder. Unusually, the canvas support has been prepared with a ground containing quartz and no chalk.
The painting was formerly at Hengrave Hall in Suffolk and may have descended through Sir Charles Cornwallis, whose daughter married Sir Thomas Kytson the Younger of Hengrave. It was possibly sold at Hampton’s, 5-12 August 1897; Carolina Lambert, New York 1916; Boice Thomas, Yonkers; before being acquired by the Carolina Museum of Art in 1952, by whom sold through Christie’s. Purchased by the Gallery at Christie’s, 16 November 1990, lot 8.
For a long time thought to be Lady Arabella Stuart (1575-1615), this portrait was re-identified by Strong as the ‘Winter Queen’. The likeness compares well with the full-length portrait in the Metropolitan Museum of Elizabeth c.1606, in which she is depicted wearing the diamond sash and the same high, wired hairstyle, and also with a miniature by Nicholas Hilliard in the Victoria and Albert Museum c.1606-9, in which she wears the sash and a similar lace collar.
Notes on attribution
James I’s Serjeant Painter, Robert Peake the Elder, produced a number of portraits of the royal children, which can be linked both stylistically and through their distinctive layer structure. For example, the treatment of the highlights on the metallic threads in the textiles, using parallel brushstrokes, compares closely to the full-length portrait of Henry, Prince of Wales of a similar date (NPG 4515). However, there is some variation in the quality of the brushwork and handling, which suggests studio involvement rather than a single hand.
Justification for dating
Comparison with other portraits of the sitter suggests that this work was painted around 1610, when the princess was fourteen years old. The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period.
The paint surface has suffered considerable damage during past restoration treatments and consequently the interpretation of the layer structure and original technique is problematic. Excessive heat used during at least one lining treatment has caused the paint to soften and conform to the canvas texture. The paint surface has suffered considerable abrasion, especially in the flesh, the hair, and glaze details. The necklace is almost all restoration and only the thickest highlight on each pearl remains from the original paint surface.
The portrait is painted on a finely woven, plain weave canvas, which was prepared with two layers: the brownish yellow lower layer contains quartz and earth pigments, and the pale upper layer contains lead white, charcoal black and earth pigments. Very similar preparation layers have been observed on the portrait of Henry, Prince of Wales (NPG 4515), the portrait of Elizabeth of Bohemia in the Metropolitan Museum and the portrait of Henry, Prince of Wales at Parham House.
High quality materials were used in the painting, which include good quality smalt and azurite. The main elements of the composition were painted broadly with an underlayer of the appropriate colour. The finely painted details were applied over this to create the sumptuous costume fabric, the carpet, the features and the curtain. Originally the throne would have been a vivid purple with golden highlights, but the shadowed areas and the patterning on the fabric, which were made with a mixture of red lake and smalt, have discoloured and are now brown.
Drawing and transfer technique
No underdrawing was detected during surface examination or using infrared reflectography. Changes were made during the painting process to the width of the neck and the neckline of the dress; the pearls around the neck correspond to the wider neck position and, although they are damaged, the remains of the original highlights confirm this.
Other known versions
There are no other known versions of this portrait but it can be compared to:
- Peake full-length c.1606, Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Hilliard miniature, c.1606-9, Victoria & Albert Museum
- Oliver miniature, c. 1610, Royal Collection
- Half-length with the same pendant jewel of a man on horseback, Frederiksborg
Cooper, Tarnya, ed., National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, London, 2014, p. 68
MacLeod, Catharine, ‘Robert Peake: Portraits, patrons and technical evidence’, in T. Cooper, A. Burnstock, M. Howard and E. Town, eds, Painting in Britain 1500-1630: Production, Influences and Patronage, Oxford, 2015, pp. 288-97
Rae, Caroline, ‘Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, John de Critz, Robert Peake and William Larkin: A comparative study’, in T. Cooper, A. Burnstock, M. Howard and E. Town, eds, Painting in Britain 1500-1630: Production, Influences and Patronage, Oxford, 2015, pp. 171-9
Strong, Roy, Henry, Prince of Wales and England’s Lost Renaissance, London, 1986, Fig. 5
‘The Lost Prince and the Winter Queen: Royal Portraits from the National Portrait Galleyr, London’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2014
‘Power of Faith: 450th Anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism’, Staatliche Schlosser und Garten Baden Wurttemberg, Bruchsal, German, 2013
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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 painting has suffered from damage and abrasion in the past but is now in a stable condition. The original tacking margins have been removed and the painting has been lined. There are numerous retouchings across the surface that are well integrated. The varnish layer is clear and in a good condition.
