A previously unknown painting of Elizabeth I attributed to the miniaturist Isaac Oliver has been acquired by London’s National Portrait Gallery.
The small painting – the size of a postcard – will go on show as part of a major new exhibition, Elizabeth I and Her People, where it will be displayed alongside a selection of portraits of Elizabeth I. Seen together, they will show how the Queen established, during a reign of nearly 50 years, an image of a strong and powerful female monarch.
An unusual allegorical painting, the portrait is a reworking of the classical story of the Judgment of Paris upon the goddesses of marriage, war and love. In the guise of Paris, the Queen is represented as both judge and winner, retaining for herself the prize of the golden apple.
This miniature reinterprets the theme of Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses, found in the Royal Collection painting of the same title by Hans Eworth, also to be shown in the exhibition. Elizabeth is shown in a remarkable dress of cloth-of-gold, wearing a diamond necklace and a golden crown, and her wide ruff and jewelled headpiece suggest the fashions of the later 1580s or early 1590s.
National Portrait Gallery’s Chief Curator, Dr Tarnya Cooper, says
Elizabeth’s rounded face and small features are usual, but it is meant to be a flattering portrait, showing the Queen as perpetually youthful. It is difficult to speculate about who this cabinet miniature might have been produced for – the provenance provides us with no further clues – but the small scale and remarkably high quality of this work indicate that it would have been painted for a patron close to the court.
Portraits of Elizabeth will be one focus of a large exhibition of over 100 objects, including accessories artefacts, costumes, coins, jewellery and crafts, which is the first devoted to the rise of new social classes in Elizabethan society. Elizabeth I and Her People will include not just portraits of courtiers, but also intriguing lesser-known images of merchants, lawyers, goldsmiths, butchers, calligraphers, playwrights and artists – all of whom contributed to the making of a nation and a new world power.
Elizabeth I and Her People is curated by Dr Tarnya Cooper, the National Portrait Gallery’s Chief Curator and its Curator of Sixteenth Century Portraits, whose previous exhibitions at the Gallery include Searching for Shakespeare (2006). She is the author of A Guide to Tudor & Jacobean Portraits (2008) and Citizen Portrait – Portrait Painting and the Urban Elite, 1540–1620 (2012).
ELIZABETH I AND HER PEOPLE
10 October 2013 – 5 January 2014, National Portrait Gallery, London www.npg.org.uk
Gift Aid ticket prices: (includes voluntary Gift Aid donation of 10% above standard price): Adult £13.50, Concs. £12.50/£11.50 (Standard ticket prices: Adult £12.50, Concs £11.30 / £10.40)
Photo: Queen Elizabeth I (‘Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses’) c. 1590 – attrib. Isaac Oliver © National Portrait Gallery, London. Purchased with the support of Mark Weiss.