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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

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