The Queen has accomplished another 'world first' of her reign during lockdown: the “virtual unveiling” of her new portrait.
And, despite seeing it for the first time via videocall, it was clear she has not lost her eagle eye.
The Queen joked that a teacup featuring in her painting had no tea in it, the artist revealed, as she paid tribute to her “luminous” sitter.
Miriam Escofet, winner of the BP Portrait Award, has painted a new portrait of the Queen, commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a “lasting tribute to Her Majesty’s service” to diplomacy.
The Queen saw the painting in its new home at the FCO for the first time via her computer screen, before speaking to members of staff about their work around the world during the coronavirus crisis.
She told staff she was "impressed" with their efforts to repatriate British citizens, as well as their coordination of the global search for a vaccine and rapid mobilisation of resources after the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
It is the 13th portrait the Queen has sat for since 2010, and is destined to be hung in the new reception of the FCO’s London headquarters when it is completed next year.
Buckingham Palace explained the FCO had wanted to “pay tribute to their longstanding relationship with The Queen, and the contribution Her Majesty has made to UK diplomacy throughout her reign”.
The Queen has visited more than 100 countries at the request of the FCO and hosted 111 inwards state visits, said Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Head of the Diplomatic Service.
The Queen sat for the painting in the White Drawing Room at Windsor Castle, wearing a blue day dress, a triple- string pearl necklace, earrings and drop brooch.
Speaking during the official unveiling, artist Miriam Escofet told the Queen she had included a hidden symbol in the painting - the insignia of the FCO - painted onto a tea cup, inspired by the anamorphic distortion technique used by Renaissance painters in including Holbein.
“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 Escofet.
“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 painting took seven months to complete, with the final stages being completed in lockdown.
Escofet had been granted two sittings with the Queen: one at Windsor where she spent around half an hour photographing Her Majesty in situ to perfect the composition, and the second at Buckingham Palace in February to focus on her facial expressions.
On the challenges of painting the Queen, she said she had tried to capture her "aura of regalness" while being a "very humane portrait" as well.
Sir Simon said the FCO was delighted with the finished portrait, which will hang in the new reception building in pride of place.
“It’s terrific,” he said. “There’s truth and dignity and wisdom in the portrait.”
Of the Queen’s praise for the FCO’s response to Covid-19, he added: “We are Her Majesty’s diplomatic service. There is a bond between this organisation and the monarch.
“For people to be able to say that the Queen was interested and impressed with their work is a wonderful and really motivating thing."