Queen Elizabeth I - a fashion icon in her own time.
Throughout her 44 year reign Queen Elizabeth I embraced the symbolic power of costume, constructing an image of steadfast supremacy and God-given authority. Her love of fashion was well known; in 1587 she received over 80 pieces of jewellery as New Year’s gifts, and at the time of her death she was said to own over 2,000 dresses. The iconic Rainbow Portrait is one of the last and most dazzling images of the Queen, and is crammed with intriguing iconography. Holding a rainbow, a symbol of peace, the flame haired Virgin Queen is adorned in an elaborately detailed gown that features wild flowers and a jewelled serpent - a sign of wisdom - holding a heart-shaped ruby to denote that she alone controls the passions of her heart. Perhaps most enigmatic of all are the ears and eyes that line her orange cloak, a strange, surreal motif that demonstrates her all-seeing, all-knowing presence and her worldwide fame.
Go and see The Rainbow Portrait for yourself at Jacobean Hatfield House, Hertfordshire.
Portraits of Elizabeth I abound in London: try the National Portrait Gallery or Royal Museums Greenwich.
Words by Annabel Matterson. The Iris Letter January 2017.