Surviving historical documents suggest that Elizabeth was keen to protect her image. This is particularly evident in a draft proclamation begun in 1563, which was designed to ensure that no debased portraits of her should be circulated without the consent of a special designated figure.2 The appointment of George Gower as Serjent Painter in 1584, and a draft patent which was intended to accompany the patent, also suggests that an attempt was made to monopolise the production of the Queen’s image between Gower and miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.3 However, there is no evidence to suggest that either draft was enacted upon, allowing for painters of any standard to reproduce the monarch’s image with relative ease.
In accordance with conventions of the time, patterns were often made of important portraits from which copies and variants could be made by other artists. This painting is likely to have been the work by an immediate follower of Gheeraerts, in an effort to promote the monarch’s image as part of royal propaganda. Despite the mystery surrounding the early provenance of this picture, it is likely that the portrait was intended to hang alongside other images of British monarchs in a long gallery or corridor scenario.
Although it is tempting to think that the painter here depicts an ageing Queen in her final years, it is likely that the artist never saw his subject. The deep creases and wrinkles in the Queen’s face are likely to have been accentuated during the process of painting from a pattern, which has the tendency to harden facial features rather than soften them. The underdrawing, which shines through parts of the paint surface, is indicative of this workshop practise. Indeed, it is entirely likely that the portrait was completed after the death of the queen in 1603, but before Gheeraert’s death in 1634. Despite these revealing aspects of the portrait’s production, this picture provides a fascinating insight in what the Queen might have looked like, rather than an idealised depiction of the fading light of Gloriana. It is likely that this image comes closest to Francis Bacon’s remarks of the late Queen 'that the people, who are more influenced, by externals, would be diverted by the glitter of her jewels, from noticing the decay of her personal attractions.'4
Other versions of this bust length portrait are preserved at Burghley House, Wimpole Hall and Knole. Another version, formerly in the Earl of Hardwick’s collection, was sold in these rooms 13 November 1991, lot 17.
1. See R. Strong, Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, London 1987, pp. 135–41.
2. Public Record Office, State Papers, 12/31, no. 25.
3. BM Cotton Charter IV. 26. Transcript can be found in F. Madden, “Portrait painters of Queen Elizabeth” in Notes and Queries, s1-VI, no. 150, 1852, p. 245–47.
4. Transcribed in A. Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest, vol. 4, Elizabeth, second Queen-regnant of England and Ireland, London 1853, p. 717.
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