Elizabeth I's Tate debut

October 7 2013

Image of Elizabeth I's Tate debut

Picture: BG

I was pleased to see the above portrait - the 'Hampden portrait' - of Elizabeth I at Tate Britain this weekend, where it has been lent by a private collector. Not only is it the first full-length portrait of Elizabeth, it is also, as we found here at Philip Mould & Co. when we acquired the painting, the only portrait to show her as a possible wife. The portrait ties into a 1563 speech she gave in the House of Lords (hence the throne and cloth of state) re-assuring Parliament that she would get married and have children. The fruit and flowers in the background allude to her fertility. So it's quite a contrast to our usual image of the Virgin Queen, and consequently did not become one of the frequently repeated portraits of Elizabeth. In fact, remarkably, it was hardly ever published or referred to until we bought it and restored it, and spent most of the 20th century hanging in the judges' changing room at Aylesbury crown court. You can read more about the portrait's history here, and for further discussion on the portrait's attribution, to Steven van Herwijck, see my article in the British Art Journal here

Update - in a splendid piece of show 'n tell, a reader sends in his 16th Century portrait of Elizabeth I based on the head type seen above. 

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