LONDON The earliest known full-length portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, thought to have been commissioned to help the English monarch "advertise" herself to potential suitors, sold on Thursday for 2.6 million pounds ($5.3 million).
The life-sized painting by Antwerp artist Steven van der Meulen, who went on to become an important English court painter in the 1560s, had been expected to fetch between 700,000 and one million pounds, auctioneer Sotheby's said.
"Like her father, Henry VIII, she was incredibly conscious of how important her image was," said Emmeline Hallmark, head of the Sotheby's British paintings department.
"This painting is so pretty and decorative, and the symbolism alludes to the fact that she is in the ripeness of her life," she told Reuters, adding that the portrait was probably made when Elizabeth was around 30 years old.
The painting, nearly two meters tall, depicts the pale-skinned queen standing in a crimson satin dress adorned with pearls and colored gems.
In her right hand she carries a carnation, which Sotheby's said could symbolize a future betrothal, and in her left a glove, symbolic of power and wealth.
The auctioneer said that as well as emphasizing her youthful appearance, the depiction of fruit and scented flowers in the background would have reinforced her allure.
In gazing to the viewer's left, she looks like she may be expecting the arrival of a suitor.
Elizabeth was under pressure to find a husband from early on in her rein. Just a year after she succeeded her sister in 1558, a select committee of the House of Commons presented her with a formal request that she should marry.
Despite a string of suitors throughout the 1560s and 1570s, Elizabeth never married, and was dubbed the Virgin Queen.
According to Sotheby's, the oil on canvas was given by Elizabeth to the Hampden family during a visit to the mansion which it owned.
The painting remained in the Hampden and linked Hobart families ever since, although it was loaned to Aylesbury Crown Court in Buckinghamshire, England, where it hung, largely ignored, for 50 years on the wall of a private meeting room.
The buyer was Philip Mould Fine Paintings in London, an art dealership.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)