The Queen has completed another first of her reign due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown – this time conducting a virtual unveiling of a new portrait of her.
Despite seeing the painting for the first time via videocall, it was clear that the 94-year-old monarch has not lost her sharp eye when it comes to the detail.
Her Majesty quipped that a teacup featured in the 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 Majestys service to diplomacy.
It can now be seen by the public, after the first virtual royal portrait unveiling in history.
Queen Elizabeth saw the painting in its new home at the Foreign Office for the first time via her computer screen, before speaking to members of staff about their work around the world during the coronavirus crisis.
The monarch is understood to have thanked staff for their work 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 her first since 2018 when she was painted at Windsor Castle by Benjamin Sullivan for the Royal Air Force Club.
The portrait is destined to be hung in the new reception of the FCOs 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.
Related Slideshow: Queen Elizabeth II over the years (Provided by Photo Services)
The Queen has visited more than 100 countries at the request of the FCO, a spokesman said, and continues to welcome world leaders, ambassadors and other members of the diplomatic community for State Visits, Audiences and other events each year.
The virtual visit was hosted by Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Head of the Diplomatic Service, who was joined by the artist Miriam Escofet for the unveiling.
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, Escofet told the Queen she had included a hidden symbol in the painting – the insignia of the FCO – painted onto a tea cup.
Asked afterwards whether the Queen had liked the finished portrait, she said: She seemed to react very positively to it. She was smiling, asking how long it took, and if I had any more projects on the go after this.
When I explained certain elements of the painting, the tea cup, she made some amusing comments.
She said: But theres no tea in the cup!
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 to focus on her facial expressions.
She was chosen by the FCO on the recommendation of the National Portrait Gallery, after winning the BP Portrait Award with a painting of her mother Sir Simon said had perfectly captured the luminosity and dignity of her subject.
The palace had been shown a sketch of her plans for the Queen’s portrait ahead of time but had been very hands off and had not interfered, she added.
The second sitting was completely in February, shortly before the reality of the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK, with artist and Queen even discussing the situation in Wuhan during their time together.
Of the two sittings, Escofet said the intensely precious time flew by, as she chatted to the Queen and took photographs to capture every detail.
Shes a very experienced sitter, said Escofet. Shes fantastic. Shes very much focused on giving you what you need.
Shes very present in the room and focused on the job in hand. She has a sense of humour there bubbling under the surface. She was very down to earth, if thats not a silly thing to say.
In the first sitting I was asking about her experience with previous portraits and whether she had any particular favourites. I tried to tease it out of her, but she was very diplomatic.
Because it was at Windsor, a plane flew by and she commented on the noise.
The second time, I did most of the talking because I wanted to get a reaction from her face [to capture the expressions].
The finished painting was unveiled over video call, with Escofet at the FCO where she mounted the portrait on her own easel with a cloth draped over it.
As she and Sir Simon pulled the drape down, she said, the Queen smiled and looked very pleased.
Escofet went on to explain some of the key details in the painting, which was inspired partly by Holbeins The Ambassadors and the anamorphic distortion technique used by Renaissance painters.
As such, she said, she resolved to have a slightly surreal but appropriate element in the painting as something intriguing for people to stumble upon.
She told the Queen how she had settled on a tea cup, including the insignia of the FCO on the saucer of the tea cup and reflected in the cup itself.
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 theres no tea in the cup.
I said Im afraid the tea has been sacrificed for the symbolism.
On the challenges of painting the Queen, she said she had tried to capture the essence of the private monarch alongside the knowledge she was probably the most recognisable person in the world.
What I wasnt expecting was her humour, she said. Im not saying shes cracking jokes but you can feel it.
Theres a real sharpness, a keenness, shes really there, she really takes you in. I guess its a wisdom.
I really wanted to catch that essence of her in the portrait. Thats a quality that you only really feel when you meet someone.
Shes a very powerful, small person, and quite luminous. You can feel this life energy from her, its very striking.
That became very useful for me because it meant I could get almost an aura of regalness around her in what was actually trying to be a very humane portrait of her.
Sir Simon said the FCO was delighted with the finished portrait, which will hang in the new reception building in pride of place.
Its terrific, he said. Theres truth and dignity and wisdom in the portrait.
Of the Queens praise for the FCOs response to Covid-19, he added: We are Her Majestys 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.
She was impressed, she said, with our agility in turning our hand to the task that needed to be done. That is an exactly right assessment of what weve done, I think.
Also on the call was Sanjibita Tariang, who has worked for the FCO for 19 years and is now a regional consular development officer at the British Deputy High Commission Kolkata, and spoke about her role supporting the repatriation of more than 14,500 British travellers from India to the UK during Covid-19.
In particular, she told the Queen about the logistical challenge of coordinating the journey of one British woman, who made a five-day, 2,800km trip through a locked-down country to board a plane home.
Seeing the smiles when they return home and they send you the picture with their family, thats what we work for, she said It makes it all worthwhile.
The Queen seemed impressed with the work we had done and the challenges we faced.
She asked a few questions but she was listening and you could see she was impressed.
For me, its a dream come true. I always dreamed that I would one day get to speak to the Queen. That was something really, really special to me.
And then when your work is recognised after youve put in so much, that really means a lot. It really means everything to all the staff here.
Aletheia Bligh-Flower, joint head of global health, spoke about the FCOs collaborative work to develop a vaccine, support vulnerable countries and keep supply chains for PPE open.
Speaking afterwards, she said the Queen had been particularly interested in how quickly the FCO had mobilised under Covid-19, and knew all about the recent Global Vaccine Summit she had been working on.
She was very sharp. She said it was an extraordinary effort and she was very impressed by the incredible work wed all done. It was really lovely to hear.
She was very much in awe of how tech has played a huge role in all of this.
It provides a moment of reflection really. You spend every day working at your kitchen table, and something like this makes you realise what you have achieved.
It was really nice to have her help us reflect on the achievements of the last few months.
Asked about the unusual protocol of meeting the Queen over videolink, she joked the team had practised bowing their heads but just looked like we were nodding.
The Queen makes people feel very comfortable very quickly, she added. Everyone was nervous but she put us all at ease and we were able to have a really nice conversation.