LONDON • British museums have launched a campaign to raise millions of pounds to buy an iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, as the possibility of it leaving Britain looms with an impending sale by its owners.
The Armada Portrait, painted to commemorate England's famous victory over the Spanish fleet in 1588, shows the monarch, resplendent in an ornate gown, posing with her right hand on a model globe. Behind her are two windows: one shows English ships, and the other shows the defeated Spanish Armada in disarray.
The artist behind the painting is unknown, but it is believed to have been commissioned by Sir Francis Drake, a vice-admiral of the British fleet. His descendants own the painting today, and have announced plans to sell it to raise funds for the Drake estate.
Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG), which represents four museums in London, and the Art Fund, a national fund-raising group, thus hope to raise £10 million (S$20.2 million) to prevent the painting from leaving British shores.
"It is the painting that represents everything about the Elizabethan age, including Shakespeare, the moment when England began to rule the waves, and Elizabeth's reign," RMG head of arts Christine Riding told the New York Times.
"It indicates a gear shift in the national identity, the idea of the plucky English punching above their weight, of the mythology of Gloriana, and the idea of the Queen as a strong and just woman."
The museum organisation has already kick-started the campaign by pledging £400,000 that, together with the Art Fund's donation of £1 million, still leaves an £8.6 million shortfall for the public to make up, the Daily Mail reported.
"We are very anxious that it shouldn't go out on the open market, which will inevitably happen, I'm afraid, if we fail to raise this sum," The Guardian quoted Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar as saying.
Although the portrait is expected to fetch about £16 million on the open market, the British Treasury has agreed to waive £6 million in taxes if it is bought by a public body, according to the Daily Mail.
There are plans to hang the portrait in the Queen's House in Greenwich, part of the Greenwich Palace complex where Elizabeth I was born, if the drive manages to raise enough funds to buy it, the New York Times reported.
There are two other similar versions of the portrait. One hangs in Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, north of London, and the other can be found in the National Portrait Gallery in central London.