The present unrecorded portrait of Elizabeth I by Hilliard was painted in the later years of the queen's life, circa 1595/1600, and epitomises the government-promoted 'Mask of Youth' portraits which were produced in response to the growing uncertainty over the succession of the English throne. In 1596 the Privy Council ordered officers to assist George Gower, the royal Serjeant Painter, in seeking out and destroying all portraits of the queen which were not to her liking. Hilliard was instructed by the queen to refrain from the use of shadow in excess as it was thought to unflatter and age the sitter. Instead Hilliard idealised her in portraits of a youthful queen in full regal attire and in different guises. The crescent-moon-shaped adornment in her hair alludes to her portrayal of the chaste Cynthia, also lauded in Sir Walter Raleigh's poem of that name. The jewel with its pearl surround symbolises the triumphal water-birth of Venus, goddess of love. When the deity set foot on land the rose became her sacred badge, worn on the queen's heart-shaped standing gauze wings. It is thought that Hilliard would have used a model for the elaborate costume and that the queen's face was committed to memory from sittings taken place earlier in his career. Hilliard worked for Elizabeth I up until her death in 1603 but remained as court painter to her successor, James I.
A similar miniature by Hilliard of the queen dating from the same period, showing her adorned with the crescent-moon-shaped jewel against a grey wet-in-wet folded drapery background, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. 622-1882), see K. Coombs, The Portrait Miniature in England, London, 1998, illustrated detail in colour p. 42, pl. 22 and R. Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth. Elizabethan Portraiture and Pagentry, London, 1977, p. 49, fig. 27.