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The Queen and the missing Diamond Diadem

Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022) in Coronation Robes©

Following a reassessment of the official coronation portrait of Her Majesty The Queen, it has been revealed that the Diamond Diadem she is wearing was in fact painted in an entire year later.

The magnificent portrait, painted by Sir Herbert James Gunn in 1953, shows The Queen in her Coronation robes and jewels including the spectacular Diamond Diadem. The famous Diadem has been captured on coins, banknotes, and postage stamps and worn at key moments throughout The Queen’s reign.

After re-examining files on the painting, curators found a record revealing the unusual history of the Diadem in the painting.

The creation of the original portrait

The Queen initially sat for the portrait at Balmoral, where the artist created a variety of studies. However in December 1953, The Queen left for a long overseas tour, and Sir Herbert was granted access to her robes and the Crown Jewels so that he could keep working on the costume before more sittings on her return.

After the portrait was finished, it was displayed at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in 1954. Remarkably, even though the painting had already been on display to the public with The Queen shown bare-headed, the artist felt there was something missing and the artist and sitter agreed it could be improved.

A initial sketch for the portrait without the Diamond Diadem©

Adding in the Diamond Diadem

The artist devised an ingenious way of checking whether to add the Diadem to the portrait. He painted the Diadem onto a piece of cellophane and laid it over the canvas, then he showed this to The Queen to show the full effect. Together, they agreed that the Diadem should be added, resulting in the final painting you can see today.

The decision to add the Diadem could have been made to balance out the other objects in the picture, including the Imperial State Crown and sceptre, The Coronation necklace and diamond drop earrings, and the Collar and Badge of the Order of the Garter. Perhaps the top part of the painting would have appeared emptier without the Diadem.

Curator with Diamond Diadem at Buckingham Palace Platinum Jubilee display©

The Diamond Diadem

The Diadem was created for the coronation of George IV in 1821 and is set with 1,333 brilliant-cut diamonds. It was inherited by Queen Victoria in 1837, and later passed to Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and then to The Queen. It was worn by The Queen on the day of her Coronation, and on her journey to and from the State Opening of Parliament since 1952, the first year of her reign.

You can see the spectacular portrait and The Queen's Coronation Dress at our special Platinum Jubilee display at Windsor Castle, where its full story is told for the first time!

Want to see the Diamond Diadem up close? Watch our film of the spectacular crown which is on display this summer at Buckingham Palace at another special Platinum Jubilee display featuring Her Majesty’s personal jewellery. 

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.