Nicholas Hilliard, Queen Elizabeth I: Design for the Obverse of the Great Seal of Ireland, a drawing in pen and ink and wash with pencil, on vellum

England, around AD 1584 or earlier

This is a detailed design for the principal side (the obverse) of the Great Seal of Ireland. To either side of the Queen are two shields. On the left is the design of an Irish harp adopted by Henry VIII as the official arms of Ireland. On the right are three crowns which represent England, France and Ireland. Around the circumference are the faint Latin words: ELISABET D[EO] G[RATIAS] ANGLIE FRA[NCIAE] ET HIBERNIE REGINA ('Elizabeth, by the Grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland').

The Queen herself appears young, as, indeed she did in nearly all painted images of her right up to her death. Crowned, she holds the orb and sceptre and Tudor roses, symbols of her family, appear to her right and left and at the foot of her throne. Two heavenly arms, with robes trimmed with fur, emerge from clouds to hold up Elizabeth's own ermine robes.

Hilliard (1547-1619) was an English artist who specialized in painting miniatures of members of the Tudor (Elizabeth I) and early Stuart (James I) courts. He had a large workshop which designed jewellery, woodcuts, portraits, decorative paintings and miniatures. The emphatic outlines guided the engraver or metal-worker who would cast the seal in silver. This design, however, was not used. The Seal itself was kept in a burse (elaborate purse) by the Lord Chancellor. A fine Elizabethan example of a burse, which contained a Seal, is now in The British Museum.


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Nicholas Hilliard, Queen Elizabeth I: Design for the Obverse of the Great Seal of Ireland, a drawing in pen a

Elizabeth I holding her sceptre


More information


J. Rowlands, Master drawings and watercolou (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)

R. Strong, Artists of the Tudor court: th, exh. cat. (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1983)

E. Croft-Murray and P. Hulton, Catalogue of British drawings (London, The British Museum Press, 1960)

G .Reynolds, Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Ol, 2nd edition (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1971)


Diameter: 123.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1912-7-17-1


Gift of Peter Gellatly


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