Height: 56.000 mm
Width: 44.000 mm
Weight: 57.570 g
Edward Hawkins Collection
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Cast and chased gold medal of Elizabeth I, by Nicholas Hilliard
London, England, about AD 1580-90
A golden effigy of the Virgin Queen
The portrait miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619) appears to have been the first English artist to make medals in any numbers. Not surprisingly, the first English medals closely resemble painted miniature portraits, both in appearance and function.
The medal was probably originally a costly gift from Elizabeth, Queen of England and Ireland (1558-1603), herself to a favoured courtier or a political ally. Presents of this kind were often made of miniatures. The laurel tree on the reverse is labelled with the royal monogram ER (for 'Elizabeth Regina'). The legend translates as 'Not even danger affects it', a reference to the legend that laurel was immune from lightning. This is likely to be emblematic of Elizabeth's resistance to the dual threat of Catholicism at home and, in the years leading up to the Spanish Armada, Philip II of Spain abroad. The piece was hung with drop pearls.
L. Syson, The currency of fame: portra-4, exh. cat. (New York, 1994)
E. Hawkins, Medallic illustrations of the (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1885)