Sunday, May 11, 2014

Question from Danielle - Symbols and propaganda in Elizabethan portraiture

Hi There :)

I was just wondering if anyone had any information of the hidden symbols and propaganda in Elizabethan portraiture.

I don't just mean the crowns or the tudor roses, the sunshine in the background etc I mean the really hidden ones.

I'm particularly interested in Elizabeth's courtiers and ladies in waiting, such as Bess of Hardwick etc.

I'd be grateful for any information on books to look through, websites with information or just general information.

Thanks in advance :) x


PhD Historian said...

I am not sure what you mean by "really hidden." Elizabethan portrait images do sometimes contain a lot of symbolic objects that are often difficult to interpret today. But there are also those who claim to find things ... both objects and writing ... quite literally hidden in places like the veining of a marble column or the shadows on a wall. I am reminded of the claims of "hidden codes" in the Mona Lisa, for example. Most of those claims are, in my opinion, crackpot nonsense. How effective can symbols or propaganda *be* if they are "hidden"? Propaganda, in particular, is effective only if it is readily detectable, i.e. NOT hidden.

azurwriter said...

Hi Lara - the most obvious symbols are to be seen in the sieve portraits of Elizabeth, of course. Elizabeth was painted holding a sieve, a rather unusual object for a queen to posess - but the reference goes back to the Greeks I believe and refers to the fact that a pure and innocent virgin could carry water in a sieve without spilling a drop. Hence Elizabeth is saying, "Forget the ugly rumours about me and Dudley" !!

In a portait believed to be that of Amy Robsart, the sitter is wearing a brooch that must refer to the Dudley family - it is framed with gillyflowers (for love although Shakespeare says that the gillyflower is a sign of promiscuity!) and an oak staff. I have made this the central theme of my historical novel "The Manner of Amy's Death".