Monday 21 September 2009

What's in a Portrait? A Challenge...

It's the new academic year and my year 8 classes are studying portraits. I have always found portraits to be fascinating-especially if they are of people I really like (Charles II and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire in particular).
One of the portraits we've been studying is the above 1588 portrait commemorating the defeat of the Spanish Armada. My challenge to you is to study this portrait and let me know what you see and what the symbolism in the portrait means-maybe you'll be able to tell me anything about it I may have missed! Also, let me know what your fave portrait is!


The Clever Pup said...

Hmm, I can't see it very well but it does appear as if her hand is over North America.

She looks like she's on a ship. One of the images from the window almost makes it look as if the ships are afloat on sand.

Her crown is very big. And I'm sure there is some symbolism with that gilded carved thing. But I can see it properly. Is it wearing glasses?

Lucy said...

Hi:) This is a very loaded portrait...Elizabeth is definitely showing her grip on the 'New World' by holding the globe- also showing a Protestant victory Enland's hold of it all. I love the way the English fleet is shown on one side of her and the Armada on the other (almost as though they're being wiped out of the protrait. There's also something about her necklace (but my long ago reading about this is fading...

There are many portraits I love and find interesting- but I'd have to say that those of Marie Antoinette in her last days are the ones that actually evoke strong feelings. There's the one when she's on trial (having to defend herself on the worst accusations ever to a mother) and the one where she is going to the scaffold...something about her look which seems emotionless yet, you can read so much into it- and she keeps her regal and poised look all along.
Fantastic post- Thanks so much! (sorry for writing this much..I was just so inspired!)

Hels said...

My favourite portraits are Pompeo Batoni's (1708-87) portraits of British grand tourists. Of course they were flattering and a tad formulaic, but they were scholarly, full of learned artefacts and Roman ruins, passionate and curious.

If I had to be specific, I would nominate Colonel The Hon Willian Gordon; Sir Gregory Page-Turner, 3rd Bt; Charles Compton 7th Earl of Northampton; and Sir Wyndham Knatchbull-Wyndham.

*sighs happily*
Art and Architecture, mainly

May said...

Is the carved thing to her right a mermaid? If so, it certainly coincides with the idea of domination over the seas. It seems like the carved figure is missing its arms- would there be some symbolism there? There must be but I don't know what it would mean.

Her dress is striking- the contrast of colors is remarkable. Is the black supposed to lend a sombre note the portrait? It's interesting the way the ribbons are almost the same color as the Queen's hair!

Is there any significance to all the green in the draperies? In some other contexts, I've heard green symbolizes hope- but I don't know if that applies here.

Funny, I just posted (and was puzzling over) a gorgeous portrait of Marie-Antoinette cast as one of the Muses:

Come and check it out!

The Elizabeth Files said...

Well, I have cheated and done some digging, although I did notice her hand over the Americas and the Armada scenes in the windows!!

Here is what I have found by doing some digging and I hope it's helpful to your students:-

Pearls - Elizabeth is wearing her favourite jewellery, pearls. Pearls symbolised purity. One website ( suggests that the pearls were Dudley's last gift to Elizabeth.

Window scenes - On the left hand side there is the arrival of the Armada and then on the right there is the defeat of the Armada. Many people looking at this painting conclude that this is a tribute to Elizabeth's success at protecting England. Others have said that on the right, teh ships are being forced onto the rocks by the "Protestant wind"!

Globe - As others have pointed out, her hand is over the Americas which England was busy colonising and her hand over the whole globe suggests that Elizabeth's power is far reaching.

Pillars - I don't see these pillars as really standing out myself but an article on wikipedia says "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."

One thing I wasn't sure about was the egg shaped object behind Elizabeth's right shoulder - pomegranate symbolising fertility?? It is very similar to Catherine of Aragon's pomegranate.

I agree that the crown is rather large and eye catching - a confirmation of Elizabeth's majesty and royalty. Some suggest it is an imperial crown.

I agree with matterhorn about the statue, it does look like a mermaid but with amazing stomach muscles!! Again, perhaps this would suggest Elizabeth's power over the world and the seas - not sure.

I love the symbolism that you see in Elizabeth's portraits - great propaganda!

Miss Ellis said...

She's obviously [yet another!] wannabe geographer!!!