Is Anne Boleyn’s Famous Portrait Actually Elizabeth I?

I was inspired to write this post today by a member of The Anne Boleyn Files Facebook page, Jane, who commented that the portrait of Elizabeth I on the cover of the latest issue of History Today looks like an older Anne Boleyn.

As you can see from looking at the National Portrait Gallery portrait of Anne Boleyn next to the Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger portrait of Elizabeth I in old age (see below), there is quite a resemblance between the two women – both have a long face with a pointed chin, the mouth is similar with its defined cupid’s bow, both have a similar nose, even though Elizabeth was said to have inherited the Beaufort hooked nose, both have defined cheekbones, both have dark eyes and the shapes of the eyes and eyebrows are pretty much identical. When we gaze at the Gheeraerts portrait, we are left thinking “Wow, that’s what Anne Boleyn would have looked like at that age!”

So, what can we conclude from these portraits?

In my opinion, we either conclude that Elizabeth looked more and more like her mother as she grew older or we conclude that the NPG portrait of Anne Boleyn is actually based on the Gheeraerts portrait of her daughter.

I’m not an art historian or art expert by any stretch of the imagination, so I can’t tell you a huge amount about these portraits, but the National Portrait Gallery have recently carried out an analysis of the portrait of Anne Boleyn, as part of their “Making Art in Tudor Britain” project and have found that it dates back to the late 16th century. As far as the Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger painting is concerned, we know that Elizabeth I was Gheeraerts’ patron in the last decade of the 16th century and that he painted the famous Ditchley Portrait of her in around 1592. The portrait of the older Elizabeth I must, therefore, also date to the 1590s or turn of the century. Could the paintings have been painted at a similar time? Was the Anne Boleyn portrait copied from the Elizabeth one? Were they both painted by Gheeraerts?

Take a look at the following video and tell me what you think.

25 thoughts on “Is Anne Boleyn’s Famous Portrait Actually Elizabeth I?

  1. I know it could be quite a crazy idea 😉 but – maybe Queen Elizabeth I actually HAD a portrait of her mother (today we do not have exact portrait of Anne Boleyn, only some of how she could have look like) and she hide Anne’s portrait into her own? So that everyone could see her mother?

  2. It is slightly creepy to see how similar the eyes are on that video. What an interesting idea, I would have never noticed that before. Wouldn’t it make sense to base the Anne Boleyn painting on the one of Elizabeth while adding features based on contemporary descriptions of her?

  3. Wow! that’s interesting how similar they look! Although, the one of Elizabeth..She has a more pinched face then Anne, and her jaw is a little more triangular, her eyebrows less defined..And Anne seems to have a slightly more rounded chin compared to Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s forehead is closer to her eyebrows than Anne’s.. Anne has more forehead, and Anne has more “Horizontally” angled cheekbones and Elizabeth’s are more Vertically angled…Anne has an ovel face shape, and Elizabeth;s, though very similar, looks triangular. The nose and lips are the same, though Elizabeth seems to hold them poutier, and Anne holds her lips slightly tighter, and a little smile clearly visible.
    Idk, but it is amazing to see the similarities between them..I do wonder if they were based on each other.

  4. This is very interesting. It makes me wonder about the time period it was painted and why. If it was indeed painted in the late 16 century, why? I wonder if it was painted by the same painter. Here’s a thought…Maybe Elizabeth commissioned this piece of art? Elizabeth never did speak of her mother, but her ring showed that she still loved her very much and given the times, it probably wouldn’t have been a good time to speak about her. So maybe is Elizabeth’s older years she grew more nastoliagic and commissioned this painting from her own looks and from what she heard of what her mother actually looked like? It’s a long shot but very interesting.

  5. Interesting. I would have said same face just from the juxtaposed portraits. Any speculation for the reason this was done? Or maybe it’s just misattribution.

    There was a portrait of Elizabeth, 17thC from France, posted in the forum. Definitely not her – maybe MQS? The French and their sense of humour.

  6. Sorry, I misunderstood the point. Surely the Boleyn portrait is older than the Elizabeth – so the Elizabeth is a copy of the Boleyn?

  7. Wow. I never really thought about it like that. But after seeing the video, I am thinking Elizabeth looked more and more like her mother Anne Boleyn. Interesting article. 🙂

  8. Ok… Of course it’s possible that Anne and Elizabeth were similar in looks, they were after all mother and daughter! I think Elizabeth is the image of Anne in the portrait at the top right hand corner of this website.

