London, Oct 20 : A lost portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, which depicts her as a pale, pious and austere young woman, has been found in the attic of a country house in East Sussex.
The portrait, which had lain unnoticed in the dirty loft for more than a century, is one of the few pictures to show the 16th century royal in the early years of her reign.
Elizabeth, who is dressed in simple black clothes and clutches a Bible, was believed to have been around 26 when the portrait was painted.
The discovery does not stop there. X-rays of the canvas have revealed another, even earlier picture of the queen below the surface, which shows her without the Bible and with a more ostentatious ruff.
"The assumption is that the artist - and we do not know who he is - did an intitial portrait, and either he or the Queen did not like it," the Telegraph quoted Philip Mould, the London art dealer who owns the work, as saying.
He has run several tests on the painting to verify its age, after working to restore it from the poor state it was found in the unnamed country house.
He says the owners did not understand the significance of the painting, which he has now put up for sale for 350,000 pounds.
"To them, it was just a picture that had been in the family for several generations," Mould said.
Historians, who have studied the painting, say that it sheds light on the young Elizabeth's pious mindset, and her keenness to differentiate herself from her Catholic sister Mary I.
"What is really significant is how she looks", said David Starkey, who has written books and presented television shows on the monarch.
"She is really pale and therefore has this pure image. She is holding a Bible or a prayer book. This is a key; it is her statement of religious intent. It is Elizabeth saying, 'Look, I'm a Protestant'," he added.