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Queen Elizabeth I

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1595-ca.1600 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hilliard, Nicholas (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on vellum

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 57, case 3

Object Type
In the 1580s the political and religious temperature of Europe rose. Threats to the Queen's safety increased, especially from Spain, and the fashion for wearing the Queen's image to express loyalty and devotion became established. From the late 1580s there was a proliferation of portraits of the Queen.

Elizabeth I rarely sat for portraits, since from one sitting a 'pattern' would be produced that other artists would copy. This face pattern by Hilliard, called today the 'Mask of Youth', was so successful that 16 versions in miniature have survived. Elizabeth was around 60 at this date, but Hilliard reduced the Queen's features to a few schematic lines, thereby rejuvenating her face. He then focussed on her sumptuous costume and jewels. This was not just vanity. The Queen had no heir and her succession was still undecided. Her government did not want to focus on her mortality and the Queen's official image became highly stylised, presenting a reassuring, ageless and powerful national icon.

Materials & Making
Nicholas Hilliard was a goldsmith and developed special techniques for painting jewels. Pearls were painted with a raised blob of white 'with a pretty little tooth of some ferret or stoat', as Hilliard's own treatise records. Sadly, silver tarnishes and the pearls and other areas in silver now appear black.

Physical description

This miniature in one of many painted by Hilliard which deliberately abandon any attempt to depict a woman in her sixties. Known as "The Mask of Youth" portraits, these convey the legend of ageless beauty, with attention drawn from the face by the opulence of her clothes.

Place of Origin

England (made)


ca. 1595-ca.1600 (painted)


Hilliard, Nicholas (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on vellum


Height: 6.5 cm, Width: 5.3 cm

Object history note

Painted in London by Nicholas Hilliard (born in Exeter, Devon, possibly 1547, died in London, 1619)

In Horace Walpole's collection at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, in the 18th century

Descriptive line

Miniature depicting a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, watercolour on vellum, by Nicholas Hilliard, England, ca. 1595-1600

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
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]

Subjects depicted

Monarchs; Necklaces; Jewellery; Court dress; Queens; Costume; Women; Ruffs; Crowns (headdresses); Beauty


British Galleries; Paintings; Royalty; Clothing; Jewellery


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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