Portraits and propaganda of Queen Elizabeth I of England | Curator’s Corner Season 2 Episode 8

Portraits and propaganda of Queen Elizabeth I of England | Curator’s Corner Season 2 Episode 8


I’m Dora Thornton, I’m the curator of Renaissance Europe Welcome to my corner. I’m here with a very small but special selection of jewels with miniature portraits of Elizabeth the first
as Queen of England when we think of Elizabeth we tend to think of the huge emblematic political portraits but these objects although they are small still carry a considerable political punch. So I thought I’d start with a silver medal which is perhaps the most complex of the lot On the front is a three quarter
elaborate portrait of Elizabeth as Queen and she’s wearing a lace ruff, a tight bodice and fantastic jewels over her breast showing, indeed, how a jewel like this was intended to be worn and huge silk sleeves. She’s wearing the open crown, the Tudor crown
on her head and the crown breaks into the Latin legend or inscription which goes all the way around and says ‘No circle in the world is richer’ and the impression given there is that England is not only a stable and secure monarchy but it is also very rich and has imperial ambitions to encompass the world’s wealth. On the other side of the medal there is a message showing how Elizabeth identifies herself with her people and how she is their political salvation It’s a beautiful, beautiful image surrounded with a laurel wreath and it shows a single island in the middle of a stormy sea with ships on it and the island has one single tree growing on it a bay tree, which is thought to be impervious to lightning and that’s exactly what’s happening out of the stormy sky a bolt of lightning is hitting the tree and the tree is surviving and not bursting into flames and underneath the tree is a message ‘not even danger affects it’ You’re supposed to think of this tree as Elizabeth herself impervious to danger, the great survivor of political troubles, of conspiracies inside her country and a foreign invasion culminating in the Spanish Armada of 1588 and just to make that message clear on either sides of the bay tree is the Royal mark monogrammed ER Elisabetha Regina, Queen Elizabeth and so this medal is known as a danger averted medal, it’s designed by Nicholas Hilliard who was the great court artist at the court of Queen Elizabeth a medalist and a painter and miniaturist and designed to be worn just to show our debt to the Queen and the way she identifies herself with the survival and the safety of her people. The second medal is really rather
different, this is gold, it’s also designed by Nicholas Hilliard, the great miniaturist and medalist, and judging by the style of her dress it’s probably
from around 1570 to 80 and here, the exquisitely chased gold portrait, has been cut out to form a silhouette and every detail of the Queen’s dress is lovingly picked out and chased and worked in the gold to give different
subtle differences of texture. So you see her extraordinarily large velvet sleeves the way her corset pushes her breasts up
‘neath her lawn chemise the wonderful ruffles of her stiff lace collar and the beautiful braiding of her hair also the smoothness and sharp profiling of her face. Around her is a beautiful enameled gold frame with entwined roses, white and red. The Roses of York and Lancaster, the Tudor roses and those are symbolic of the unity that her grandfather Henry the seventh
brought to England with the Tudor dynasty, after a century of Civil War. When you turn it over, against the profile of the Queen
on the back is the open crown of the Tudors and beneath that the monogram of the Queen which spells out every letter in her name but the most beautiful detail of all is the
Phoenix fluttering sensuously out of the flames. The Phoenix was a legendary female creature that had the capacity to regenerate itself it would periodically burst into flames and then regenerate itself out of its own ashes but the Phoenix was also associated with chastity and that was a real problem because Elizabeth apart from being a female ruler which was considered a great disadvantage at the time was also unmarried and didn’t have a natural successor. But she made a great strength out of her virginity in fact she claims she was in some way mystically married to her subjects and that reigning with their loves as she called it was more precious to her than the most precious jewel. We then have three really interesting jewels, fashion accessories made out of
miniature portraits of the Queen. These are engraved into onyx, which is a stone which has many different horizontal
layers within it ranging from whites on the uppermost layer to brown black in the lower most layer it’s almost as if you were bringing out the portrait of the Queen that’s somehow hidden within the stone. So there’s something rather miraculous going on
with these miniature portraits. This one, the smallest one, has been fashioned into a ring, a very, very beautiful gold ring of the late 16th century and so it’s an obviously intended to be worn at court or by a courtier as this is something that has been given by the Queen as a token of favour. We know from John Evelyn’s diary in 1654 that he met one of Elizabeth the first’s court musicians a man called Jerome Lanier and that Jerome Lanier was then wearing a ring just like this one still remembering and celebrating Elizabeth 50 years after her death. And I think that gives you an idea of the power of these images however small they may seem to us. So what we can see at work here is a queen who’s very aware of the importance of manipulating her own image as a female ruler in a man’s world. Like Shakespeare the great playwright of her age she knew that ‘all the world’s a
stage’ in fact she actually said that she was very well aware that rulers particularly were continually performing and in the eyes of their public. And that’s I think one thing that makes these jewels so moving they are power tools but they’re also very intimate and they’re intended to build a personal relationship between you and the Queen. If you’d like to come and see these jewels for yourself they’re normally displayed in gallery 46 Europe 15th to 18th centuries

