Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Does the Mysterious Ghost Girl Portrait in the North Carolina Museum of Art Depict Queen Elizabeth I?

Armada Portrait of Elizbeth I by George Gower (NPGNPG541) & NCMA 67.13.6 Unknown Woman
My friend Tyler Keith and I were looking at the incredible Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits on the website of the North Carolina Museum of Art, and we noticed, much to our shock, that their unidentified woman NCMA 67.13.6 bore a spooky resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I. We broke out my Elizabeth collection, and Tyler pointed out how the unknown woman was wearing a very similar costume to the famous procession portrait of Elizabeth I by Robert Peake. Also of note was that the jeweled emblem on Elizabeth's shoulder is awfully similar to the one worn in the unknown woman's hair. 

Also it's worth noting that Elizabeth I was very fond of white face paint. The ghost girl in North Carolina has so much white paint on her face and neck I at first suspected this might be a Jacobean masque portrait (and it might). But the real Elizabeth is wearing just as much white make-up in many of the portraits seen below.

Obviously all the Elizabeth I portraits in these comparisons are used for educational purposes, and the images all come from wikimedia.
Above: detail from Robert Peake's Procession portrait c 1600 at Sherbourne Castle (image via wikimedia) and Unknown Woman (NCMA). 

 Sieve portrait of  Elizabeth by George Gower-NPG541
elizabeth-walker-art-gallery2994-hilliard-pelican-portrait
elizabeth-darnley-portrait-NPG_2082
The below comparison shows the ghost girl and Queen Elizabeth's mother Anne Boleyn. The resemblance is striking. The costume eliminates Boleyn from contention, but the family resemblance is interesting. Henry VIII's motto was "Coeur Loyal" ("true heart"). He had heart symbols embroidered onto his clothes with the word "loyal." Could the unknown sitter be wearing a family heirloom?
The next detail reveals the extremely long neck of the unknown woman. Elizabeth's mother Anne Boleyn had such a long neck that the NPG web site comments on it in an otherwise short description: "This painting is probably based on a contemporary portrait which no longer survives. Boleyn was described as having a long neck . . ." 

Bad things happened to that royal neck. It turns out Anne's daughter Elizabeth also had a very long neck.
 Above: unknown woman & Queen Elizabeth by Gheeraerts the Younger (Gov. Art Collection)


  Above: NCMA 67.13.6. There is a huge jpeg of the portrait available on the North Carolina Museum website. Likewise for the rest of their amazing Elizabethan and Jacobean collection.

Earlier I wrote a post in which I suggested the ghost girl (as I've been calling her) might possibly be Lucy Russell Harington, Countess of Bedford.
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