This was thought to be just a grubby 17th century portrait of an unknown woman by an unknown artist.
But when a restorer cleaned off the overpainting, the face that emerged looked uncannily like Queen Elizabeth I of England.
So is it or isn’t it the Virgin Queen? The Yale Center for British Art think it is—earlier this year, experts at Yale were shown the oil on panel by Bonhams, which will offer the work for sale in its Old Master paintings sale in London on 4 December with an estimate of £150,000 to £250,000.
It is thought to have been painted around 1562, just after Elizabeth came to the throne, and Andrew McKenzie, Bonhams’s director of Old Masters, says that from her accession onwards “[Elizabeth] and her court were acutely alive to the importance and possibilities of presentation—we’d call it brand management today—and this portrait is among the very first we know that projects a new, approved image of the Queen.”
The portrait is livelier than the stiff later portraits of the Queen and, Bonhams say, circumstantial evidence suggests it might have been made by the workshop of the Flemish artist Steven van der Meulen.