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English School, circa 1580
English School, circa 1580

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), half-length, in a black gold embroidered and bejewelled dress with armillary spheres, a lace ruff, a bejewelled headdress and a veil

English School, circa 1580
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), half-length, in a black gold embroidered and bejewelled dress with armillary spheres, a lace ruff, a bejewelled headdress and a veil
inscribed '·ELISABETHA· ·REGINA·' (upper centre)
oil on panel
22¾ x 17 1/8 in. (57.2 x 43.3 cm.)
John Allan Rolls, 1st Baron Llangattock (1837-1912), and by descent to his daughter,
Eleanor Georgiana, Lady Shelley-Rolls (1872-1961); (+) Christie's, London, 8 December 1961, lot 42 (110 gns. to the present owners).
(Possibly) F.M. O'Donoghue, A Descriptive and Classified Catalogue of Portraits of Queen Elizabeth, London, 1894, p. 41.
R. Strong, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, Oxford, 1963, p.158, no. 4.
R. Strong, Gloriana. The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, London, 1987, pp. 139-41, fig. 150.

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Lot Essay

THIS PORTRAIT OF QUEEN ELIZABETH I USES THE FACE-PATTERN from the celebrated ‘Darnley’ portrait of circa 1575, which Sir Roy Strong has tentatively attributed to the Italian Mannerist painter, Federigo Zuccaro, and described as ‘without doubt the most influential [face-pattern] of the whole reign’ (R. Strong, Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, London, 2003, pp. 85-9). The Darnley portrait type was reused by Gower in 1579, and by Ketel and Hilliard in circa 1580, but its impact had declined by the mid-1580s when the image of the Queen became more iconic and isolationist. The face-pattern, however, was more enduring: turned to the left or right and set into every size of portrait, with varying arrangements of hands, dress and jewellery, it was used widely through the 1580s and into the 1590s. No other face-pattern of the Queen was so widely disseminated. Strong subdivides the vast series of portraits utilising the ‘Darnley’ pattern into groups, or types, and links the head and headdress of the present portrait with that of the ‘Hampton Court’ type of circa 1580-5 onwards, which uses the ‘Darnley’ face-pattern set into a half-length portrait of the Queen, turned to the left and holding a feather fan (op. cit., 1963, p. 69, Type H, nos. 50 and 51). The present portrait departs from both the ‘Darnley’ and ‘Hampton Court’ types in two important respects: in the decoration of the ruff, with alternating Tudor Roses and French fleur-de-lys, and in the embellishment of the dress with spheres and interlinked hearts.

Sir Roy Strong dates this portrait to circa 1585, while dendrochronological anaylsis of the tree-ring sequences of the eastern Baltic panel provide a usage date of after circa 1573. Fleur-de-lys feature in the Royal coat-of-arms as a claim to France. The celestial sphere was widely adopted as an emblem, or device with a motto, during the Renaissance, primarily in a religious context. No contemporary exegesis has yet emerged as to its specific usage directly by, or in honour of, Queen Elizabeth, but Strong concludes that its use must have had ‘a fundamentally religious connotation, the maintenance of the reformed faith’ (op. cit., 2003, p. 140). Its earliest occurrence in relation to Elizabeth is in a drawing at the end of a French psalter which appears to have been gifted by Elizabeth, when she was still a princess, to an unknown recipient. It features again on the reverse of a medal of circa 1569-70, topped by a castle, with the motto in Latin ‘What is this without arms?’, complementing a portrait of the Queen on the reverse, with the motto ‘What are we without you?’, which may have been issued in connection with either the defeat of the Northern Rebellion in 1569, or the papal excommunication of 1570. In portraiture, spheres feature prominently in a painting by Anthonis Mor of Elizabeth’s Champion at the Tilt, Sir Henry Lee, of 1568 (London, National Portrait Gallery), where they are embroidered onto his sleeves alternating with true-lover’s knots; and again on the lining of the surcoat worn by Lee’s successor as Champion, George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, in a miniature by Hilliard of circa 1590 (London, National Maritime Museum), this time combined with olive branches, indicating his dual role as defender of both the Royal pax and religio. Their prominent usage in this portrait predates the appearance of an armillary or celestial sphere in the ‘Ditchley’ portrait of the Queen, by Marcus Gheeraerts of circa 1592 (London, National Portrait Gallery), where it is worn as a pendant jewel hanging from her wig; and the ‘Rainbow’ portrait, attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts of circa 1600-03 (Hatfield House, Hertfordshire), where it is worn on her sleeve combined with a serpent of prudence or wisdom.

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