- Museum number:
4404 to B-1857
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, room 57a, case 3 
From the late 1580s there was a proliferation of portraits of Elizabeth I. In this period, the political and religious temperature of Europe rose and there were many threats to the Queen's safety, especially from Spain. It therefore became fashionable to express loyalty and devotion to the Queen by wearing her image. The original jewelled and enamelled case in which this miniature is set demonstrates the expense to which some would go to house her image.
Elizabeth I rarely sat for portraits, so one sitting provided a 'pattern' that was then repeated in various forms. This face pattern is by Nicholas Hilliard and is often called the 'Mask of Youth'. The Queen was then 60, but the artist reduced her features to a few simple lines, so rejuvenating her appearance. In this version Elizabeth wears her hair long and unbound, as unmarried girls did, to signify her virginity. This gives pictorial expression to her claim to be a Virgin Queen wedded to her kingdom.
The locket is an example of how the former Roman Catholic practice of wearing holy images became transferred to images of Elizabeth. It reflects the near-cult that grew up around her, with the devotion once given to the Virgin Mary in Catholic countries, but no longer possible in Protestant England, finding an outlet in the homage done to the Queen.
Portrait of Elizabeth I contained in a gold enamelled case set with diamond and ruby.
Height: 62 mm, Width: 48 mm
Portrait miniature of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard in a case of enamelled gold set with a diamond and ruby, England, ca.1600.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985. 220 p. : col. ill., p. 42.
Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.
Labels and date
Nicholas Hilliard and Miniature Painting
Nicholas Hilliard trained as a goldsmith and developed painting techniques that exploited this training. He used metallic pigments to mimic the jewellery on the opulent clothes that were fashionable. Hilliard created the image of Elizabeth and her courtiers that we know today, but he never won a salaried position at court. He had to set up shop in the City of London. From there he painted anyone who could afford his services.
Elizabeth I was aged about 60 when these miniatures were painted. Hilliard deliberately painted her face using a few simple lines to create a 'mask of youth'. He then focused on her sumptuous costume and jewels to create a portrait that is an image of a magnificent Queen rather than an ageing woman. [27/03/2003]
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