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Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England, Great Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1586-1587 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hilliard, Nicholas, born 1542 - died 1619 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on vellum stuck onto plain card

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Mrs Doris Herschorn

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Portrait Miniatures, room 90a, case 4

Physical description

Portrait of Elizabeth I, half length, in an oval within a rectangular frame. On either side of the portrait are inscriptions in gold.

Place of Origin

England, Great Britain (painted)


ca. 1586-1587 (painted)


Hilliard, Nicholas, born 1542 - died 1619 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on vellum stuck onto plain card

Marks and inscriptions

'ELISA. / BETHA; Regina / Angliae.'


Height: 45 mm, Width: 37 mm

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of Queen Elizabeth I, watercolour on vellum, painted by Nicholas Hilliard, ca. 1586-1587.

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

Kim Sloan. A New World. England's first view of America. London: The British Museum Press, 2006. ISBN: 0714126500.
Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.
Cat. 192, p. 121. Full Citation:


192 Elizabeth I, c. 1585-87

Victoria & Albert Museum (P.23-1975)
Vellum stuck onto plain card, oval, 45 x 37 mm, 1 ¾ x 1 15/32 in.

About 1586-87 we have, for the first time, clear evidence of Hilliard multiplying the same miniature of the Queen. Three versions are extant of this face-mask, the second, in the Drake Jewel, contains the regnal year enabling us to date it to 1586-87 (Strong, Renaissance Miniature, pl. 98) and the third is in the Beauchamp Collection (Auerbach, Hilliard, pl. 57). None of the versions, including the V&A one, is from life. All, however, observe the Queen’s dresses and jewels correctly. This version includes details such as the black picture box secured by an orange bow at her left breast and, more important, a very early allusion to her as the moon-goddess, Cynthia or Diana, in the crescent-jewel resting in her hair which is also scattered with tiny arrows (a further allusion to Diana, as goddess of the chase?). The other early dated visual allusion to the moon-cult is the portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh, dated 1588, in the National Portrait Gallery (Strong, Tudor and Jacobean, I, pp. 256-57; II, pl. 505).

Basically the miniature is in good condition with minor losses, oxidization of the silver and a little damage due to moisture.

INSCRIBED: The miniature is set into a seventeenth century vellum mount with bands of lettering in black and gold; inscribed on either side: ELISA. / BETHA; Regina / Angliae.

COLLECTIONS: This miniature once belonged to a group of ten, five of which are now in the V&A. The earliest account of their history (Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, The Great Historic Galleries of England, London, 1881, pl. xx) is highly romanticized and claims provenance from James II via Louis XIV which cannot be proved. Their certain history is as follows: acquired in Paris by James Edwards (1757-1816), bookseller and bibliographer, probably in the aftermath of the Treaty of Amiens; sold Christie’s July 15th 1816 (lot 61); acquired by the Rev. Thomas Butt of Kinnersley, Shropshire, who married Edward’s widow; by descent to Capt. H. Edwards-Heathcote, Belton Hall, Market Drayton; sold Christie’s June 13th 1928 (lot 45); purchased by Mrs Doris Herschorn; bequeathed, 1975.

LITERATURE: V&A, 1947 (47).
Auerbach, Hilliard, pp. 109, pl. 85; 30 (83).
Strong, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, p. 90 (7).”

Exhibition History

The Golden Age of the English Court: From Henry VIII to Charles I (Moscow Kremlin Museums 24 Oct 2012-27 Jan 2013)
Artists of the Tudor Court: the portrait miniature rediscovered, 1520-1620 (V&A 09/07/1983-06/11/1983)
A New World. England's first view of America (British Museum 15/03/2007-17/06/2007)

Labels and date

Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars label text:

Royal portraits
Miniatures of royalty often played a part in marriage negotiations with foreign courts. They also had a domestic political role; no.1 celebrates Queen Elizabeth as Cynthia, ‘the wide Ocean’s Empresse’, victorious ruler of a maritime nation. Elizabeth’s ambassadors often carried her miniature, which was much admired.

Queen Elizabeth I
About 1585–87; mount 1600–1700
By Nicholas Hilliard
Watercolour on vellum, stuck to pasteboard, set into a vellum mount
Bequeathed by Mrs Doris Herschorn
V&A: P.23-1975


Watercolour; Cardboard; Vellum



Subjects depicted

Jewellery; Queen; Elizabeth I (Queen of England and Wales); Ruff; Jewels


Royalty; Portraits; Paintings

Collection code


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