Recently at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., I came upon a charming portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth I. It’s by an unknown artist and dates from around 1558. Sir Walter Raleigh tried to establish a British colony on what is now known as Roanoke Island. He named the new colony “Virginia,” in honor of his young Queen, who was already establishing her popular image as the “Virgin Queen.” At the time, the young Elizabeth was keeping a wary eye on powerful Spain, which had extensive colonies already in the “New World.”
Elizabeth was also anxious to reinforce her credentials as the legitimate heir of King Henry VIII, a little problematic since her mother, Ann Boleyn, had been executed as an adulteress and traitor to the throne. So Elizabeth was portrayed with the famous square-cut stone known as “The Mirror of France,” which her father had also worn prominently.
Years later, after the resounding defeat of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth had fully developed her authority and had herself portrayed in much grander fashion, as in this portrait from around 1588. The Queen rests her hand on a globe, symbolizing her international power.
I much prefer the very early portrait, depicting a young woman full of hope and promise at the very beginning of her glorious reign.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!