45 comments / Add your comment below

  1. If you'd like to find out more about the portraiture and propaganda of Elizabeth I, Dora has written a blog that goes into a lot more detail. Find it here:http://blog.britishmuseum.org/her-majestys-picture-circulating-a-likeness-of-elizabeth-i/

  2. I feel Nicholas Hilliard is greatly underappreciated by the general public, that gold medal is utterly spectacular in every detail. I always see his work as carrying a sense of romanticism that seems to carry the spirit of the age.

  3. I thought Queen Elizabeth left a lot of her soldiers to die after the armada in order to save the expense of having to pay them. I'm surprised to see the ships used as part of propaganda as the common people likely felt betrayed after such events.

  4. Just watching this, I'm starting to truly admire Elizabeth. Then again, being Belgian and having to live under the influence of (give or take) six governments and six parliaments, I suppose absolute monarchy will always look somewhat charming.

  5. It's easy enough to prove that Elizabeth I never married. Prove her a virgin? Far more difficult. She could do as she pleased with the love of her life Robert Dudley and which household servant would ever report on the fact? The only downside would be pregnancy, and I'm sure Elizabeth I had means to manage that complication.

  6. i heard, no sucker in the world is richer.

    english sucked the wealth of india and other colonies, so indeed british were the richest sucker.

  7. What struck me right away about the monogram of Elizabeth’s name on the reverse of the gold pendant by Hilliard was the first letters you notice are EAB. While the arrangement might be coincidence or even necessary to produce all the letters in Elizabeth’s name, it’s hard not to think it was also a deliberate nod to her mother, Anne Boleyn. This would be exactly the type of way Elizabeth would acknowledge and commemorate her memory… covertly on the back of a jewel. I can think of two other instances when Elizabeth did so… the ‘A’ pendant she wears as a child in the ‘Family of Henry VIII’ painting and the ring she wore with both her’s and her mother’s portrait hidden under the stone and visible only when a hinge is opened. Elizabeth knew publicly supporting/celebrating Anne’s memory would be unpopular and could bring into question her legitimacy as queen, but clearly she must have believed her innocent and somehow was proud of her.

  8. Dora needs to do more videos! So easy to listen to and clearly explained information (also my favourite era of history)

  9. Fascinating pieces rich with symbolism and accompanied by equally interesting anecdotes. In a time filled with intrigue and convoluted politics, it does seem a little nonchalant to view Elizabeth merely as a survivor of schemes.

  10. Thieves! Return these to their country of origin IMMEDIATELY! *
    Oh, wait…never mind.

    *(since most videos about BM exhibits contain at least one of these comments, I figured this one was lacking). 😉

  11. Elizabeth 1, had as many Catholics killed, as her sister, Marry, had Protestants killed. Marry is remembered as Bloody Marry. Elizabeth should be as remembered – Bloody Elizabeth. Both were bloodthirsty. Just like their father.

  12. Thank You, Dora, for bringing these to my knowledge. Elizabeth I with Elizabeth II are my favourite Monarchs, so this was a great pleaser to me. Anything ERI I LOVE. Thank you!

  13. Under what conditions did these pieces of jewelry come into the British Museum's hands?
    Under what conditions were those specific pieces given? Was it under the condition(s) of 'thanks' for jobs well done…in recognition or celebration of certain specific events associated with each piece? Do you know the exact provenance of the pieces besides the obvious that they once belonged to HM QE1?

  14. The royals are all pedivores. Its a fact. They wont be able to hide anymore … andy with epstien .. . Charles with savell!! Sickos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *