Three Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I Displayed Together for First Time

Mary Elizabeth Andriotis

For the first time in history, the three surviving Armada portraits of Queen Elizabeth I are on display together, at the Queen’s House in Greenwich, London. The 17th-century Palladian villa is now part of the Royal Museums Greenwich. The exhibit, Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I, opened February 13, and runs through August 31. The iconic royal portraits have never been exhibited simultaneously in the 430 years of their existence until now.

“We are absolutely delighted to be able to bring these three portraits together on public display for the first time ever," says Dr. Allison Goudie, curator of art at Royal Museums Greenwich. "It will be exciting to see all three together, and we can’t wait to share this historic moment with our visitors at the Queen’s House. This really is a very rare and special opportunity to come face to face with Elizabeth I like never before.”

These Armada Portraits were likely painted in 1588, after the Spanish Armada’s unsuccessful attempt to occupy England during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. To make this exhibit possible, the National Portrait Gallery loaned its portraits of Elizabeth, while the Royal Museums Greenwich received its own portrait after a major public appeal through Art Fund—a British charity that raises money to finance the obtaining of artworks for the United Kingdom—which resulted in 8,000 donations worth £1.5 million ($1.95 million). The Heritage Lottery then provided a grant of $9.66 million, thus allowing the acquisition of this Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I. These three portraits are the only surviving versions from 1588 in existence, and they are also the only ones that include scenes of the Spanish Armada in the backdrop of the paintings.

Prior to the installation of the Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I exhibition, the historic portraits were only ever in the same place for research and conservation, but never publicly. The National Portrait Gallery, located in London, provided loans for this exhibit to come to fruition, as did the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, who are loaning an Armada Portrait from their private collection, thus completing the holy trinity of Queen Elizabeth I portraits seen in this exhibit.

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The location of the show, the Queen’s House in Greenwich, is on the same plot of land as what was once the Greenwich Palace, also known as the Palace of Placentia, which was the birthplace of Tudor monarchs Elizabeth I (1533–1603) herself, as well as Henry VIII (1491–1547) and Mary I (1516–1558). Queen Elizabeth I signed the order to execute Mary, Queen of Scots, at Greenwich Palace, hence the phrasing “From Greenwich, with haste.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest