According to Hilliard himself, Elizabeth wanted her portraits painted in an almost shadowless style. They are not so much likenesses as symbolic representations of the monarch, emphasising her rich costumes and jewellery. Here the jewel above Elizabeth’s hand is a phoenix. This mythical, unique bird, reborn out of fire, alludes to the unmarried Queen’s virginity. Elizabeth holds a rose, once associated with the Virgin Mary, but also an emblem of the Tudor dynasty. Hilliard became the Queen’s painter after 1570, working mainly in miniature.
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, known from the jewel upon her breast as ‘The Pelican Portrait’: This is probably the earliest of a series of portraits of the queen by the same hand, circa 1575-1583: In the style of Nicholas Hilliard: Presented by E. Peter Jones, esq, to the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
These four miniatures date from around 1600 and were part of the ‘Bosworth Jewel’, which commemorated the start of Tudor rule after Henry VII’s victory over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The four portraits show Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty; Henry VIII himself; Queen Jane Seymour; and their son Edward, later Edward VI. The Jewel was intended to show the continuation of the dynasty through Henry VIII to Prince Edward. It was presented to Charles I by Nicholas Hilliard’s son. The four miniatures were contained in an enamelled gold box which bore a depiction of the Battle of Bosworth on the lid. The Jewel seems to have been one of the items sold from the collection under Oliver Cromwell and, although the four miniatures had returned to royal ownership in the late seventeenth century, the box was lost. The four miniatures are now in Victorian frames.