Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bess to Impress: A Rare Portrait of Elizabeth I, From a Private Collection

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1560. Oil on panel, by an Unknown Artist. Yale Center for British Art. On loan from Neville and John Bryan. Photo by A.Jensen.
On my most recent trip to the Yale Center for British Art, I was pleased to discover that they had rotated some new Elizabethan portraits into the galleries. Of the new pieces on display, the portrait that captivated me the most was a small, unassuming oil on panel portrait of Queen Elizabeth I that I hadn't been previously aware it existed. I read that it was on loan to the museum from a private collection, which explained its anonymity. This also made me wonder how many other long-lost portraits of Queen Elizabeth I there are in people's personal homes.

When this portrait of Queen Elizabeth I was made, it was still early in her reign, and Elizabeth's counselors expected her to marry a foreign prince. However, her attachment to her friend, Robert Dudley, prevented her from taking any marriage proposal seriously at this time.

In the portrait, Elizabeth I is shown before a Canopy of State, with a courtyard in the background. The small stature of the portrait suggests that it may have been made for the home of someone close to Queen Elizabeth I. This is a possibility, as there have been many other portraits discovered of Elizabeth I that were made for personal use. It is easy to see the difference between the opulent, majestic State portraits of the queen, intended for display at court, versus the more understated ones, intended for private devotion in the homes of Elizabeth I's courtiers.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1560. Oil on panel, by an Unknown Artist. Yale Center for British Art. On loan from Neville and John Bryan. Photo by A.Jensen.

A label on the reverse of the portrait shows that Elizabeth I had long been mistaken for another sitter, until the portrait came into the hands of the present owners. It is surprising to me that the sitter could have been thought to be anyone else, as her facial features so distinctly identify her as Elizabeth.

It's always exciting to discover something new that you never knew existed before; I was so happy to have seen this portrait in person, that I just knew I had to share it with all of you! It was encased in glass, so it was challenging to get a picture without a glare, but I hope the pictures I did manage to get captured the appeal of the portrait.


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