You can see Queen Elizabeth l in all her regal glory in the Armada portrait at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. It turns out 2 other versions of this iconic paintng also exist in England, one to be found at Woburn Abbey and and the other in the National Portrait Gallery. Now, you can enjoy these 3 copies of this famous portrait as they have been brought together for the first time at the Queen’s House in their new exhibition Faces of a Queen and it’s a real treat to see them together.
They were all painted very shortly after the Armada victory in 1588, from left to right they are: the Woburn Abbey version – largest and most complete; the Queen’s House own version which is the clearest and pops with detail and colour; and, the National Gallery version which has been cropped at some point. They are almost identical in that the costume and jewels are the same but there are differences for example in the Queen’s House version the ships in the left window have been updated from the original Armada ships to contemporary verssions from the 18th century when there was a major restoration of the painting.
I was intrigued how there came to be 3 almost identical paintings after we were told that they were likely to be the work of different artists. They are so similar and yet I found it hard to believe that Queen Elizabeth would have sat for 3 separate painters or even for 3 at once. I posed this question to Allison Goudie, Curator at the Queen’s House, and she told me that it is now thought the paintings were all based on a single original miniature painting by one of the queen’s favourite artists, Nicholas Hilliard. Other copies may exist but these 3 were contemporary versions making them so precious.
We see Elizabeth surrounded by symbols of power, majesty and virginity. Her hand on the globe in the Woborn and Queen’s House versions shows her growing dominance across the globe. The seascapes show the defeat of the Spanish Armada, a victory for England and Elizabeth but also for Protestanism over Catholicism. The crown and her costume reinforce her majesty. The profusion of pearls speak to her virginity as they are associated with this and her status as the ‘VIrgin Queen’ married to her country.
Queen Elizabeth was born in Greenwich Palace, sadly no longer in existance, as was Mary her sister as it was the main London seat of their father Henry Vlll and they spent a good deal of their youth at the palace.. He married his first and fourth queens there and his son Edward lV died there although after his father’s death. Elizabeth’s Council planned the Armada Campaign from the palace, so another strong connection with the paintings.
The opportunity to get really close up to 3 faces of Elizabeth was fascinating as the rest of her body is obscured by her sumptuous costume. She is thought to be 55 at the time these were painted and I was looking for signs of the life she had lived but I guess the painters were charged with making her look younger. Here is your chance for a close up:
The Armada Portraits are the focal point of the Queen’s House exhibits at the moment but there is so much more to see in their permanent collection. In addition they have the Woburn Treasures currently on display around the house. Woburn Abbey is undergoing a major renovation project so its treasures including their Armada Portrait can go out on loan. Many works from this significant private collection are to be found in the Queen’s House. There is a great deal to see and through the pieces visitors can learn about the Russell family who’ve lived at Woburn and their closeness to royalty over the centuries.
Matthew Hirst, the curator at Woburn Abbey, took us through the many rooms at the Queen’s House where their treasures can now be found. The Russell family have been great patrons and collectors of art and architecture. This exhibition
Here are just a few of my highlights from the Woburn Treasures:
This picture of Queen Mary 1 and her husband Phillip ll of Spain has the most extraordinary legs and faces! Positioned under their royal crests the couple and their faithful dogs demonstrate the style of the time which did not always use realistic perspective.Thepainting sits well in an exhibition containging the Armada Portraits as it was Phillip who launched the ill fated seaborne invasion of England against Mary’s sister Elizabeth.
Inigo Jones appears on the walls and it is fitting that his portrait should visit the Queen’s House as he was commissioned by Anne of Denmark as architect of the house. Inigo Jones brought the popular classical Palladian style of architecture to England and you can see his work in the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall.
The dramatic bust of Olaudah Equiano dominates one room, a famous ex slave who became a key figure in the fight to abolish slavery. His book documenting his experiences as a slave had a huge impact in his day and this modern bronze bust commemorates his crucial role in British history.
This portrait of Lady Jane Grey being offered the Crown, fits well with the other roayl portraits and is part of the bloody tale of the Tudor reign. Her sad tale is one of a young girl being manipulated by powerful forces, including her own family, to put her on the throne of England.They succeeded but 9 days later Mary gathered her forces and deposed Jane. Poor Jane, just 16, was beheaded by Mary to removed any threat, so this moment of glory was very shortlived.
The Queen’s House is a star of any visit so do take the time to enjoy the fabulous Tulip Stairs and Great Hall among other delights:
To find out more about visiting these exhibtions and the Queen’s House check their website: https://www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house.
Full disclosure: as is customary in the travel industry I was invited by the Queen’s House to their curator led preview visit. This has not influenced my views and was not a monetary offer as entrance to the Queen’s House is free.