The Queen’s House, Greenwich has unveiled a major new installation ; using digital scans of Elizabeth’s portraits and the electrotype cast of her effigy, as well as descriptions by her contemporaries, the installation is a chillingly lifelike recreation of Elizabeth I.
Positioned directly opposite the Armada Portrait and suspended in isolation on surveillance mirror, the installation places both the aging and ageless Elizabeth in dialogue. Through this careful juxtaposition, explores the different sides of the queen, both real and imagined, and grapples with notions of mortality, the manipulation of truth, political propaganda and the extent to which female power is tied to appearance and youth.
Commissioned by acclaimed British mixed media artist, Mat Collishaw, “The The Mask of Youth” , responds directly to one of the most important paintings in the Museum’s collection, the iconic and powerful Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I.
The Armada Portrait commemorates the most famous conflict of Elizabeth’s reign (1558–1603), the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England in July and August 1588. Despite being painted shortly after the invasion when the Queen was almost fifty-five, the painting depicts a woman who looks considerably younger. Inspired by this idealised image of the Tudor Queen, Collishaw has collaborated with leading special effects designers using cutting-edge technology to create a stand-alone animatronic mask which approximates Elizabeth’s appearance at the age of the portrait’s creation.
Known for his fusion of technology and art, Collishaw brings Elizabeth back to life before her audience. By leaving the animatronics that facilitate her movements deliberately exposed at the back of her head, the artist suggests that behind Elizabeth’s public persona, her every movement was carefully controlled. Beneath the surface and behind her mask, she is busy making decisions and calculations to which no one else is privy.
Inspired by historic art throughout his career, Collishaw has long been fascinated by the Armada Portrait and its function as a political statement that emphasises the sovereignty and ‘agelessness’ of a queen who in reality was middle aged, unmarried and heirless. Whilst Elizabeth’s portraits were designed to flatter, they also highlight her understanding of the fact that her public image could be used to suggest her power and authority. As a woman of intelligence, she used this tool to help overcome the cultural prejudices she faced due to her gender and to advertise her virtues, skills and competence as a female head of state.
Mat Collishaw’s Mask of Youth is on display at the Queen’s House from 3 October 2018 – 3 February 2019.