the earliest depiction of the newly crowned queen
By Anonymous , 1559

[Portrait of Elizabeth I]

Social & Political
  • Author: Anonymous
  • Publication place: Londini
  • Publisher: [Imprinted by T. Geminus]
  • Publication date: 1559.
  • Physical description: Engraving, trimmed within platemark with slight loss of image at sides, some damp spotting, laid down.
  • Dimensions: 335 by 240mm (13.25 by 9.5 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 18176


The earliest extant portrait of Elizabeth I as Queen of England and Ireland, following her coronation on 15 January 1559.

Unlike her contemporaries in France, Elizabeth never granted rights to produce her portrait to a single artist and the Queen sat for a number of artists over the years, including Nicholas Hilliard, Cornelis Ketel, Federico Zuccaro or Zuccari, Isaac Oliver, and most likely to Gower and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. There is, therefore, great variety in the depictions, and so the portraiture of Elizabeth I can be seen to span the evolution of English royal portraits in the early modern period from the earliest representations of simple likenesses to the later complex imagery used to convey the power and aspirations of the state, as well as of the monarch at its head.

Portraits were often commissioned by the government as gifts to foreign monarchs and to show to prospective suitors. The studios of Tudor artists produced images of Elizabeth working from approved “face patterns”, or approved drawings of the queen, to meet this growing demand for her image, an important symbol of loyalty and reverence for the crown in times of turbulence. The present portrait does not conform to any known sanctioned image. In composition it is most like the, anonymous, “Coronation Portrait” (NPG 5175), c1600, but, presumably, based on a, now lost, earlier image: the painting shows the Queen crowned and carrying a sceptre, but, unlike the Coronation Portrait, the Queen is turned slightly to her right, and she is not wearing the cloth of gold that she wore at her coronation on 15 January 1559, previously worn by Mary I, and nor does she carry an orb. Indeed, the sceptre appears a bit haphazardly drawn, perhaps suggesting a rushed addition to an earlier, pre-coronation image? In any event, it is not immediately clear that the engraving follows any known extant painting.

The portrait appears as the title page of the third edition of the medical book ‘Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio, ære exarata per Thomam Geminum’, published in the Queen’s coronation year, but after June because of the titles given to Elizabeth. The engraving is similar to the title page of the 1545 edition, except that a portrait of Elizabeth has been substituted for Henry VIII’s arms. The title page of the 1553 edition, dedicated to Mary I, has Mary’s arms. Only this, third, edition has a portrait of the dedicatee.

The English ‘Compendiosa…’ is one of the most important of the many sixteenth and seventeenth-century pirated versions and plagiarisms of Vesalius. According to STC this English edition was derived from Henri de Mondeville but is sometimes erroneously attributed to Geminus. The first Latin edition was a plagarism of Vesalius, with plates copied from Vesalius by Geminus. Geminus emigrated to England around 1540, where he practiced the arts of engraving, printing and instrument making, and served as royal physician to Henry VIII. He also introduced the use of copperplate engravings for book illustration to the English.

“An abridgement of Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica, the Compendiosa was important for introducing Vesalian anatomy into England. Vesalius’s original woodcut illustrations have been redrawn and engraved in copper. The backgrounds have been modified, and a few figures appear in reverse. Geminus was unjustly accused of plagiarising Vesalius (the first of several plagiarisms); but in fact Geminus acknowledged his debt to Vesalius in the introduction to the first edition, published in Latin in London in 1545. However, Vesalius’s name is absent from the English translations that appeared in 1553 and 1559. Geminus, also known as Lambrit or Lambert, is believed to have emigrated to England from the Low Countries about 1540. He established himself as a successful instrument maker and engraver, and introduced into England the use of copper engraving for book illustration. The first work to contain engravings produced by Geminus, was the 1545 revision of Thomas Raynalde’s ‘The byrth of mankynd’, which had two small plates copied from Vesalius. Geminus’s own ‘Compendiosa’, with its forty illustrations was the second English book to be illustrated with copper plates, and the first to have an engraved title page. The first edition of the Compendiosa, published in 1545, is dedicated to Henry VIII to whom Geminus, despite his lack of formal medical training, was physician. The plates are accompanied by the text of Vesalius’ ‘Epitome’, and the Latin text of Vesalius’ descriptions of the illustrations from ‘De fabrica’. The English translation, undertaken by Nicholas Udall the dramatist and translator of Erasmus, substituted Vesalius’ Latin text with an English ‘treatyse’, based on Thomas Vicary’s Anatomie of the bodie of man (1548), together with fragments from other works (including Ludovicus Vassæus). The English translation was intended for the benefit of the barber-surgeons, most of whom knew no Latin. The first English translation was dedicated to Edward VI, while the second English was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, and is notable for the engraved portrait, believed to be the earliest depiction of the newly crowned queen. Geminus’s plates were in turn pirated in several other English medical works (notably later editions of Raynalde’s The byrth of mankind; William Bullein’s The gouvernement of health; Thomas Vicary’s A profitable treatise of the anatomie of mans bodie; and John Banester’s The historie of man sucked from the sappe of the most approved anathomistes). The plates were eventually acquired by Jacques Grévin, and were used by the Paris printer André Wechel for Grévin’s Anatomes totius, ære insculpta delineatio, without acknowledgement to Geminus”. (University of Toronto, ‘Anatomia Collection’)

Rare. We have only been able to trace one example of the work including the portrait on the open market (Goldschmidt 1925). Whilst records are unclear, it seems that, according to OCLC, only 12 examples of the 1559 edition may be found in institutional holdings (Berkeley; University of Cambridge; Huntington; Zentrale Hochschulbibliothek, Lübeck; UCLA; Bibliothéque Mazarine, Paris; University of Michigan; National Library of Medicine; Jason A. Hannah Collection, University of Toronto; Yale (3 copies!)). Of these, only 6 would appear to have the engraved title portrait: Berkeley; University of Cambridge; Huntington; Zentrale Hochschulbibliothek, Lübeck; University of Michigan; Jason A. Hannah Collection, University of Toronto.


  1. LeRoy Crummer, 'The copper plates in Raynalde and Geminus,' Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, v. 20 (1926), Section of history of medicine, 53-56
  2. DNB
  3. DSB
  4. Herrlinger, p. 121-122
  5. Thirty books, p. 40-42
  6. G.L. Keynes, 'The Anatomy of Thomas Geminus,' Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons, v. 25 (1959), 171-175
  7. C.D. O'Malley, 'Introduction' to Thomas Geminus Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio: a facsimile of the first English edition of 1553 in the version of Nicholas Udall (London, 1959), p. 9-39
  8. University of Toronto, 'Anatomia Collection: anatomical plates 1522-1867',