Art in Elizabethan England
The social unrest brought upon England by the late Middle Ages was ended by the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII, the first king of the Tudor Dynasty. England began to prosper as it became active in International Politics. Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in 1534 and developed ties with other countries of the Reformation, including the Netherlands. Henry VIII formed the Anglican Church.
Years of tension caused Netherlanders to rebel against their Spanish rulers and England supplied help secretly. In 1585 Spain threatened to invade England and Queen Elizabeth sent 6,000 troops to fight with Netherlanders. King Phillip II of Spain was outraged at his defeat and put together the largest fleet of ships the world had ever seen, the Spanish Armada, and sent them north in 1588. To their surprise, they were met by a fleet of England’s lighter and faster ships. When they reached the English Channel they were destroyed in part by the tactics of Sir Frances Drake, and in part by a huge storm named by the victors, “The Protestant Wind.” The defeat of the Spanish Armada caused great English national pride.
Because of the country’s closed minds to outside ideas, it took some time for the Renaissance to affect English culture. The only two artists of note in England consisted of portraitist Hans Holbein the Younger and painter Nicholas Hilliard. Holbein was known for the portraits of prospective brides for the King Henry VIII. Nicholas Hilliard was best known for his miniature portraits mostly done in watercolor. He turned to larger works which were specifically of Queen Elizabeth. She insisted he paint a portrait of her that would look regal and impressive, rather than realistic. The result was Ermine Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, as shown below:
Queen Elizabeth. The Ermine Portrait. "TheErmine Portrait", c.1585.