In another royal first, The Queen unveiled a portrait during a video call with the Foreign Office earlier this week.
The Queen paid a ‘virtual visit’ to the Foreign Office, to hear about their COVID-19 response, and began the call with the unveiling of a new portrait.
Commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from artist Miriam Escofet – also on the call – the portrait shows the Monarch seated in the White Drawing Room at Windsor Castle, in a teal dress; flowers and a teacup sit on a guilt side table.
The piece pays tribute to Her Majesty’s contribution to British diplomacy, spanning the seven decades of her reign. The Queen usually receives two incoming state visits each year (which has totalled 111 in her reign), and in normal times, receives ambassadors almost weekly at Buckingham Palace. Each December, she hosts a white-tie reception for the Diplomatic Corps.
This is the 13th portrait The Queen has sat for since 2010, and it will be hung in the new reception of the FCO’s London headquarters, after its completion next year. The painting took seven months to complete, from two sittings with the Monarch; the final stages were completed in lockdown.
Escofet commented that she had a ‘slow painting technique’ but that the artwork had been ‘an absolute pleasure’.
There is a hidden symbol in the painting: the insignia of the FCO has been painted onto the tea cup, inspired by anamorphic distortion technique, which was used by Renaissance painters.
“It felt really right to apply it to the tea cup – suddenly this very humble object carries this symbolism representing the FCO and linking the portrait to its destination,” said the artist.
“I explained this to The Queen and she made this very humorous comment about how there’s no tea in the cup. I said I’m afraid the tea has been sacrificed for the symbolism.”
The Queen said she was glad to see the finished article: “I hope to see it in real life, one day,” she added.
Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Head of the Diplomatic Service, said the FCO was delighted with the finished portrait: “It’s terrific. There’s truth and dignity and wisdom in the portrait.”
The conversation covered how British travellers were being helped to return home during the pandemic, which is the UK’s largest-ever peacetime repatriation, bringing 1.3million Brits home. PPE supply for frontline workers and the creation of a Covid-19 vaccine were also on the agenda.
One story came from Sanjavita, who works in the consulate in India, getting a stranded young Briton from rural India back home, leveraging the help of the local police during a hard lockdown.
Alethia spoke of the first virtual summit hosted by the UK, which focused on a vaccine, with partners from across the world. The Queen said it was ‘very lucky’ that such technology is available.
Her Majesty, who has spent lockdown at Windsor Castle with The Duke of Edinburgh, has started to undertake more video call engagements, which enable her to be seen and carry out work, but whilst still staying away from the public; Elizabeth turned 94 in April.
See the video call below.