Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral, was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world.
In a contemporary account, John Stow described Drake as 'low of stature, of strong limbs, broade brested, round headed, brown hayre, full bearded, his eyes round, large and cleare, well favoured, fayre, and of a cheerefull countenance...many Princes of Italy, Germany, and others as well enemies as friends in his life time desired his picture'. The present picture appears to relate to a portrait of the sitter, by the French artist Jean Rabel, in reverse. Rabel's portrait of Drake is known through an oval engraving by Thomas de Leu (a pupil of the artist), purporting to be copied from a portrait painted from life by Rabel. The engraving is inscribed around its perimeter with 'Francisvs Draeck Nobilissimvs Eqves Angliae Ano. Sve. 43', and either the original or the engraving was dedicated to Edward Stafford, English Ambassador to the French court. Another engraving of the Rabel portrait by Paul de la Houuse appears in a book published in Leyden in 1588. Although there is no record of Drake visiting France around this time, nor of Rabel in England, in September 1586 the Spanish ambassador to Elizabeth I wrote that the 'French Ambassador has sent an account of Drake's voyage in Latin...accompanied by a portrait of Drake sent to Secretary Villeroy, who values it very highly, and copies have been ordered to be made from it for presentation to Joyeuse, Epernon and other favourites of the King'.