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Portrait of Elizabeth I

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Portrait of Elizabeth I

William Sonmans

This posthumous portrait of Elizabeth I, by William Sonmans, was produced c.1670 as part of a series of portraits to commemorate the founders of Oxford colleges (Garlick, Bodleian Portraits, p. 119). Elizabeth's long association with Rycote began in May 1554 when she was entertained by John, Baron Williams of Thame, during her journey to Woodstock as a prisoner of her half-sister Queen Mary (BL Add. MS 34563, fol. 13). It has been claimed that she returned to Rycote the following year, in April, upon her removal from Woodstock to Hampton Court Palace (Foxe, Actes and Monuments, book 12, p. 2120). Elizabeth was entertained at Rycote, in happier circumstances as Queen, on four occasions during her summer progresses of 1566, 1568, 1570 and 1592.

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This portrait is testament to the enduring visual afterlife of this very unique queen. It seems to continue in the same manner as the carefully-fashioned and artificially-constructed portraits of Elizabeth I that were permitted during her reign, but the characterisation of the face, demonstrated through the arched nose, dimpled chin, and shadowed eyes, make the portrait seem more individualising than the flattened and smoother features that appear to have been privileged in her portraits a century before, and thus seems a fitting tribute for someone familiar to Rycote.

Harriet Costelloe 18/09/2013

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