03 April 2013

Do you recognize this red-headed older lady?

Excerpts from a report at The History Blog:
A painting of Queen Elizabeth I that portrays her in all her aging glory has recently been authenticated as in now on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. This version of Elizabeth eschews the alabaster smooth skin and preternaturally youthful look that characterize her portraits long after the bloom of her youth had faded. She has deep wrinkles, bags under eyes, a greyish skin tone underneath the blobs of blush...

In 1596, the Privy Council took action against this state of affairs, ordering officers “to aid the Queen’s Sergeant Painter in seeking out unseemly portraits which were to her ‘great offence’ and therefore to be defaced and no more portraits to be produced except as approved by [the] Sergeant Painter.” Many paintings of Elizabeth were seized and burned...

The oil on panel portrait was purchased by Ruth Coltrane Cannon, founding member of the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, for $3,000 from a New York art dealer in the 1950s... She donated it to the Elizabeth Gardens, a botanical garden dedicated to the first British settlements in the New World founded by Sir Walter Raleigh during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I... The materials in the paint and the wood panel and frame date it to the Elizabethan period. Experts now think it may have originated in the London studio of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger in the mid 1590s, although who commissioned it and which hand painted it remain unknown. 
I keep forgetting that Elizabeth (and her father Henry VIII) were redheads.  She lost much of her hair to smallpox but apparently was not shy about supplementing her own with a similar wig.  How that color hair was received at the time might be a good topic for another post.


  1. I looked online to see the other paintings of her, and she must have had some idea that she wasn't a beauty...but who would have told her the truth?

  2. There's a nice collection of portraits of her here: http://www.marileecody.com/eliz1-images.html

    The earliest in that list is from 1546, which the then-Princess sent as a gift to her half-brother King Edward VI. She's quoted from the accompanying letter: 'For the face, I grant, I might well blush to offer, but the mind I shall never be ashamed to present.' She may have been plain and known it, though personally I think that face type can be cute in a young woman and formidable in an elder. I certainly would not argue with the woman in the portrait above!

    1. Good point. Aside from the bad wig, she does have a certain noble carriage.

  3. I'm fascinated as much by what she's wearing and how it's depicted. The bodice of her dress appears to be silk from the way the light falls on it. The lace from the collar appears to continue along the top edge of the bodice too. And how interesting that although there's apparently two breasts for the pearl necklaces to hang between, there is no cleavage showing at all. The shoulders of the sleeves - well, wow! We thought that the shoulder pads we wore in the 80s denoted "power dressing" but I think Elizabeth (and her era?) had us all beat!

    1. Jen, you might like these two old posts -




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