  9. Looking at the portraits side by side, I think you could consider that the portrait of Anne was based on the portrait of Elizabeth. This really is an interesting case!

  10. Oh I love that utube thing–really shows the similarities. I think Elizabeth probably grew more like her mother with time. You know that old saying, if you want to marry your love, look at her mother for that is how she’ll look in a few years—well, I’ve noticed it is more often true than not. I expect Elizabeth did grow to look more like Anne. This portrait of Elizabeth makes her look really pretty I think. And Anne must have been quite striking as well, though not conventionally pretty. oh, surely there was some portrait of Anne somewhere while Elizabeth was still living. I hope so.

  11. Claire — thanks so much for that article as well as the YouTube link. I have often looked for the simililarities between Elizabeth and her parents and ancestors, and the “morphing” had me asking the same questions as you.I think the one thing that definitely comes to mind is that Elizabeth sought to honor her disgraced mother in small ways without going “over the top” (Alison Weir’s Lady in the Tower suggests why this was done); so we have the ring she wore with the double portraits, and now possibly a portrait that combined Elizabeth’s own maturity with the descriptions of Anne or perhaps some now long gone painting of Anne. Who knows, but just when you think you’ve learned everything about those Tudors, something new turns up to fascinate us all over again!

  12. Wow – it’s amazing how alike these are. I would not be surprised if the Anne Boleyn portrait was based on Elizabeth’s but I don’t think they can be by the same artist as the painting styles are very different – or at least they appear to be on the website. I suppose you would need to examine the canvases to be sure.
    I always thought Elizabeth was very like her grandfather, Henry Tudor, but I suppose it’s possible for someone to resemble more than one person in their family simultaneously.

  13. I think that’s true, Ceri. I’ve always thought of Elizabeth having Anne’s face (except for having her father’s nose, which became more obvious as she aged), with her father’s coloring. I hope Henry ‘saw’ Anne every time he looked at his daughter. He tried to destroy every image of Anne, but couldn’t destroy the most important one, just as he couldn’t deny she was his daughter, as well.

  14. elizabeth was her mother’s daughter in every sence of the word, when she was younger they say how much elizabeth resembled her mother right down to the piercing dark eyes to the olive skin, the only thing given to her by the tudors is the red hair

  15. Hello. Does everything have to be overthought? Mother and daughter. I’d be surprised if there WASN’T a resemblance. I look today like my mother did years ago. DNA.

  16. Great job as always, Claire….resemblance? I don’t know…makes one wonder if it’s the same person after all…more likely Elizabeth…although in some portraits of her she looks eerily like Margaret Beaufort, especially as she got older. Thank you for helping all of us “boleynophiles” feed our addiction….xo Myhrr

  17. Very cool, enjoyed it all, the pictures, the Utube, the analysis, the commentary. I am rather new to Tudor fascination and this was a fun primer.

  18. there is absolutely no evidence that elizabeth had any “nostalgic” or sentimental feeling toward her mother. she never had any real notion of anne being her mother, as she was too young to remember anything. henry viii hardly ever mentioned anne again after her demise, especially not in his children’s hearing (being that they never lived long in the same residence as per tradition). she grew up with a slew of stepmothers; the only two that “stuck around” in her life being anne of cleves and katherine parr. all evidence shows that she detested her mother being spoken of because of the question of legitimacy, and that she only ever really spoke of being her father’s child. why on earth would she commission or have given any permission for a “secret image” to be implanted into her likeness? only after the defeat of the armada do we see a flourish of elizabethan portraiture of this queen and only then did she give permission for her likeness as a means of political advantage/reputation. why would she invoke speculation of her legitimacy by secretly adding a portrait of her still infamous mother when she only sat for portraits to improve her place on the throne?

    1. I think the fact that Anne’s falcon badge was displayed on Elizabeth I’s virginals, a napkin and tablecloth are evidence that Elizabeth did think about her mother and pay tribute to her. Her household was also made up of many Boleyn relatives.

      Anyway, I wasn’t saying that the use of Anne’s portrait was anything to do with Elizabeth, I was suggesting that the NPG portrait of Anne, which is dated to the later years of Elizabeth’s reign, was actually modelled on Elizabeth.

  19. I might be misunderstanding, but couldn’t the similarity be just because they are related? She is after all, as Mary says, her mother’s daughter, so why is it such a surprise that they look so similar?

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