A rare portrait from 1593 of Queen Elizabeth I is on display at The Museum of the Albemarle in North Carolina. This overlooked gem hung without notice for over 50 years in the Elizabethan Gardens Gatehouse on Roanoke Island at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Many walked past the portrait without giving it a second thought. Professor Larry Tise from East Carolina University “discovered” the portrait in 2008.
After a very detailed analysis by historians, curators and restorers, it was discovered that the portrait and frame materials indeed were from the Elizabethan era. It was also discovered that the wood from the frame originated from the materials set aside solely for royal portraits of this time period. The painting dates to 1593 and was possibly produced by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, who was a well-known painter during the Tudor period. Those who researched the painting came to this conclusion after viewing how similar this Elizabeth I portrait was to the Gheeraerts Elizabeth I (Ditchley portrait) that is hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
One may wonder why this portrait is special. Also, why is it so important to North Carolina of all places? Firstly, the portrait is unique since it is painted in a rather unflattering way. Unlike paintings one has seen of Elizabeth I in her youthful exuberance, this painting shows an aged and wrinkled Queen. Perhaps, this is the reason it was overlooked for over five decades.
So why North Carolina you may be thinking. The simple answer would be: Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina. If one recalls from history class, from 1584-1587, Sir Walter Raleigh put for the funds for the exploration to Roanoke Island which is present day Outer Banks.
On 25 March 1584 according to the North Carolina History Project online, Queen Elizabeth I gave Raleigh the approval to “discover, search, find out, and view such remote heathen and barbarous Lands, Countries, and territories….to have, hold, occupy, and enjoy.” Although Raleigh did not partake on the journeys, with HM approval he funded and sanctioned them. Some historians say Raleigh caught the Queen’s fancy and favour, others disagree. Whatever the story may be, the Museum of the Albemarle certainly holds a unique treasure from the Elizabethan Age.
I think Clay Swindell, Collection specialist with the Museum of the Albemarle summed it up best to dailyadvance.com; “It represents one of the most influential women in history. Elizabeth I helped shape our modern world with many of her actions and decisions.”