A contemporary artist has (almost) succeeded in bringing Queen Elizabeth I back to life.
In a new exhibit titled ‘The Mask of Youth’, English artist Mat Collishaw has created a strikingly realistic recreation of the Tudor Queen’s head with eyes that follow you around the room, blink expectantly and a mouth that opens periodically.
The exhibit takes on a surrealist feeling as the animatronic head sits suspended in a mirrored recess, facing the Armada Portrait, one of the most famous paintings of Queen Elizabeth I.
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‘The Mask of Youth’ is now on view at the Queen’s House, Greenwich and was commissioned by Royal Museums Greenwich.
When viewers stand in front of the suspended head, they immediately see things from her point of view, reflected in the mirror behind her.
They notice her eyes are trained on the Armada Portrait, which was painted in 1588 when Queen Elizabeth I was 55 years old.
Collinshaw said this uncanny setup of the animatronic head suspended in the mirror gives it the appearance of floating in the air.
‘I was pleased to see how compatible it appears in the Queen’s Presence Chamber, despite being constructed from 21st century materials,’ he explained.
‘It has just the right amount of incongruity to look strange and yet also at home. The mirror helps by incorporating the room into the work and allowing the mask to float in indeterminate space.’
She has lifelike patches of hair by her lips, while the skin on her nose and cheeks appears to glimmer. But when viewed from the side, you can see machinery.
Collinshaw worked to model the animatronic head after how the Queen looked as she was being painted in the Armada Portrait.
The Armada portrait famously commemorates the most prolific conflict in Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Three different versions of the portrait currently exist. The Royal Museums Greenwich has overseen a copy since two years ago and their copy recently underwent a six-month restoration process.
The artist used historical depictions, digital scans of her portraits and a cast of a sculpture of Elizabeth that sits on top of her tomb in Henry VII’s chapel, to make the mask hyperrealistic, according to Engadget.
She has lifelike patches of hair by her lips and on her eyebrows, while the skin on her nose and cheeks appears to glimmer with life.
Collinshaw paid attention to even the most subtle details, creating a lifelike recreation of Elizabeth’s brown eyes and even her teeth.
The exhibit takes on a surrealist feeling as the animatronic head sits suspended in a mirrored recess, facing the Armada Portrait, one of the most famous paintings of Queen Elizabeth I. The exhibit is on view at Queen’s House, Greenwich
But if the head is seen from the side, viewers can see machinery behind the mask is exposed, wires and all.
Queen Elizabeth I demanded that she be depicted in controlled conditions, using the utmost flattery and emphasizing youth.
However, for the exhibit, Collinshaw took a different approach.
The exhibit takes on a surrealist feeling as the animatronic head sits suspended in a mirrored recess, facing the Armada Portrait, one of the most famous paintings of Queen Elizabeth I. Viewed from the side, machinery and wiring is exposed
‘The face is not idealised as in the portrait, instead it is presented without flattery,’ according to the Royal Museums Greenwich website.
‘His methodical approach and intensive research have ensured an artwork grounded in history, but with a modern twist.’
Royal Museums Greenwich added that Collinshaw’s work depicts both ‘real and imagined’ sides of the Queen, while grappling with ‘notions of mortality, the manipulation of truth, political propaganda and the extent to which female power is tied to appearance and youth.’
Collinshaw said that by creating ‘Mask of Youth’ he was able to remove some of the ‘smoke screen’ that obscured who the Queen really was.
WHO WAS QUEEN ELIZABETH I?
The Armada portrait (pictured) famously commemorates the most prolific conflict in Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588. It was painted when Queen Elizabeth I was 55 years old
Queen Elizabeth I was the last Tudor monarch and ruled for almost 45 years between 1559 and 1603.
She left a long and lasting legacy, including voyages of discovery that she supported during her reign.
She helped pave the way for an age of expansion, colonisation and trade across the globe.
The England that Elizabeth inherited was on the verge of bankruptcy.
The country was at war with itself and others, and had little international standing.
Elizabeth’s immediate challenge was to reassure her subjects and re-establish the credibility of the Tudor monarchy at home and abroad.
This involved reinstating the Reformation, building a Church of England that was neither Catholic nor extreme Protestant, and reinvigorating the nation’s economy.
When she died, England was a comparatively stable country, with an expanding economy and power on the international stage.
That she succeeded is attested to by the achievements listed on her tomb, religious settlement, maintenance of peace and re-coinage.
The Elizabethan era is now referred to in history as a ‘Golden Age’.
The queen herself is widely believed to have mixed red dye with mercuric sulphide for her red lips — and possibly her rosy cheeks.
It was dabbed on after she pasted white lead and vinegar over her face and neck.
Kohl, a black lead sulphide, was used to outline her eyes to make them appear whiter and brighter — a trick still in vogue today.
She plucked her hair line back by about an inch to increase the size of her forehead, and also plucked her eyebrows to make them appear more arched and fair.
With poor dental care, she was forced to have teeth removed – which she hid by stuffing rags in the gaps.
‘The removal of layers of varnish and overpainting to get back to some kind of truth mirrored what I was trying to do in scanning and comparing many of the portraits of Elizabeth,’ Collinshaw told the Royal Museums Greenwich.
He added that this commentary on mixing the artificial with reality could also apply to areas beyond his exhibit.
‘The sense that a portrait can hide as much as it reveals and that an image, far more than a representation of the visual world, twists and distorts, exaggerates and underplays information in a bid to create an alternate truth that can be used to forge a new reality,’ Collinshaw explained.
‘I hope people can relate this to contemporary life. With fake news and Instagram filters, the manipulation of the images is as old as the image itself.
Collinshaw paid attention to even the most subtle details, creating a lifelike recreation of Elizabeth’s brown eyes and even her teeth. She even has lifelike patches of hair by her lips and on her eyebrows, as well as eyes and nose that glimmer with life
The artist used historical depictions, digital scans of her portraits and a cast of a sculpture of Elizabeth that sits on top of her tomb in Henry VII’s chapel, to make the mask hyperrealistic. However, Collinshaw says the Queen likely wouldn’t approve
‘With the Nations sovereignty in question, it seems like a good time to reflect on these issues,’ he added.
It seems unsurprising then, that he maintains the Queen wouldn’t exactly be a fan of the animatronic head meant to depict her likeness.
‘I think she would be appalled,’ Collinshaw said. ‘My head would be on the block and this place would get closed down for a start!’