An interview with Mat Collishaw
Royal Museums Greenwich
Mat Collishaw's Mask of Youth is a animatronic portrait of Queen Elizabeth I as she might have looked when sitting for the Armada portrait. The face is not idealised as in the portrait, instead it is presented without flattery. His methodical approach and intensive research have ensured an artwork grounded in history, but with a modern twist.
The commission for the Queen’s House aimed to represent Elizabeth I aged 55, just after the Spanish Armada and while her portrait was being painted. The work aims to capture the Queen's movements as she was sitting and accurately recreates her image down to the finest details, including complexion, her famous dark brown eyes and even her teeth. The final artwork now sits in the Queen’s Presence Chamber, facing the iconic Armada portrait.
I was pleased to see how compatible it appears in the Queen's Presence Chamber, despite being constructed from 21st century materials. It has just the right amount of incongruity to look strange and yet also at home. The mirror helps by incorporating the room into the work and allowing the mask to float in indeterminate space.
The idea that a picture was the representation of a single event from a single perspective was totally foreign to the Elizabethan mind. An image was a device which could represent different points in time from multiple perspectives; in the Armada Portrait for example, the views out of the windows show two different moments in time. The optical accuracy of the picture was less important than the demonstrative claims of the image.
Form was approached differently to conventional Renaissance painting, the Armada Portrait doesn't use laws of perspective, it flattens things out in an unnatural way - in the richly embroidered details, the position of the globe on the table, and the absence of shadows - it transcends normal optical laws, familiar in Renaissance art, and represents a higher reality more familiar in Gothic painting.
October 3, 2018