New Evidence Regarding the Phoenix and Pelican Portraits

Pelican portrait

Back in June, I looked at the Phoenix and Pelican portraits of Elizabeth I and examined the symbolism in the portrait. Well, these portraits have been in the news in the past couple of days because art historians have found new evidence which points to them both being painted by English artist Nicholas Hilliard, a man known for his portrait miniatures.

According to a BBC News report, art historians spent nine weeks studying the two portraits and found that the wooden panels are made from wood from the same two oak trees. This means that the portraits came from the same studio and probably the same artist. Tarnya Cooper, curator, said that the results of the research suggested that the portraits were probably the work of Nicholas Hilliard or someone working with him.

The research team also found a tracing on the Phoenix portrait which matches the Pelican portrait in reverse, suggesting that they were painted at the same time. I’ve always thought that the paintings looked like mirror images of each other so it is interesting to find out that the Phoenix portrait was produced from a tracing of the Pelican portrait.

The Phoenix and Pelican portraits are on display now, 13th -19th September, at the National Portrait Gallery in London. This is the first time that they have been displayed together since 1983.

You can find out about the symbolism in the paintings in the following articles:-


4 thoughts on “New Evidence Regarding the Phoenix and Pelican Portraits

  1. I am sure, way back in 1998-1999 when I did a module on Elizabeth I, Susan Doran said that these two paintings were by the same artist and painted at the same time.

    Certainly something I’ve always thought was the case. I knew they were Nicholas Hilliard’s work or at least his workshop.

  2. Yes, they have always been attributed to Hilliard and thought to have been painted at the same time, but this new evidence gives proof that they were indeed painted at the same time and by the same artist. I think anyone looking at the two of them side by side can see that they are mirror images, they are so similar. I think it’s funny that one is pretty much a copy of the other, I guess Hilliard thought he’d save himself a bit of work or I suppose the second one could have been painted by an artist who was learning from him.

  3. But the idea that paintings were copied and flipped (Tudor Photoshop??) is not really new. I’m sure Roy Strong noticed that and mentioned it in a number of his works on Elizabethan portraiture.

    There are a number of paintings of Elizabeth which use a “Face Pattern” which she authorised. I vaguely remember she started to get rather annoyed about unofficial and rather unflattering images of her being painted (though not meant to be unflattering) so had the face patterns created. I am sure these were by Hilliard. Perhaps one of the others too (one name is escaping me now!) but mostly they are Hilliards face pattern.

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