Posted By claire on June 23, 2010
Following on from last week’s article “Elizabeth I – Queen of PR”, I thought it would be good to start our examination of Elizabeth I portraits with the famous Armada portrait. This portrait is by an unknown artist (possibly George Gower) and was painted circa 1588, the same year as Elizabeth I’s defeat of the Spanish Armada.
The Armada Portrait is rich in symbolism, as are many of Elizabeth’s portraits, so I’ll start the ball rolling with symbols I can see and have found during my research, but please do add your own thoughts in the comments section below.
Symbolism in the Armada Portrait
- Pearls – Like her mother before her, Elizabeth loved pearls and in her portraits pearls symbolise purity and virginity. Pearls symbolised purity. Marilee Cody, on her excellent site on Tudor portraits – http://www.marileecody.com/eliz1-images.html – suggests that the pearls were Dudley’s last gift to Elizabeth and so had special meaning to Elizabeth.
- Elizabeth – Although Elizabeth was around 55 when this portrait was painted, she is presented as youthful and vibrant with her made-up face, bright red hair and unblemished complexion. She is also dressed in all her finery and rich jewels, and really is the iconic, ever-youthful Virgin Queen.
- Elizabeth’s gaze – C J Cairns writes of how the way that she is gazing into the distance could symbolise her looking to the future of her realm.
- Posture – Just as her father liked his posture to speak of his power and magnificence, Elizabeth too has adopted a posture of power.
- Ruff – C J Cairns writes of how her ruff frames her face like rays of the sun.
- Window scenes – I think it was David Dimbleby in his series “The Seven Ages of Britain” who noted that in the window on the left hand side of the painting there is the arrival of the Armada and then on the right there is the defeat of the Armada. This portrait could be seen as a tribute to Elizabeth’s success at protecting the nation from Spanish invasion or you could see a religious meaning: perhaps the ships are being forced onto the rocks by the “Protestant wind”. C J Cairns comments that Elizabeth has “called upon the elements to dispel the Spanish Catholic threat”.
- Globe – If you look at the placement of Elizabeth’s hand on the globe, you can see that her hand is over the Americas which England was busy colonising. As Marilee Cody points out, this painting was painted one year after the birth of the first English child in the colonist’s settlement of Virginia. Her fingers are extending to other parts of the globe and this symbolises that Elizabeth’s power is fa reaching and that the whole world is at her disposal.
- Pillars – An article on wikipedia says that “The Queen is flanked by two columns behind, probably a reference to the famous impresa of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, Philip II of Spain’s father, which represented the pillars of Hercules, gateway to the Atlantic Ocean and the New World.”
- The egg shaped object – Of you look at the right hand side of the painting, you can see that there is an egg shaped object above Elizabeth’s shoulder and in front of the window. It appears to be a pomegranate which symbolised fertility, abundance, generosity, union, prosperity, rebirth, resurrection and eternal life.
- The Crown – Confirmation of Elizabeth’s powerful position as monarchy and her royalty and majesty. If it is indeed an imperial crown, as some have suggested, it speaks again of Elizabeth’s far reach and Elizabeth as Empress.
- Carving – The arm of the chair has a carving of a mermaid which, according to C J Cairns was “a symbol of the potential destructive nature of females” and that Elizabeth’s position with her back to the image could signify her rejection of its meaning. I wonder if it actually speaks of Elizabeth’s power over the seas.
- Bow – One article on this portrait has suggested that the placement of the large bow is a “blatant display of Elizabeth’s virginity” just as Henry VIII’s large codpiece spoke of his sexuality and prowess.
Notes and Sources
Categories: appearance, Elizabeth Personality, portraits
Tags: Elizabeth I paintings, Elizabeth I portrait, Elizabeth I portraiture, symbolism, The Armada Portrait
PORTRAITS OF QUEEN ELIZABETH I
« Portrait de la reine Elizabeth I d’Angleterre (1533-1603) en costume cérémonial »
Elisabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII, king of England and Ireland, and his second wife Anne Boleyn. She became Queen of England in 1558, when she was 25 years old. Her nickname was « The Virgin queen », she didn’t get married and didn’t have any children.
