Town mouse loves the National Portrait Gallery

It’s only a fortnight since William went to university, but on Friday, he was back, needing to see the ‘Elizabeth I and Her People’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery for essay purposes. As the day wore on, I wondered if he would ever get there, but the gallery stayed open until 10pm.

When we arrived, it was as if a party were in full swing. The foyer, equipped with an impromptu bar, was buzzing with chatter. Early-music groups performed on improbably sized recorders. A writerin- residence projected his thoughts onto a giant computer screen. Best of all, the curator Tarnya Cooper was on hand to answer questions. My first was whether this jamboree happened every week. No, every couple of months. We’d been lucky. We chatted about propaganda. Early representations of Elizabeth weren’t particularly queenly, but she-or her advisors-soon changed that.

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After her accession, the coinage, debased under Henry VIII, was reminted; every coin bore a representation of her head, drawn from life-an image that thereafter didn’t change. Everyone had a royal portrait in his purse. The mythologizing process shored up a monarch who, as an unmarried female, was more vulnerable than her Iron Lady reputation would suggest. Afterwards, the whole family ate a convivial dinner, overlooking Nelson’s Column. What a wonderful museum.

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