25 Comments

  1. Markiza

    The Rainbow Portrait:
    The theme is that of Elizabeth as the Queen of Love and Beauty. The theme is that flower decked spring. The spring flowers are an allusion to the springtime and Elizabeth as Flora and Empress of Flowers. Elizabeth’s gown is embroidered with English wildflowers, thus allowing the queen to pose in the guise of Astraea, the virginal heroine of classical literature. Her cloak is decorated with eyes and ears, implying that she sees and hears all. Above her crown is a crescent-shaped jewel which alludes to Cynthia, the goddess of the moon. A jeweled serpent is entwined along her left arm, and holds from its mouth a heart-shaped ruby. Above its head is a celestial sphere. The serpent symbolizes 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. The celestial sphere echoes this theme; it symbolizes wisdom and the queen’s royal command over nature 🙂

  2. Markiza

    The Phoenix Portrait:
    This gown is described as a “strait-bodied” gown, or a “French Gown”, with “french sleeves”. A French Gown–another example of Elizabeth’s love for foreign fashion–was apparantly a front-closing gown with a narrow, tight-fitting bodice, a low, square neckline and a wide skirt tightly cartridge-pleated to the waistline. the term “strait-bodied”, which meant tight-fitting, was another word for the same thing. The embroidery pattern on the gown reveals that the bodice is cut on the bias–that is, with the weave of the fabric at a 45 degree angle, rather than going vertically and horizontally. Fabric cut on the bias stretches more than fabric cut on the straight, which may have helped this French bodice fit more tightly and smoothly to the torso. Either the Queen is wearing a boned corset (known then as a “pair of bodies”) underneath her gown, or the bodice itself is stiffened with reeds or perhaps even whalebone. Both items–a separate pair of bodies worn under a bodice, and boned bodices themselves–are documented in Elizabeth’s wardrobe at this time. This French Gown is worn in conjunction with “French Sleeves”. This foreign style, which became quite popular in England, was a sleeve with a large, padded sleeve-head which tapered smoothly down to a small wrist.
    The shape of the dress as a whole–narrow sleeves with broad tops, tight-fitted, front-opening bodices with very full overskirts and low, cuved necklines–echoes that of many woodcuts of French Noblewomen created during the same decade. What truly sets this gown apart from any other is its incredible decoration; the ruff is edged with fine lace, the partlet is intricately embroidered with blackwork, and the gown itself is completely covered in gold embroidery and pearls. Cleverly placed puffs accentuate the breadth of the shoulders and the slender waist. The heavy, elaborate jewelry makes it even more breathtaking. Clearly, this was a portrait meant to impress. By this point in time, the typical Elizabethan gown had become very “busy”–covered with embroidery, trim, beads or pearls or other fabric treatments, such as pinking or slashing. A far cry indeed from the simplicity of Tudor garb, when the fabric itself was, for the most part, a gown’s main decoration.
    The queen’s head is completely uncovered, and her hair is dressed in her signature curls. Frizzing and curling the hair became quite fashionable during her reign, as people sought to emulate Elizabeth as much as possible. She wears only a small headdress and transparent veil.
    One interesting quirk: This Gown is of blue velvet. Blue was, by the elizabethan period, considered a color worn mostly by servants, due to the cheap cost of indigo dye. Who knows? Perhaps the queen was trying to make one more symbolic point 😉

  3. Laura Osborne

    I had seen the portrait with the ears and eyes before (and actually realised after seeing it several times what they really were) and someone explained that it showed the queen had eyes and ears everywhere – so be very careful what you say and write as she would find out!
    Didn’t know the rest, so thanks…
    Also, do you know who actually posed for the Jane Seymour figure as I’ve heard several different names suggested including Katherine Parr (just after she married Henry) but had no idea it wouldn’t be her own face shown..

  4. Is it possible that the serpent was also a reference to the serpent in the garden of Eden? The “heart” looks a bit more like an apple to me. The Tudors loved to make edgy little jokes (Elizabeth was also renowned for this type of humour), and this could, perhaps, be a little jibe at those that were uncomfortable with a woman in power (what man that had issue with female rule would not be even more uncomfortable with her wearing the serpent and apple on her sleeve?)

    Is it also possible that the coat covered in ears and eyes (though definitely meant to show that she sees and hears all) is also a reference to Argus, a servant and guard of Hera, that killed the Echidna (mother of monsters that took the form of a large serpent)?

    I think the phoenix is almost a bit reminiscent of her mother’s badge as well. And it’s neat that she’s holding a similar rose to the one that Anne Boleyn holds in her Hever portrait (common, sure, but don’t think that would have gone missed by those in the “know”). Could these be some minuscule points towards her mother?

    Just some random thoughts!

  5. Jan

    In the rainbow portrait I agree that the heart could be an apple. What is the ‘jewel’ hanging above her shoulder? To me it appears to be a hand/gauntlet. It has five fingers and what appears to be a ring.

  6. Sara

    I keep getting something off this painting. Why is the original kept at Hatfield house? Is that not disrespectful to Queen Elizabeth. Can some say why it is at this location?

  7. Jane

    The black pearls in the Ermine portrait once belonged to Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) whom Elizabeth I had beheaded. These pearls were quite famous having been given as a wedding gift to Catherine de Medici, mother-in-law to Mary Stuart upon the marriage of Francis II to Mary Stuart. Here’s a link for greater depth and detail concerning the black pearls: http://www.island-orchid.co.uk/pages/mqs.html

  8. Donna Smargiassi

    I loved this. 16 years ago I wrote my thesis(dissertation) on 8 portraits of Queen Elizabeth I dealing with the two bodies… Female & Queen. I used the Rainbow Portrait,
    & The Ermine Portrait as two of my portraits. I got to see the Rainbow Portrait at Hatfield House and talk with a very nice lady about its symbolism .
    On a side note, in the movie Elizabeth The Golden Age, when Elizabeth(Cate Blanchette) goes to see a dying Walsingham at his home it is Hatfield House and you can clearly see the Rainbow Portrait hanging g on the wall behind his bed.

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