This portrait was made by the British artist George Gower(c. 1540 – 1596), who was an English court painter for much of the second half of the 16th century. And today, this work made around 1590 is in Woburn Abbey.
It is very important to note the date this oil painting was made, 1590, a time when European art is at the end of Renaissance art, they are making the great creations of Mannerism and the forms of Baroque are bursting onto the scene. However, looking at this work we see that it has something archaic, retro.
Portrait of Elizabeth I of Gower
To begin with, it must be said that although Gower was the court painter, in this case he did not intend to make a realistic portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Rather what he was looking for it was to capture the idea of his power in a work. In this way, the only thing we appreciate about the monarch is her face, more or less similar to the real one. But instead her body seems to disappear under that pompous dress, full of embroidery, pearls and jewels. In other words, he is painting an icon more than a person.
But you have to keep looking at the date of completion of the work to finish understanding the iconography of the painting. Since we see several elements that attract attention. Especially the two paintings that flank the queen's face.
In the one on the left you can see a most luminous marine image. There we see several boats. They would be the ships of the British navy itself, which shine so much with the face of Elizabeth I.
On the other hand, the picture on the right is also a marina, but now plunged into a deep storm. Actually, it would be a representation of the Spanish warships that had attacked the coasts of Great Britain by order of Felipe II. And that attack in the year 1588 had been the greatest disaster for the Spanish armies in a long time. It was the so-called defeat of the Invincible Armada, which was mainly destroyed by a storm that led to the shipwreck of many ships off the coast of Ireland.
These two images would be in the queen's office, but hidden under a green curtain, which this time has been raised to show them and immortalize them together with the queen.
As if that were not enough, we see that the queen is touching a globe with her right hand, and specifically she puts her hand on what would be the American continent, symbolizing the wishes of the British crown (which also appears over there). Those wishes were none other than to establish overseas colonies there, something that would happen a few years later.