Elizabeth I, 1533-1603

A three-quarter-length portrait slightly to the left, seated. Elizabeth holds a sceptre in her right hand and, seated on a red throne, she is set against a background which is probably of green leather with a gold decoration. She wears a black dress sewn with jewels, a crown set with pearls and a large jewel in her ring. She also wears a cape of silk, a large ruff and three rows of pearls, and two rows of pearls with precious stones round her waist. Her left hand, with two rings, rests on a table covered with red velvet cloth fringed in gold thread. The sleeves of her white under-dress are thickly sewn with jewels.

Although Elizabeth was third in line for the succession at her father's death in 1545, the early deaths of her brother and elder sister brought her to the throne in 1558. The 45 years of her reign were a period of national resurgence and of maritime adventures and discovery. She had the character and spirit to match the times, and symbolized them for her people. The portrait was painted during the years of greatest political tension with Spain. In it, the importance Elizabeth attached to her public image is expressed in the sumptuous clothes and rich setting, and is emphasized by her holding the sceptre as a symbol of office and power. The portrait functions as a regal icon rather than a human likeness. It is intended primarily to convey a sense of courtly magnificence and authority, telling more about the image cultivated around her than about her true physical appearance.

This painting was formerly attributed to John Bettes, the Younger, but not on any substantial evidence.

Object Details

ID: BHC2680
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Bettes, John; British School, 16th century
Date made: circa 1590
People: Queen Elizabeth I
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Painting: 1194 mm x 915 mm; Frame: 1392 mm x 1112 mm x 95 mm

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