Happy Birthday Tudor Queen Elizabeth! A portrait in the making
9th September 2016
As this week marks the 483rd birthday of England's great Tudor Queen Elizabeth I (7th Sep.1533), its' time to dust off some recollections of when I painted her portrait. This was done early in 2014 for the cover of 'Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen and the Men who Loved Her.' Published in June of that year.
I gathered together several images of Elizabeth from 16th century portraits. And also compared these to images of her mother, the Tudor Queen Anne Boleyn. These were then merged together to make something new. I suppose, in a sense, this is what writers of historical fiction do, anyway. Taking information from the past and then churning it all about until something unique emerges by way of a new story.
Acrylic paint on artist's board were used for convenience. The colours are quick drying and easy to build up in layers. Also, rather than aim for an antique look, as we often see in the heavily varnished and faded images in galleries and history books, I decided to go for a relatively vibrant image - as the original portraits of the past would have once appeared in their day, when new.
My box o' tricks - acrylic paints are ideal.
Tudor Queen Elizabeth - getting the image right
Painting a portrait involves various stages, from the initial task of roughly covering the white space of the board with colour (anything at all really to begin with), to the latter stages of building up more and more recognizable image-layers until the finishing touches can be applied to the face and hair, and also the finer details of the clothing become defined. In this case, the very final stages - including a last-minute change in the colour of the background - were achieved using Photoshop.
3 of the many stages involved.
Original paintings of Elizabeth such as those done by Gheeraerts or Metsys are astonishingly rich in detail. These were close to life-size, to grace the walls of royal palaces or stately homes. They would have taken immense skill and patience to produce. For a small book cover, however (in fact just 7.81″x 5.60 on the finished article), obviously it was possible to get away with a more sketchy approach. So the whole thing really only took a matter of days rather than weeks.
Why did I refer to portraits of Anne Boleyn as well as Elizabeth? Well, many art historians speculate that those few portraits of Queen Anne we have today, such as that in the National Portrait Gallery, were done from likenesses of her daughter. Original portraits of Anne were destroyed after her fall from grace and execution in 1536. So a useful source for perhaps representing her daughter.
NPG portrait of Anne Boleyn.
The enigmatic smile
But that was not the only reason. Most portraits of Elizabeth have a fairly dour appearance, in keeping with the image of a Tudor monarch of those times. Anne Boleyn, on the other hand, is usually shown with a trace of an enigmatic smile. And I wanted Elizabeth to have that for the book cover. So a happy combination.
Those subtle smiles - NPG Anne and my Elizabeth.
Here is the finished article.
The title is set in capitals against a subdued olive-green motif of Tudor roses. Beneath this is the main illustration depicting Elizabeth as Queen on a gold-green background. The subtitle ‘A series of biographical sketches from the Elizabethan court’ is ranged in a gold-tinted script to the right hand side. And the author’s name, in capitals, at the base.
Finally, a short video of how it was all put together. The making of a book cover.