Elizabeth + Robert: The missing paintings by Federico Zuccaro
In early 1575 Robert Dudley invited to England the Italian Mannerist painter, Federico Zuccaro. These paintings were intended to be displayed at the great festival at Kenilworth Castle in July 1575. Zuccaro arrived in England in March 1575 and got to work. In 1584 his contemporary, Raffaello Borghini, noted that Zuccaro had indeed painted life-sized, full-length portraits of both the queen and “Milord Lostre”. Today only two preparatory sketches in black and red chalk survive in the British Museum.
The sketch of Elizabeth has been described by Sir Roy Strong as probably her closest likeness. When first sitting for a portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, in 1572, Elizabeth had expressed her appreciation of Italian artists, “who had the name to be cunningest and to draw best”, as she thought.
A full-length oil painting of Leicester that was clearly based on the Zuccaro sketch survived until the Second World War. Other than the lost portrait, which may have been a copy, Zuccaro’s sketch is of exceptional quality and surely gives a perfect impression of Robert Dudley’s presence and his irresistible charm. (x)