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North Carolina Garden Club’s Rare Portrait of an Aging Queen Elizabeth I Now on View in D.C.

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A portrait painting of the aging Queen Elizabeth I executed by the studio of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger in the late-1590s, which hasn’t been seen outside North Carolina since it was purchased by the Elizabethean Gardens on the state’s Outer Banks, is currently on view in Washington, D.C. as part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s new exhibition “Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland.”

The painting is especially unusual for its frank portrayal of the monarch’s aging, which makes it the “rare exception in not covering up the queen’s flaws,” “The Face of Queenship: Early Modern Representations of Queen Elizabeth I” author Anna Riehl told the Telegraph. Elizabeth I’s attempts to control her image resulted in a 1596 Privy Council order that directed officials “to aid the Queen’s Sergeant Painter in seeking out unseemly portraits which were to her ‘great offence’ and therefore to be defaced and no more portraits to be produced except as approved by [the] Sergeant Painter.”

The Elizabethean Gardens purchased the painting in the 1950s from a gallery in New York for $3,000 to adorn its gatehouse, but only undertook efforts to illuminate its organizations in 2007. These revealed that the painting was the work of Gheeraerts’s studio. It has not been on view since that authentication and subsequent conservation work, which spanned 2010-11.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image: Detail of studio of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, “Portrait of Elizabeth I,” c. 1595. Photo: Courtesy of Elizabethan Gardens of North Carolina, via Telegraph.)

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