Steven van der Meulen: Portrait of queen Elizabeth I of England (1563)

(Private Collection)

A painting by the Flemish artist Steven van der Meulen(active 1543 until 1568). This painting, known as 'the Hampden Portrait' is probably the earliest known full-length portrait of Elizabeth as a queen. Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) was the daughter of king Henry VIII of England and his second wife Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558 at the death of Queen Mary I of England. Upon her succession Elizabeth was not married and it was expected that she would marry. This portrait comes from her this time when she was forced to address the question of marriage. It is very unusual as it alludes to Elizabeth becoming a wife and mother. The painting was probably painted with suitors in mind and it is full of Tudor symbolism. In her right hand she is holding a carnation flower which was an attribute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and represents here being the Handmaid of God and the Queen of Heaven (England). The flower is also a symbol of love and marriage and can be interpreted here as a public declaration of the Queen's intention to marry. The entwined honeysuckle flowers are a symbol of affection and suggest a union, while the ripe fruit symbolize the queen’s fertility. Elizabeth is wearing a red and white (these colors refer to the house of Tudor) satin down which is decorated with jewels and a a Tudor rose corsage and Tudor rose collar around her neck. Around her waistline Elizabeth has a string of large pearls with a sphere at the end, a so-called armillary, which symbolizes harmony. Elizabeth is standing next to an empty chair, perhaps a symbolic place in her life still to be filled. She is looking 
to the right as if expecting the arrival of a suitor. When it was clear that Elizabeth would not marry, this painting was eventually given away by her to Griffith Hampden, sheriff of Buckinghamshire, to commemorate her visit to Hampden House. Painting from around 1563.

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