Save the Armada Portrait: Public appeal launched to save £10 million painting of Elizabeth I

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 May 2016

The Save the Armada Portrait fundraising appeal is targeting £8.6 million in the Queen’s 90th birthday year

A photo of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth the first called the armada portrait
© Courtesy Art Fund
This is the Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I – the £10 million painting, made in around 1590, which Royal Museums Greenwich and the Art Fund have launched a public fundraising appeal to save.

The portrait commemorates the most famous conflict of Elizabeth's reign between 1558 and 1603: the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in summer 1588. One of the definitive representations of the English Renaissance, encapsulating the creativity, ideals and ambitions of the Elizabethan era, it is among the most famous images of British history, a staple in school textbooks and the inspiration for countless portrayals of Elizabeth I in film or on stage.

The painting will enter public ownership for the first time in its 425-year history and be hung in the Queen’s House, on the site of the original Greenwich Palace, if the appeal raises £8.6 million. The Art Fund will provide £1 million, with the Royal Museums providing £400,000.

A photo of a portrait of Sir Francis Drake created by Marcus Gheeraerts, the Younger
Marcus Gheeraerts, the Younger, Sir Francis Drake (1591)© National Maritime Museum
The House, which was a major political and symbolic centre for the Tudor dynasty and the birthplace of Elizabeth I herself, will reopen later this year at the heart of the Greenwich World Heritage Site following major restoration work.

Painted when Elizabeth was in her late 50s, the Armada portrait is among the greatest of contemporary eulogies to the Queen. An oil painting on oak panels, it is unusual for its large size and horizontal format.

The figure of the queen dominates the picture, shown three-quarter length, in a rich gold-embroidered and jewelled dress, as the epitome of regal magnificence, her right hand resting on a globe showing the Americas, an imperial covered crown on the table behind, a fan made of ostrich feathers in her left hand, and beside her a throne.

A photo of a portrait of English Ships and the Spanish Armada, made in August 1588 at the English School
English Ships and the Spanish Armada (August 1588). English School© National Maritime Museum
The two seascapes in the background show the English fleet (on the left) in calm waters with the approaching Spanish Armada. On the right, the Armada ships are wrecked on the Irish coast in a storm.

The theme of the painting is the defence of the realm, personified by the queen; in her most famous speech to the troops at Tilbury, she declared that while she had “the body of a weak and feeble woman”, she had 2the heart and stomach of a king.”

The portrait was evidently owned – or may even have been commissioned by – Sir Francis Drake, a sea captain and circumnavigator of the globe who was one of the great heroes of Elizabeth’s court, whose descendants have had it in their possession since at least 1775, passing down through generations of the family.

A photo of Greenwich from the south-east showing the Park and Tudor palace, held at the National Maritime Museum, London
Greenwich from the south-east showing the Park and Tudor palace (circa 1620). English School© National Maritime Museum, London
Royal Museums Greenwich now hopes to give a permanent public home to the painting, placing it in the context of a royal and maritime setting. The museum would make an ideal custodian, with its fine 16th and 17th century collections and world-renowned conservation expertise. A nationwide celebration of the portrait, in collaboration with other museums and historic locations across the UK, is also in the offing.

A consortium of supporters has pledged to match all public donations, pound for pound. The Armada portrait of Elizabeth I will be placed on public display during the campaign, at the National Maritime Museum, London, from today (May 23 2016).

Kevin Fewster, the Director of Museums Greenwich, calls the Art Fund grant a "fabulous kick-start” for a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.

A photo of Greenwich Palace from the North East with a Man-of-War, made at the Netherlandish School
Greenwich Palace from the North East with a Man-of-War (circa 1630). Netherlandish School© Courtesy Art Fund
“Greenwich is the perfect home for the Armada portrait,” he explains. “Elizabeth I was born at Greenwich Palace in 1533 and the early 17th century Queen’s House, where we would like to display the painting, is the last remaining part of the palace.

“If our campaign is successful, it will be the centrepiece of a lively programme of displays, talks, tours, and education initiatives. With 2016 being the 90th birthday year of our present Queen, there could not be a more appropriate way to celebrate the second great Elizabethan era.”


What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places to see portraits and royal history in

Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire
Each tower of this magnificent Scottish Baronial fortress is traditionally associated with one of the castle’s five successive families – Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon and Forbes-Leith. You can see their influences today among the medieval stones and the lavish Edwardian interiors, and imagine what castle life must have been like for the families and their royal guests – among them Robert the Bruce and Charles I.

Knole, Sevenoaks
Knole is one of England’s most important, complete, yet fragile historic houses, set at the heart of Kent’s last remaining medieval deer park. It includes a rare collection of Royal Stuart furniture and important portraits by Van Dyke, Gainsborough and Reynolds.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Queen's Gallery, Edinburgh
The Royal Apartments reflect the changing tastes of successive monarchs and are renowned for their fine plasterwork ceilings and magnificent furnishings, particularly the unrivalled collection of Brussels tapestries. One of the most famous rooms in the Palace is the Great Gallery, hung with Jacob de Wet's portraits of the real and legendary kings of Scotland.
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I can't afford much, but I hope my tenner will be the tipping point in making the #savearmada campaign a success. I saw this portrait in the Elizabeth exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in 2003. Quelle magnifique! We must keep it in England where it belongs!
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