'Queen Elizabeth I - The Pelican Portrait', Nicholas Hilliard


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Artist: called Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619)
Medium: Oil on panel
Dimensions: 78.5 x 61 cm
Accession number: WAG 2994

In this portrait of the queen, aged about 41, she is treated almost like a religious icon. Elaborate symbolism and rich detail show off her status and royal qualities. Her figure is stylised and her face mask-like. She is shown against a flat background with little attempt to convey spatial depth.

The mother pelican on her brooch is a traditional Christian symbol of Christ's sacrifice. It was believed that the pelican fed her young with her own blood. Here such a symbol refers to Elizabeth's role as a mother to her people.

Hilliard was miniature painter to Elizabeth I (a style also known as 'limning'). This work relates closely to his miniature portrait of 1572 but might be by a follower using Hilliard's designs.

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A poem inspired by this painting!

Sharon Marshall entered our 'Get Inspired...at the Walker' poetry competition and wrote this poem inspired by 'Queen Elizabeth I - The Pelican Portrait'.

Flame hearted she
Rises from Brittania's waves
Blood red defiant
Whilst Spanish gold ferments
In the pockets of pirates
Lion hearted she
Virgin Mother Prince Daughter Queen Icon

By Sharon Marshall