Francis Drake comes home to Buckland

Neil Wressell and Emma Jones hanging the portrait in Drake Chamber

A newly identified, earliest known portrait of Francis Drake is now on display for the first time at his Buckland Abbey home.

The painting, believed to be the earliest likeness of Drake, is currently on loan from a private collector, Dirk T. Griffin. It is now on public display at the Elizabethan seafarer’s home for the first time.

Research undertaken in 2014 by Angus Haldane, an independent curator and art historian based in London, led to the discovery that the portrait depicted Sir Francis Drake, and is by an unknown artist.

For some time Haldane suspected this portrait was Drake after noticing physical similarities to other portraits, including Drake’s facial warts.

Drake is known to have had two warts on the left side and the bridge of his nose. These are clearly shown in a number of pictures of him painted during his lifetime, including the famous Gheeraerts portrait at the National Maritime Museum and one already on display at Buckland Abbey.

Other features such as his hair and beard colour, his red cheeks and his light coloured eyes are seen in known portraits of Sir Francis Drake and have helped to confirm Haldane’s research.

The paint in the portrait also underwent scientific analysis, using digital X-radiography, infra red and ultraviolet imaging alongside microscopic examination to help pin point more closely the date of the painting. The style and iconography on the armour of the sitter also helps to date the painting and add to its likely identity.

" As Elizabeth I believed in Drake, so too do I believe in the certainty of this exciting identification"
- Angus Haldane

The painting is considered to be mid-1570s, before Drake circumnavigated the globe, which would mean this could portrait could be the earliest likeness of Francis Drake. His coat of arms is not shown within the portrait, which could suggest that it pre-dates to before he was awarded such an honour from the Queen in 1581.

The portrait of Sir Francis Drake will be on display in the Drake Chamber until the end of the year.