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. 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.

  2. 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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