Tudor portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London
by Carolin C. Young |Three Unknown Elizabethan Children, artist unknown, c. 1580. Oil on panel. Private collection, on view at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
London’s National Portrait Gallery invites visitors to have a firsthand look at the personalities who inhabited Elizabeth I’s realm. Including portraits of the queen and many of her most renowned subjects, such as Bess of Hardwick, William Cecil, the explorer Francis Drake, and poet John Donne, the exhibition also features images of lesser-known lawyers, butchers, calligraphers, and merchants as it explores how portraiture expanded from the elite into the middle class. The star of the show is a portrait of three unidentified but elegantly clad Elizabethan children aged, according to the painting’s inscriptions, six, seven, and five, and painted about 1580 by an unknown artist who nevertheless betrays familiarity with Netherlandish techniques. What makes the picture a standout is the small guinea pig nestled into the girl’s arm, which sniffs at a small bird (probably a finch) clenched in her little brother’s fist. The picture is currently the earliest known depiction of a guinea pig, which became popular as exotic pets in Europe after being introduced by Spanish traders. A catalogue has been published to accompany the exhibition.
Elizabeth I and Her People • National Portrait Gallery, London • to January 5, 2014 • npg.org.uk