The picture is composed of two parts. In the foreground, the Queen looks sober, dressed in a black full dress. She is wearing strings of pearls, black pearls unlike the other pictures, in which she is wearing white pearls which symbolize her virginity and purity. But, she has white earrings and a white ruff.
In her hand, she is holding sieve, the symbol of virginity, which refers to the vestal Virgin. The source of this symbolism can be traced back in history: in Ancient Rome, the vestal virgin – priestess – was accused of not being a virgin. However, she demonstrated her innocence by a wonder, carrying water into a sieve. The Queen had been accused not being a virgin any more. The sieve is supposed to assert her virginity as it is painted without any stain or sign of utilization.
The collum in the background relates the story of Enea. Enea went to set up Rome after having refused to marry Didon, queen of Carthage. This story refers to Elizabeth who didn’t want to get married, as she preferred to devote her life to re-establishing prosperity in England.
The globe is a symbol of her victory against the Spanish Armada in 1588 and also represents the political and economic power of England in the world – India for example.
The scene behind the Queen refers to the Renaissance. Elizabeth was well-educated and her intellectual interests were broad, ranging from history, science, art, philosophy to literature. England became the locus of the Renaissance, after Italy, and Elizabeth’s court was a magnet which attracted the most talented individuals.
The picture summarizes the vision and the behavior of Elizabeth: her virginity, her education and her anxiousness to turn England into a nation of prestige.
The Armada Portrait (1588)
Elizabeth Ist (1588-1603) was perhaps the first monarch in Europe to understand the importance of public relations and she carefully prepared her image. Therefore, Elizabeth Ist has often been portrayed because there naturally were no photographs and no television in those days, so the only way people could see her, was through portraits, which could be considered as propaganda objects. We are going to analyze one of these portraits : the Armada portrait, which was painted around 1588. The portrait commemorates the queen’s victory over the Spanish in 1588. It is characterized by many symbols praising the queen and her kingdom. So, how did this portrait contribute to Elizabeth’s success ? First, this portrait shows a queen with multiple talents and a real wife for England. Then it features a queen inaugurating the construction of an empire.
For a start, the painting marks different images of Elizabeth Ist to consolidate her political power. In the foreground, we can observe queen Elisabeth in ceremonial outfit. She is wearing rich clothes decorated with precious stones and the fabrics look very expensive. We can also make out some knots and ribbons. The Queen sports jewels in abundance, in particular some pearl necklaces. She is wearing a cape which seems very expensive. It represents her femininity. Therefore, in this painting, the queen’s face enhances prosperity and purity and it shows the image of virginity but also a selfess monarch. Her face suggests a strong-minded woman. This painting also shows a very popular queen, whose pose bespeaks her self-confidence. In this picture, Elisabeth Ist is portrayed in a conqueror’s position. This painting illustrates England’s prominent position in Europe and in the whole world.
In the second part, the painter focuses our attention on the construction and the powerfulness of England, and in particular on its properity during Elizabeth’s reign. In the background, the painter included scenes illustrating the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. It was the pivotal event of the second half of Elizabeth’s reign and a great triumph for the English. On the left, we can see the English fleet and on the right, we can see wrecked vessels, perhaps belonging to the Spanish fleet (named the Armada). The victory against the Spanish facilitated the creation of the Anglican church and asserted the supremacy of England in Europe, in the early 16th century. England’s might revealed itself in the field of international trade and colonization. In fact, several symbols, which accompany the portrait such as the imperial crown and a globe, on which Elizabeth’s hand rests, represent imperialism. The mermaid statue represents the same aspect and the english’s maritime ascendancy. Moreover, the queen has her right hand on the globe, the symbol of her power on the world.
To conclude, the Armada portrait is an example of Elizabeth Ist‘s images during her reign and of the importance of these images. Finally, the painter goes deeper into the rich clothes of the queen, so that his goal is to praise the reign of Elizabeth Ist and the painter exaggerates a little because he passes over in silence the difficulties during the Elizabethan period.
The Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth Ist, 1592.
Elizabeth the first was Queen of England and Ireland from 1533 until her death. She
was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. But she met lots of obstacles to ascend the throne. When she was queen she showed that a woman can govern the same as a man or better in some cases thanks to her strong adamant policy. She became Supreme Gorvernor of the English Protestant church. As for marriage, parliament repeatedly petitioned her to marry, but she always answered negatively.
That portrait was painted in 1592, by Marcus Gheeraerts. Sir Henry Lee, Elizabeth Ist’s former champion had offended her two year earlier by living openly with his mistress. This portrait commemorates the visit of Elizabeth Ist at Ditchley, Oxfordshire, and also her forgiveness of Sir Henry Lee’s attitude and previous actions; It’s also a way for Sir Henry Lee to come back in her favors. We can now wonder which image of the Queen Sir Henry Lee wanted to.
In the foreground there is queen Elizabeth Ist, with a bug and jewels, in a white and red colored dress. She’s wearing a fan in her right hand and her gloves in the other. She’s represented next to the earth globe. She is sitting on Great Britain, which is surrounded by the seas. We can notice that Elizabeth Ist is wearing a rose, the Tudors symbol, but also a gold necklace and jeweled spheres on each side of her head. We can also add two strings of pearls. She is represented with a white complexion. We can observe many pearls on her dress. In the background we can see a twofold sky, sunny and stormy, on each side of Elizabeth Ist who is standing in the center of the portrait.
The dress symbolizes, on the one hand, the wealth of Elizabeth Ist, and on the other hand the prosperity of England. Besides, the white and the red colors of the dress respectively show the purity and the virtues of queen Elizabeth Ist. Regarding the red color, it represent authority and power. Here, the fan replaces the scepter which is the icon of the monarchy. Then the gloves stand for powerfulness and wealth, and introduce the idea of purity attached to Elizabeth Ist, the virgin queen. Moreover, the pale complexion, which is enhanced by the dark right side, stresses out the image of virgin queen. To end this part, the nice and the bad weather depict the power of the queen on Nature. Finally the globe depicts the influence and the power of the virgin queen on the land of Great Britain, and on the seas, after the victory of the Armada.
We are now going to focuse on the jewels and their symbolical meaning. First, the rose, situated on her chest, is the symbol of the Tudor dynasty. The pearls on the dress are a reference to Queen’s Elizabeth comparison with Cynthia, the goddess of the moon, who was a virgin and the symbol of purity. The gold necklace and the three strings of pearls symbolize the prosperity of England.
To conclude, this painting puts the stress on royal symbols, and also her attitude and her use of the political power; this is really influenced by Sir Henry Lee’s desire to come back in Queen Elizabeth favors.
Hélène GOND L2
The Armada Portrait
The painting that we have chosen is “The Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I st”. It was painted in 1588 by Georges Gower. Georges Gower was born in 1540 and died in London in 1596. He was an English portrait painter who became sergeant painter for Queen Elizabeth I st in 1581. This picture is the Gower’s best-known work. It is currently exhibited at Woburn Abbey in England. This painting represents Queen Elizabeth Ist. Elizabeth Ist is Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s daughter. She ascended the throne in 1558, after her half sister Marie Ist had died and she died in 1603. She was a very popular and well educated queen.
We will analyze two points in this painting. Firstly we will describe the Queen and the royal symbols, and secondly we will study the two paintings featured in the background of this picture.
