Elisabeth ire

Elisabeth i<sup>re</sup>

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Title: Elisabeth itime (1533-1603), Queen of England and Ireland.

Author : HEALY George Peter Alexander (1813 - 1894)

Creation date : 1844

Date shown: between December 1602 and March 1603 [?]

Dimensions: Height 128 cm - Width 99.5 cm

Technique and other indications: oil on canvas, copied after Marcus GHEERAERTS the Younger (circa 1561-1636)

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Picture reference: 08-517324 / MV4116

Elisabeth itime (1533-1603), Queen of England and Ireland.

© RMN - Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: April 2015

Professor of modern history, Université Lyon 2 - Member of the Religions, Societies and Acculturation team

Historical context

The most mysterious of the portraits of the Virgin Queen

American portrait painter George Healy made a copy of the famous Rainbow portrait (The Rainbow Portrait). It is kept at Hatfield House, the magnificent residence built at the beginning of the 17th century.e century by Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury, who was secretary of state to Elizabeth and then to his successor James Ier.

This work has been attributed to Isaac Oliver, a pupil of Nicholas Hilliard, or more surely to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, a Flemish artist living in England. The latter met with great success with the aristocracy in the 1590s and the early years of the 17th century.e century. He notably made full-length portraits, which was new in England at that time.

Daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Elisabeth came to power in 1558. She died in March 1603, never having been married.

Minister Cecil is probably the sponsor of this work. The depiction of eyes and ears on the royal costume has been interpreted as a reference to her role as an intelligence agent in the Queen's service.

Image Analysis

"No rainbow without sun"

The queen appears in a very elaborate costume, holding in her hand a rainbow above which is readable the Latin motto Non sine sole iris, which means "No rainbow without sun". The body of the dress is embroidered with spring flowers: roses, pansies, primroses, honeysuckle. The large lace collar forms a sort of solar halo behind the queen's flamboyant red curly hair, which is also perfectly solar. Over the incredibly sophisticated hairstyle is a crown made of pearls and gemstones, topped with a crescent moon.

On the left sleeve is visible a long green serpent studded with precious stones holding a ruby ​​in its mouth and crowned with a celestial sphere. Eyes and ears appear against the orange background of the silk mantle covering the queen's left shoulder and upper legs. They could represent the queen's omniscient character and political intelligence, in accordance with Cesare Ripa's description of the ragione di Stato (reason of state) in his Iconologia (edition of 1603).


Queen of the Golden Age

Elisabeth was represented on numerous occasions during her reign. The image serves to legitimize his position at the head of the monarchy. Her virginal condition is exalted, and the many pearls she wears in this portrait, like the crescent moon, proclaim it. The queen, wise and virtuous, knew how to master her passions, as indicated by the serpent, symbol of wisdom and prudence, and the ruby ​​she holds, symbol of the sovereign's heart.

Elizabeth appears here as an ever-young woman, who ensures justice and prosperity for her kingdom. After the trials she went through, England found peace, represented by the rainbow, which is also the image of the covenant with God.

The queen is identified with Astrea, daughter of Jupiter and Themis, goddess of the Golden Age, this time described by Ovid at the beginning of his Metamorphosis like an eternal spring where the earth, always fertile, easily nourished virtuous and just men. It is possible that the "program" of this portrait is due to Sir John Davies, who in 1599 published Hymns to Astrée. A big party organized by Cecil in 1602 also used the myth of Astrea to flatter the sovereign.

  • Catholicism
  • Protestantism
  • conspiracy
  • official portrait
  • United Kingdom
  • alliance policy


COTTRET Bernard, Royalty in the Feminine: Élisabeth Ire, Paris, Fayard, 2009.ERLER Mary C., “Sir John Davies and the Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth”, Modern Philology, flight. 84, no 4, 1987, p. 359-371.FISCHLIN Daniel, “Political Allegory, Absolutist Ideology, and the“ Rainbow Portrait ”of Queen Elizabeth I”, Renaissance Quarterly, flight. 50, no 1, 1997, p. 175-206.GRAZIANI René, “The“ Rainbow Portrait ”of Queen Elizabeth and its Religious Symbolism”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, flight. 35, 1972, p. 247-259.

To cite this article

Nicolas LE ROUX, "Élisabeth Ire »

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