Record number of donors save iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth I

A “triumph of popular will” has resulted in an iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth I being saved for the nation after one of the most successful fundraising campaigns for a work of art.

A nationwide appeal to secure the £10.3 million necessary to purchase the artwork from the descendants of Sir Francis Drake was launched by the Art Fund in conjunction with Royal Museums Greenwich on 23 May this year. The Art Fund contributed £1 million, Royal Museums Greenwich provided £400,000 and 8,000 public donations made in just 10 weeks and matched pound for pound by a consortium of supporters raised £1.2 million. A final £7.4 million provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund rounded out the acquisitions budget.

Painted by an unknown artist, the Armada portrait (circa 1590) is one of the best known images from British history and considered a masterpiece of the English Renaissance. It depicts a triumphant Elizabeth I after the English successfully thwarted an invasion by the Armada of Spain in the most famous conflict of the Virgin Queen’s reign. Sir Francis Drake, the vice admiral of the English fleet at the time of the battle in 1588, is believed to have commissioned the portrait.

Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sir Peter Luff, described the piece as a “compelling historic icon, illustrating as it does a decisive conflict, inspiring female leadership, maritime power and the emergence of the Elizabethan golden age“.

The portrait will hang in the Queen’s House when it reopens on 11 October this year after major refurbishments in the collection of Royal Museums Greenwich. As the site of the original Greenwich Palace, birthplace of Elizabeth I, the Queen’s House is thought to be a fitting home for the artwork. Until now, the painting had spent most of its life hanging above the mantelpiece in Shardeloes, the Buckinghamshire country house built for William Drake.

According to the Art Fund, the fundraising campaign attracted a record number of donors. These included 7 year old schoolgirl, Christina Ryder, from Wakefield Girls’ Junior School who fundraised by donning an Elizabethan ruff and costume and selling 400 cupcakes iced with images of Elizabeth I. The cupcakes came with a letter explaining why the painting was important.

Art Fund Director, Stephen Deuchar, said “the painting captured the national imagination in 2016 as surely as the defeat of the Armada itself had done in 1588“.

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