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.
Last date of tree ring: n/a
The painting is on a canvas support.
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.
Areas of damage and loss are visible in the x-ray; notably the crease in the original canvas which runs horizontally through the sitter's face and the large damage at the bottom of the skirt where small islands of original paint can be seen. Broad marks can be seen where the priming layer has been spread out in varying directions with the priming knife (see x-ray mosaic 01). In many areas the paint has been applied in thin layers; in x-ray the modelling around the face is clear and the highlights used to depict the textiles can be seen. Folds and creases in the fabric of the dress have been applied in a very loose manner with confident brushwork and handling. The pattern of the fabric has been applied on top of this layer in a very economic but convincing method with broad strokes for highlights and a free application of smaller strokes for the details. The x-ray clearly shows a thin strip of canvas which runs along the width of the painting, approximately 2 cm from the top edge. The weave and texture appears very similar to the original canvas. There are curving cusp lines in the canvas weave along the top of the thin strip as well as along the top of the main canvas. But the curves do not correspond and paint sampling indicates that the strip along the top was cut off the bottom of the canvas and used at the top to repair the damaged edge.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
No underdrawing is discernible using infrared reflectography. The pentiment of the neckline of the sitter's dress is clearly visible and the original thinner neck is clearly seen (see IRR mosaic 02).
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 November 2010.
The canvas has a pale brown ground very similar to that found on NPG 4515 Henry, Prince of Wales, but with a significant amount of earth pigments. Analysis shows that it also contains quartz. The upper priming layer contains lead white with a little black; samples 1 and 6 show this structure clearly.
Sample 1: Cross-section shows the lower ground containing quartz, the upper layer (the priming layer) containing lead white and traces of black, with the dark back paint mixture of the background with red and black pigments. Dispersion shows the quartz containing ground with a little of the lead white priming on top.
Sample 6: Cross-section shows the ground, the pale priming over it, the orange/red underlayer of the carpet and the green paint over it. The thick green paint layer contains lead white, lead-tin yellow and copper green. Dispersion of the green suggests perhaps green verditer, an artificial copper carbonate.
A purple paint mixture with smalt, red lake, and white, was laid over the red in the carpet
Sample 7: Cross-section shows the white of the priming, the solid red underlayer with the mixed smalt and red lake layer over it.
Sample 2: Cross-section shows the priming, a trace of the underlying darker colour of the curtain made with mixed brown earth pigments and black, the strong mustard yellow over the underlayer, and the bright lead-tin yellow on top. The strong mustard yellow colour is made with good yellow ochre. The yellows are very similar in the portrait of Henry Prince of Wales NPG 4515.
Sample 3: Dispersion of the red areas of the curtain identified red lake with a dull reddish yellow earth colour, probably and opaque underlayer with a red glaze over it.
The pattern on the yellow chair was originally dark purple.
Sample 9: Cross-section and dispersion show that the dark line was originally a dark purple with smalt, red lake and black. Cross-section shows the yellow paint underneath the thick dark paint of the line.
Sample 4: Dispersion from a sample taken from a jewel at the apex of the centre of the headdress identified smalt with a very good blue and well preserved.
The whites of the eyes contains high quality smalt, as well as small patches of azurite and lead white.
Strip of canvas across the upper background
Sample 10: Cross-section shows that the layer structure is very similar to that of the carpet in the lower left of the painting. A thin black line lies over white paint, similar to the white area of the carpet. The white lies over a thin red line in the carpet underlayer. Beneath this layer lies the white priming with the quartz ground beneath. This layer structure suggests that a strip of canvas was removed from the lower edge and attached as a repair to the upper edge.
Sample 11: Cross-section from a couple of centimetres from sample 10, but shows entirely different structure and mixture of brown. The quartz ground is missing from the sample but the white priming is present beneath the mixed brown (with some red) layer.
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 paint has suffered considerable damage during past conservation treatments, making the interpretation of the layer structure and original technique problematic. It is evident that excessive heat and moisture were used during at least one lining treatment, causing the paint to soften and conform to the canvas texture. This has exaggerated the textural effects of the paint layers, particularly in the preparatory layers. The paint has been heavily abraded throughout. This is particularly prominent in the flesh tones, hair and glaze details. Despite the difficulties experienced in interpreting the layer structure and technique, it is clear that some fine brushwork was used. Variations in the quality of the brushwork and handling, suggest workshop practice rather than a single hand. However, characteristic parallel marks used for highlights in the curtain, point towards the style of Robert Peake.