In the foreground of this picture we can see Queen Elizabeth sitting on the throne surrounded by many symbols which represent some aspects of her reign. Firstly, what catches our attention is the red color because this color is present in all the painting. This color symbolizes power, wealth, luxury and sovereignty. This is the color of the aristocracy. Secondly, we can see the crown of the queen. This crown is the symbol of the royalty. Then, the queen’s dress is decorated with a lot of beads. In fact, it was said that Elizabeth loved to decorate her clothes with beads. The legend says that she would have liked to create a bead industry in England to have her own production. Then, on the right bottom hand corner we can see a statuette. It might represent art because we know that Elizabeth was an important patron of art, and that she wanted to develop a lot of different types of art in her country, like architecture and literature. Finally, on the left we can see the hand of the queen resting on a globe. This gesture indicates that the queen’s power wasn’t only local but global. This position explains that during her reign she tried to colonize a lot of countries all around the world. So, she recruited great navigators to explore the world in order to encourage England’s trade and commerce. For example we can underline the achievement of Vasco de Gama who navigated all around Africa.
In the background of this painting of Elizabeth Ist we can see two pictures representing the Spanish Armada. In the picture on the left we can see many boats which represent the battle fleet of England in 1588 and in the second picture we can also see many boats during the battle. We notice that the colors of this one are darker than the first. These two pictures represent the battle of the Spanish Armada which took place on August the 6th 1588. In fact, for several years the development of England’s maritime power created tension with the Spanish fleet. So, the king of Spain decided to wage war against England. On August the 6th, the Spanish fleet arrived in England; the battle was a very hard and commanded by Philippe II of Spain and Francis Drake. Finally, the English fleet was more powerful than the Spanish one and England and Elizabeth Ist’s victory was tremendous.
This portrait of Elizabeth enlightens positive aspects of the fabulous reign of Queen Elizabeth. It represents military power, the flourishing of the arts, wealth and the development of trade thanks to colonization.
JURAJ MUCI L2
The Rainbow Portrait
Elizabeth Tudor is considered by many to be the greatest monarch in English history. When she became queen in 1558, she was twenty-five years’ old, a survivor of scandal and danger, and considered illegitimate by most Europeans. She inherited a bankrupt nation, torn by religious discord, a weakened pawn between the great powers of France and Spain. She was only the third queen to rule England in her own right. She ruled alone for nearly half a century. One of the reasons why Elizabeth stayed as queen for so long was because she made sure everybody knew how powerful and important she was, by having portraits of her painted. Copies of these were sent all over the country for people to see. Each portrait had a set of special symbols painted on it. These were signs of Elizabeth’s strength and qualities as queen. Elizabeth was perhaps the first monarch to understand the importance of public relations and she carefully prepared her image for public consumption. The queen was very proud of her beautiful hands. She considered them her best feature and took pains to have them prominently displayed in all of her state portraits.
The Rainbow Portrait was painted in 1600 by Isaac Oliver. This portrait can be viewed at Hatfield House. Oliver was a pupil of Elizabeth’s favorite court painter, Nicholas Hilliard. Some historians have argued that Gheeraerts painted this portrait, but most favor Oliver. It has the most elaborate and inventive iconography of any Tudor portrait. We can see many symbols on the portrait. Elizabeth’s right hand holds a rainbow with the Latin inscription ‘Non sine sole iris’ (‘No rainbow without the sun’). The rainbow symbolises peace, and the inscription reminds us that only the queen’s wisdom can ensure peace and prosperity. A jewelled serpent is entwined along her left arm, and holds a heart-shaped ruby in its mouth. The serpent symbolises wisdom, it has captured the ruby, which in turn symbolizes the queen’s heart. In other words, the queen’s passions are controlled by her wisdom. Her headdress displays an incredible design lavishly decorated with pearls and rubies and supports her royal crown. The pearls symbolizes her virginity, the crown, of course, symbolizes her royalty. Her cloak is decorated with eyes and ears, implying that she sees and hears all and that everyone sees and hears Elizabeth. The jewelled glove shows that men will ‘throw down the gauntlet’ for Elizabeth which means that they will fight a dual in her honour. At the time when the painting was made, Elizabeth was getting old and ill. She was facing rebellion in the North at this time, this helps to explain why she looks so youthful. She had to have her portrait painted. Symbols had to be inset to show how powerful she was. Elizabeth was in her late sixties when this portrait was made, but for iconographic purposes she is portrayed as young and beautiful, more than mortal. In this portrait, she is ageless.
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