Art Fund and Royal Museums Greenwich launch appeal to save Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I
Today we are announcing a public campaign to save an iconic masterpiece of the English Renaissance, and pledging £1m towards its acquisition by Royal Museums Greenwich.
The portrait commemorates the most famous conflict of Elizabeth’s reign (1558-1603), the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588. Elizabeth gave her most famous speech to her troops at Tilbury in August 1588, ahead of their victory: 'I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too...' The portrait is one of the definitive representations of the English Renaissance and is one of the most famous images in British history – the inspiration for countless portrayals of Elizabeth I in film and on stage.
“This campaign is a huge challenge but we believe in the power of popular support to make great things happen. This picture truly belongs at Greenwich, and having it here forever is tantalisingly within our grasp.”
The price of the portrait, net of tax, is circa £10m. The Art Fund has committed a grant of £1m and Royal Museums Greenwich is contributing £400,000. If the fundraising campaign for the remaining £8.6m is successful, the painting will enter public ownership for the first time in its 425-year history – for everyone to enjoy, for generations to come – and in the 90th birthday year of Queen Elizabeth II. It would hang at the Queen’s House, on the site of the original Greenwich Palace, where Elizabeth I was born. The Queen’s House is reopening later this year following major restoration.
The portrait was evidently owned – and may even have been commissioned – by Sir Francis Drake, one of the great heroes of Elizabeth’s court; his descendants have had it in their possession since at least 1775. Painted when Elizabeth was in her fifties, the Armada portrait is one of the greatest contemporary eulogies to the celebrated Queen. An oil painting on oak panels, it is unusual for its large size and horizontal format. Like many Tudor portraits, it is packed with meaning and metaphor, and was designed to be a spectacle of power and majesty.
Royal Museums Greenwich would be the ideal home for the painting, placing it in the context of a rich royal and maritime setting, among its fine 16th- and 17th-century collections, where it can benefit from world-renowned conservation expertise. The museum is planning a nationwide celebration of the portrait in collaboration with other museums and historic locations across the UK.
Kevin Fewster, Director of Royal Museums Greenwich, said, 'The Art Fund’s very generous grant of £1m is a fabulous kick-start to our campaign. Royal Museums Greenwich has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire this remarkable portrait of Elizabeth I, so that it can be permanently shown in a public collection for the first time in its history, and safeguard its future.'
We are seeking donations from a wide range of trusts, funds, foundations and individuals across the UK and beyond. A consortium of supporters has pledged to match all public donations, pound for pound.
The Armada portrait of Elizabeth I is on public display at the National Maritime Museum, London, throughout the campaign. Donations can be made at artfund.org/armada or by calling 0844 415 4100.
In the film below, curator Christine Riding makes the case for saving the Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I.