The Elizabethan Image An Introduction to English Portraiture, 1558–1603 Roy Strong

Publication date:
11 Jun 2019
Yale University Press
224 pages: 254 x 190mm
230 color illus.
Sales territories:


Fifty years after his seminal Tate gallery London exhibition, ‘The Elizabethan Image’, leading authority Roy Strong returns with fresh eyes to the subject closest to his heart, The Virgin Queen, her court and our first Elizabethan age

From celebrated portraits of the Queen and paintings of knights and courtiers, to works depicting an aspiring ‘middle class’, Strong presents a detailed and authoritative examination of one of the most fascinating periods of British art. Enriching previous perceptions and ways of seeing the Elizabethans in their world, he reveals an age parallel in many ways to our own—a country aspiring professionally and changing socially. The gaze is from the inside, capturing the knights, melancholy lovers, poets (including Sidney, Donne and Sir John Davies), court favourites and their ‘Gloriana’—as they mirrored and made themselves. 

Beginning with the great portrait of the Queen in grand procession with her Garter Knights, Strong pinpoints the characters and key motifs that run through the rest of the book: chivalry, changes to the social order, emblems and imagery – the full richness of the Elizabethan imagination. These pictures were intimate—personal commissions by private individuals, and not necessarily for public view. As such they are a glimpse into private worlds and sentiments and speak eloquently for the people who paid for, painted and lived amongst them, reversing an academic tendency to treat the portraits as if they had a life of their own, not grounded by the real people who commissioned them.

Roy Strong concludes this richly illustrated volume with the famous and complex Rainbow Portrait, unpicking the iconography of this final painting of an ageless Elizabeth in her ‘Mask of Youth’. Within a year of its completion the queen was dead—her portraits increasingly demoted and replaced by Mary Stuart’s—as the splendour of the Elizabethan age and ‘the cult of the queen’ made way for new monarch James VI, who was to rule over a united England and Scotland.

More about this title

Read an extract from this book about The 'Darnley Portrait' here.

Roy Strong is a historian, a writer, a broadcaster, and a leading authority on Elizabethan portraiture. He was director of the National Portrait Gallery from 1967 until 1973 and of the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1974 until 1984.

“Britain’s great Renaissance man – in the sense both that the Renaissance is his period, and that he can turn his hand to anything – appears as spring-chickenish as he is inexhaustible. His 43rd book, The Elizabethan Image, is published this month, and its sequel, The Stuart Image, is already being written – Hannah Betts, Telegraph

“There is no better person to introduce this period afresh and to convey its richness and complexity, with the aid of the magnificent illustrations that run through this book” —Frances Spalding, Daily Mail (Book of the Week)

“[A] lavish production [. . .] Strong has always had an instinctive feel for, and understanding of, the Elizabethan mindset and aesthetic. This book is no exception — and is particularly good on the ways in which the upwardly mobile used portraiture to signal their social ascent. Learned yet accessible, The Elizabethan Image provides a rich overview of the portraiture of the period which will appeal to fans of Strong's original publications as well as to a new generation of readers” — Elizabeth Goldring, Spectator

 “Engaging overview, in portraiture, of a rich period of English history.” —The Bookseller

 “Strong returns to his specialist subject in this sumptuously illustrated book” —Apollo Magazine (Off The Shelf)

“An account rich in biographical detail”— Matthew Dennison, World of Interiors

“When an academic with such a distinguished track record as Roy Strong's publishes a new work in the field to which he has already contributed so much, it is an important event –particularly when the publisher also has a history of producing sumptuously illustrated books. Indeed, the result is a book delightful both to read and to look at, in which text and image support one another in an ideal manner” —Paul Flux, Albion

 “Thorough, but never exhausting, this is an authoritative and comprehensive interpretation that provides a wealth of historical insight as well as artistic vision and presentation” — Henry Malt, The Artist

“While many of Strong’s previous publications were beautiful artefacts, this one surpasses them all” — Helen Hackett, TLS

“[Strong] returns to his first love, revealing that he has kept up with all the developments in modern scholarship. The result is a sumptuous, beautifully illustrated volume [. . .] A book to treasure” —A.N.Wilson, Spectator (Books Of The Year)

“This beautiful book opens up to a wide audience a world of emblem and allegory, political manoeuvrings and religious conflict, serpents, sea monsters, and armillary spheres [. . .] In The Elizabethan Image Strong integrates a lifetime’s work with a synthesis of recent research by others, and the book will serve as an essential introduction to Elizabethan portraiture for many years to come”Juliet Carey, Apollo Magazine

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Titles, 2020