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June 25, 2017

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Rare royal portrait displayed in US

RALEIGH, North Carolina--For decades, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I hung in a small garden gift shop on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Legend had it that the piece was rare — it depicted the monarch as an old woman — but some art experts disagreed.

That all changed in 2010, when East Carolina University's conservator analyzed the portrait and dated it to 1592, when Elizabeth would have been about 60 years old.

Now, the portrait has made its way to Washington, D.C., for its first exhibit since benefactor Ruth Coltrane Cannon donated it to the Elizabethan Gardens in the 1950s.

All the attention has Carl Curnutte, the gardens' executive director, considering the portrait in a whole new light.

"The gardens respected it just as we respect all of our furnishings," he said. "It was just seen as a part of the whole facility. And now it's totally different. I react to it differently."

The oil-on-oak painting is part of "Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland" at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The artist is unknown, but the painting has long been attributed to the school of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, an artist of the Tudor court.

It is one of maybe just two large portraits that show Elizabeth as an older woman, said Anna Riehl Bertolet, author of "The Face of Queenship: Early Modern Representations of Elizabeth I." The other is in the Burghley House Collection in England and also is attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.

Bertolet said Elizabeth protected her image not because of vanity, but because a painting of an aging queen could undermine her power and worry her subjects since she had no husband, no children and no named successor.

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