Armada Portrait

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Armada Portrait
Elizabeth I (Armada Portrait).jpg
Artist George Gower
Year 1588?
Type Oil on oak panel
Location Woburn Abbey

The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I of England is the name of any of three surviving versions of an allegorical panel painting depicting the Tudor queen surrounded by symbols of imperial majesty against a backdrop representing the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Iconography[edit]

The pearls around her neck show that England is a wealthy country. The globe in the bottom left corner show becoming a world empire. The two portraits in the top right and left corners show victory and defeat against the Spanish Armada.

The combination of a life-sized portrait of the queen with a horizontal format is "quite unprecedented in her portraiture",[1] although allegorical portraits in this format, such as the Family of Henry VIII: An Allegory of the Tudor Succession (1572) attributed to Lucas de Heere,[2] pre-date the Armada Portrait.

English art in this period was isolated from trends in Catholic Italy, and owed more to Flemish manuscript illumination and heraldic representation than to Renaissance ideas of unity in time and space in art. The Armada Portrait is no exception: the chair to the right is viewed from two different angles, as are the tables on the left, and the background shows two different stages in the defeat of the Armada.[1] In the background view on the left, English fireships threaten the Spanish fleet, and on the right the ships are driven onto a rocky coast amid stormy seas by the "Protestant Wind". On a secondary level, these images show Elizabeth turning her back on storm and darkness while sunlight shines where she gazes, iconography that would be repeated in Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger's 1592 "Ditchley" portrait of the queen.[1]

The queen's hand rests on a globe below the crown of England, "her fingers covering the Americas, indicating England's dominion of the seas and plans for imperialist expansion in the New World".[3][4] The Queen is flanked by two columns behind, probably a reference to the famous impresa of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, Philip's father, which represented the pillars of Hercules.[5]

Andrew Belsey and Catherine Belsey have pointed out the striking geometry of the painting, with the repeating patterns of circles and arches described by the crown, the globe, and the sleeves, ruff, and gown worn by the queen.[4] They also contrast the imperial figure of the Virgin Queen wearing the large pearl symbolizing chastity suspended from her bodice and the mermaid carved on the chair of state, representing female wiles luring sailors to their doom. The crown also symbolises the English monarch. She also has a picture of a ship battle in the background to symbolise the victory of the battle.

Versions[edit]

There are three surviving versions of the portrait in addition to several derivative portraits.

  • The version at Woburn Abbey
  • The version in the National Portrait Gallery, London, which has been cut down at both sides leaving just a portrait of the queen, is also attributed to Gower.
  • The version owned by the Tyrwhitt-Drake family, which may have been commissioned by Sir Francis Drake, was first recorded at Shardeloes in 1775. Scholars agree that this version is by a different hand, noting distinctive techniques and approaches to the modelling of the queen's features.[1][3] This version was heavily overpainted in the later 17th century,[1] which complicates attribution and may account for several differences in details of the costume.[6]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Strong 1987, Gloriana, p. 130–133
  2. ^ Hearn, Dynasties, p. 81
  3. ^ a b Hearn, Dynasties, p. 88
  4. ^ a b Andrew Belsey and Catherine Belsey, "Icons of Divinity: Portraits of Elizabeth I" in Gent and Llewellyen, Renaissance Bodies, p. 11–35
  5. ^ Roy Strong; Art and Power; Renaissance Festivals 1450–1650,p 51, 1984, The Boydell Press;ISBN 0-85115-200-7
  6. ^ Arnold, Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, p. 34–36

References[edit]

  • Arnold, Janet: Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, W S Maney and Son Ltd, Leeds 1988. ISBN 0-901286-20-6
  • Gent, Lucy, and Nigel Llewellyn, eds: Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture c. 1540–1660Reaktion Books, 1990, ISBN 0-948462-08-6
  • Hearn, Karen, ed. Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630. New York: Rizzoli, 1995. ISBN 0-8478-1940-X
  • Strong, Roy: Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, Thames and Hudson, 1987, ISBN 0-500-25098-7 (Strong 1987)