Elizabethan refers to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I from 1558 to 1603 which saw a flowering of the arts in Britain

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  • British School 17th century, 'The Cholmondeley Ladies' circa 1600-10

    British School 17th century
    The Cholmondeley Ladies circa 1600-10
    Oil on wood
    support: 886 x 1723 mm frame: 1074 x 1914 x 100 mm
    Presented anonymously 1955

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  • attributed to Nicholas Hilliard, 'Queen Elizabeth I' circa 1575

    attributed to Nicholas Hilliard
    Queen Elizabeth I circa 1575
    Oil on wood
    support: 787 x 610 mm
    Lent by the National Portrait Gallery, London 1965Photo Tate

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  • Marcus Gheeraerts II, 'Portrait of Captain Thomas Lee' 1594

    Marcus Gheeraerts II
    Portrait of Captain Thomas Lee 1594
    Oil on canvas
    support: 2305 x 1508 mm frame: 2415 x 1595 x 100 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, the Art Fund and the Pilgrim Trust 1980

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Although the plays of Shakespeare are perhaps the best known example of Elizabethan artistic production, painting – principally in the form of portraiture – also flourished during this period.

The Queen herself took a keen interest in her portraits, guiding artists such as Nicholas Hilliard and Marcus Gheeraerts II in the creation of stylised images of immense elegance, wealth and power. This artificial and decorative style became characteristic of Elizabethan painting in general.

Highly skilled artists often remained anonymous such as the artist who painted The Cholmondeley Ladies.