Three surviving versions of iconic Elizabeth I Armada Portrait to go on display for first time

The three surviving versions of the iconic Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I will go on display together for the first time after a £10m campaign to save one of them for the nation.

The trio of portraits will be brought together publicly for the first time in their 430-year history for an exhibition at the Queen’s House in Greenwich from February. Experts say they are unlikely to be brought together again for the foreseeable future.  

It follows a successful national appeal, mounted by Art Fund and Royal Museums Greenwich, that ensured one of the three, which was once owned by Sir Francis Drake and is deemed one of the most important images in English history, could enter public ownership.

The portrait, which is considered the most significant of the three due to its direct link with Sir Francis, commemorates the most famous conflict of Elizabeth’s reign, the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in summer 1588.

All three versions are believed to have been painted shortly after the event. They are the only contemporary versions in existence and the only three featuring seascapes that depict episodes from the Spanish Armada in the background.

Appearing in school text books and loaned out for key exhibitions, it has cemented the image of Elizabeth I in public memory and inspired portrayals of her on film by the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett.

The version of the portrait that was saved for the nation in 2016

The version of the portrait that was saved for the nation in 2016

Credit:
Tina Warner/Jon Stokes

The two other versions have been loaned from the National Portrait Gallery and The Duke and Duchess of Bedford, who are lending the portrait from their private collection whilst Woburn Abbey undergoes a major refurbishment.

The portrait once owned by Sir Francis is considered one of the most important images in English history. It had been held by the Tyrwhitt-Drake family for generations before being put up for sale in 2016 for the first time in more than 400 years.

A £10m fundraising campaign was duly launched to save it amid fears it could be snapped up by a private collector and never seen again.

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