Three Elizabeth I Armada portraits hung side by side in Greenwich for the first time in history. Art lovers can easily compare the differences of the three paintings more easily.
According to Mr. Bol Bolland, all these paintings have scattered across the country, but they only make sense when they are in dialogue with each other.
The first time they were hung side by side in the showroom in their 430-year history, this was interesting.
In what has been described as a “dream scenario” for artistic research of the period, Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) is displaying its version of the portrait, which it acquired in 2016 from descendants of Sir Francis Drake, alongside the one owned by the NPG and a version privately owned by the Duke of Bedford that is usually on display at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.
These three paintings at first glance look very similar. The NPG version has been garbled, losing from each side the victorious scenes of the British navy and the Spanish disaster. Three pages were drawn after defeating Armada in 1588.
If you glance at you will not see the difference of these three paintings because they have the father and the king’s posture is almost identical. However, if you pay close attention, you can see that in the Greenwich version, Elizabeth seemed to look directly at the viewer, while in Woburn, she was staring into the middle distance.
Despite having been painted for a long time, these three paintings retain the original colors, especially with the Woburn version. The naval scenes in the Greenwich portrait were overpainted at some point in the 18th century.
It is assumed that these three paintings were drawn by an artist but that is not the case. The absence of “pentimenti” – signs that the painter changed his mind as he worked – suggests that none of the three is an original on which the others were based. Instead they may have been based around a fully worked cartoon, or another, lost version.
“But here the star of the show is Elizabeth herself. The sheer breadth of her costume has echoes of [her father] Henry VIII’s broad shoulders, but if you look closely and try to find an anatomical human body underneath there it’s quite hard to find. You might say this is something women grapple with even today – how female power is portrayed and to what extent women need to alter their female [biology] to fit a particular mould.