Lot 109
  • 109

After Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
  • Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603)
  • oil on panel


With Berry-Hill Gallery, New York, by 1958;
From whom purchased by Mrs Ruth Coltrane Cannon (1891–1965), North Carolina;
By whom given to the Garden Club of North Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1959.


On display at the Garden Club of North Carolina since 1959;
Washington D.C., Folger Shakespeare Library, Nobility and newcomers in renaissance Ireland, 19 January – 19 May 2013.


R. Strong, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, Oxford 1963, p. 76, cat. no. 77, as on the New York art market in 1960;
A. Riehl, The face of queenship: early modern representations of Elizabeth I, Basingstoke 2010, p. 163, reproduced on p. 165, fig. 13;
A. Whitelock, 'Elizabeth I: The monarch behind the mask', in BBC History Magazine, June 2013, pp. 52–57.


The panel, which consists of three vertical planks, is uncradled. The planks are joined by two vertical batons and a strip of canvas. The surface is flat. The two joins are visible through the paint surface. The surface has been cleaned in recent past. The paint surface is thin in some areas, including the wings and parts of the face, where the underdrawing shows through. However, there are traces of good quality impasto in the white highlights of the clothing and jewelry. Retouching can been seen along the vertical joins and as infilling to craquelure in the face, sleeves and throat. Retouching is also evident to a vertical and overlapping diagonal scratch to the right of the throat measuring 20 and 15 centimeters respectively. Inspection under ultra-violet light reveals an even varnish and confirms the above mentioned retouchings. Also revealed are few small scattered retouchings in the hair and all of her garments. The work is offered in an ebonised carved wood frame with a guilt sight edge which has oxidized. The frame has a few minor knocks and losses.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This curious and rare portrait of Elizabeth I is a version after the celebrated ‘Ditchley Portrait’ by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (National Portrait Gallery, London, no. 2561). The Ditchley portrait was commissioned in 1592 by Sir Henry Lee, Queen’s champion and Master of the Armoury, to celebrate the elaborate tournament given in her honour in November 1592. The complex imagery of this portrait, which features Elizabeth standing triumphantly over a map of Britain, was to support the notion of the monarch uniting both crown and island.1 Although this image comes close to breaking the notorious mask of youth the monarch held during much of her reign, this was arguably the first official image to show signs of her age.

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.