The strip of canvas along the top edge was taken from the lower edge and attached as a repair (see Paint sampling and X-radiography).
The canvas was prepared with a light brown ground containing quartz and particles of brown earth and ochre. Above this there is a pale cream-coloured priming consisting of lead white with a little black. In x-ray broad marks can be seen where the priming was spread out by the priming knife. No underdrawing was detected using infrared reflectography or during examination with the microscope. Drawing could have been carried out with paint, in red or brown earth colours.
Surface examination suggests that the flesh was first laid in with a thin, pale flesh colour, directly above the priming. This is clearly evident in the ear, and appears to be composed of lead white, with a little yellow ochre, smalt, charcoal black, vermilion and red lake (see micro 05 and micro 02). The whites of the eyes contain lead white, charcoal black, a little vermilion and a large quantity of very high quality smalt (see micro 04). In a number of areas, small passages of azurite and lead white can also be seen. The irises are composed of the same mixture, with a much higher proportion of charcoal black and a little more red (vermilion and red lake).
The lips were first laid in above the flesh paint, using a mixture of lead white, vermilion, red lake and a little charcoal black (see micro 03). The deep shadow parting the lips was then defined with a reasonably thick brushstroke of red lake, with a little vermilion and charcoal black added.
The hair is severely abraded, exposing a pale layer beneath the warm brown. The pale underlayer is thick and broadly applied and may be the priming layer. Although abraded, the hair paint was likely originally thinly applied, exposing some of the pale underlayer beneath. The brown of the hair is composed of a medium-rich mixture of charcoal black, red lake, earth pigment and perhaps a little vermilion and lead white.
Pearls around the neck
Surface examination suggests that, other than the extreme highlight present on each pearl, nothing else of the original paint remains (see micro 10). The pearls as we see them today appear entirely repainted with modern restoration. Both the neck and the neckline of the dress have been altered during painting and the original neckline was higher. The pearls belong with the wider neckline (see Changes in composition).
The costume has been laid in with a light grey paint containing lead white and a small amount of black. This layer has been applied with a stiff brush which has created ridges in the brushstrokes (similar to the technique used to paint the costume in NPG 4515). The paint has been applied in a fast and freehand manner marking out the main folds of the drapery. The main pattern of the dress and folds have been emphasised with a dark grey paint mix with a high proportion of carbon black pigment and broad highlights have been marked with brushstrokes of lighter paint. The pattern of the fabric has been built up using a variety of brushwork in smaller strokes with pigments including yellow ochre, lead-tin yellow, red lake and copper green (possibly green verditer), used (see micro 15, micro 16 and micro 17). Dabs of paint used to describe the embroidery in the sleeves and jacket include a proportion of smalt mixed with lead white and carbon black. Remnants of glazes are visible in the coloured floral pattern of the fabric. These are now very abraded and have discoloured to a dark brown; verdigris is visible at magnification indicating that the copper green glaze would have been a vibrant green when first painted. The costume has been economically painted with broad brushstrokes yet still achieves the effect of sumptuous, embroidered fabric.
Collar and cuffs
Interpretation of this area is highly problematic due to the level of abrasion present (see micro 07). Lining treatments have squashed and softened the paint to such a degree that the original surface texture and layer structure are extremely difficult to define. On the lower-left edge of the ruff (directly above the sitter's right shoulder), a wide horizontal band of dense, pale underlayer can be seen. This unusual band does not appear to correspond to anything within the surrounding composition, and is composed of a more creamy colour than the underlayer in the surrounding area. On this same side, there is the suggestion of a curved shape in the underlayer (perhaps an outline for a lower collar). This runs from the top of the ear on the left, down to the shoulder-line.
Above the underlayer, a pale grey (composed of lead white and large particles of charcoal black) was applied over the entire area of the ruff. This appears to have been glazed with a medium-rich dark brown. The white lace detail was then painted above.
The pendant jewel of a man on horseback
The pendant is very abraded and the ridges of the thick white paint layer clearly show through the upper paint layers (see detail 05, micro 12 and micro 13). A black underlayer marks out the main pendant, this appears very abraded but was likely to have been originally painted with some of the white layer beneath showing through. The pearl at the top of the pendant has a high proportion of smalt mixed into the white paint. The greenish blue of the figure's jacket contains azurite. The highlights on the diamonds are predominantly lead white with yellow ochre and lead-tin yellow marking the gold setting of the jewels. The red jewels have traces of a red lake glaze which has discoloured.
The carpet has an orange/red underlayer. The basic pattern of the carpet has been painted on top of this layer with a dense black used in dabbed brushstrokes to show the outline of the pattern and describe the texture of the woven carpet. In localised areas a brush has been dragged through the wet paint to create the texture of carpet fibres. Copper green and lead-tin yellow appear particularly vibrant against the dull orange of the carpet (see micro 18). Examination with the microscope reveals a high proportion of large, bright blue smalt particles. In some areas the smalt appears to be mixed in with the orange paint or applied mixed with red as a transparent layer over the orange paint, creating variations of purple. In other passages the smalt is mixed with lead white. The areas containing smalt now appear grey and brown but when originally painted the carpet would have had more vibrant colours.
The background has been significantly abraded in many areas down to the level of the canvas weave. This has left many small islands of exposed canvas, where the paint texture has been 'topped' during previous cleaning. The background is very thinly painted with a translucent warm brown consisting of charcoal black, earth pigments and vermilion or red lead. Many lead soaps are visible, although due to the level of abrasion, it is difficult to differentiate between soaps and exposed lead white particles from the underlying priming layer. The background appears to have been applied after the curtain.
The curtain appears to have first been laid in with a thin, opaque layer of yellow and brown earths and black, with some red lake. There is a very strong mustard coloured yellow ochre. For areas of shadow, a higher proportion of red lake and black were used. A thin glaze of red lake and charcoal black was then applied above in varying thickness to create areas of shadow. A paint sample from the red in the curtain found a dull reddish yellow earth beneath a red lake (see Paint sampling). For highlights, an underlayer of lead-tin yellow with charcoal black and some red lead was first applied in thin, parallel brushstrokes (see micro 06). The brushstrokes skip over the canvas weave. Above this, a thicker application of pure lead-tin yellow was applied, also in single, fine, parallel brushstrokes (see detail 09).
The throne behind the sitter is extremely damaged with the paint layer very broken up and abraded, which makes the layer structure difficult to decipher. The golden threads of the fabric have been painted using thick lead-tin yellow highlights (see micro 11). The pattern of the fabric has been outlined in a thick glaze which now appears brown but under magnification can be seen to contain large particles of bright blue smalt mixed with red lake. This pigment mix can also be seen around the darker passages of the arm of the throne where it appears to be thinly painted over an orange paint layer. The chair would originally have been a vivid purple colour with golden highlights (see detail 06). The tassels have also been painted with lead-tin yellow highlights. The pattern on the legs of the throne, which is in shadow, is painted with yellow ochre.
Order of construction
- Ground containing quartz
- Pale grey priming
- Ruff laid in
- Costume laid in
- Costume detail applied
- Details and highlights: headdress, detail on ruff and embroidered costume detail)
Lead white, charcoal black, vermilion, red lake, red ochre, yellow ochre, lead-tin yellow, azurite, smalt (very good quality), copper green: possibly green verditer
Changes in composition/pentimenti
The width of the sitter's neck and the neckline of her dress have both been altered. These changes were obvious in 1991 before restoration. Investigation at this time revealed that the changes are likely to have been made by the artist rather than a later alteration. The pearls around the sitter's neck corresponds to the wider neck position and although the pearls are very degraded the original highlights remain confirming this. The neckline of the dress was originally higher.
The painting has been lined in the past, probably at too high a temperature, leading to the melted and soft appearance of the paint layers and loss of definition in areas of impasto. The surface of the painting is very damaged and abraded with large areas of loss. The most recent campaign of restoration has integrated the areas of loss without over restoring areas of abrasion.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Examination in ultra violet light revealed that the painting has extensive retouching across the surface due to damage and abrasion of the paint layers (see UV 01). Two large areas of damage and retouching can be seen at the bottom of the sitter's skirt and a diagonal line running through the sitter's face. There are numerous retouchings in the dark background. The pentiment around the neckline and later retouching of the string of pearls is evident. There are residues of an old varnish in many areas which fluoresce green under ultra violet light, which would indicate that the painting has been sensitively cleaned in the past.