Elizabeth I by… well quite a few people
A fair few artists tried to capture the formidable nature of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elisabeth I. And a fair few succeeded. The Armada Portrait, by an unknown artist, presents Elisabeth as both the demure Virgin Queen and the scourge of the Spanish Armada, resplendently dressed and resting her hand upon a globe. Then there was Isaac Oliver’s Rainbow Portrait, painted around 1600 (three years before her death aged 69) but depicting her as youthful, beautiful and eternal.
Then there were those that tried their hand but, whether through a lack of attention to realism or too much of it, failed to capture last Tudor monarch in the best light. The engraver William Rogers had a good go. But he could do little better than produce what looks like a regal corpse, barely held upright by the bulbous dress ballooning out of her from both sides. Then again, he was the first Englishman to try his hand at engraving so we should probably cut him some slack.
Even less flattering is the frankly terrible portrait above. The fault of the artist was not to be true to form in rendering the aged Elizabeth. Nor was it to allow his work to be ravaged by the sands of time (a great deal of paint is missing from the face and clothes), which he couldn’t have reasonably helped anyway. Where the artist went wrong is that he was using an entirely different model when he started the portrait, as seen by the face just visible where the paint has faded from Elizabeth’s forehead. Oh, and he made Elizabeth look an extra in the Walking Dead.
But that absolutely pales into comparison when seen against the allegorical portrait of Elizabeth above. A Japanese academic has recently argued that this portrait, composed after Elizabeth’s death during the Jacobean Period, is not in fact portraying her negatively. By playing around with conventional themes “Dance of Death”, “Triumph of Death” and “Triumph of Time”, he argues, the painter made the portrait so ambiguous and complex that it could be viewed as a positive, endorsing portrait of the queen looking .
I’m going to call this one out. It was commissioned under Elizabeth’s successor James I whose mother, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth had had beheaded. There may not have been any signs of outright animosity between him and Elizabeth, but I fail to see why he would go out of his way praise her in portraiture, particularly when said portraiture featured a representation of Elizabeth with death literally standing over her shoulder.