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.