Sunday, December 30, 2012

Flattery and Fear Create a Stunning Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I c.1575

This is my new third-favorite portrait of Elizabeth I.  It's by Nicholas Hilliard and a good example of his skills, including flattery.  The miniature depicts Elizabeth with spiderweb veil at age 42 and lookin' damn good.  Much better, for instance, than in this rather manly portrait of her holding a coiled serpent to her breast and needing a shave.  Elizabeth famously instructed Hilliard, her court painter, to leave out the shadows, by which she meant paint me pretty or I will behead you.  And Hilliard did.  Not just with Elizabeth but with other nobles.  Hilliard was so afraid of being beheaded he painted everybody beautiful, except of course the poor and powerless.

The above miniature of Elizabeth recently sold alongside a matching portrait of her dank lover Robert Dudley, the man with whom she shared adjoining quarters.  Now don't get any ideas about them having had sex because we know for a fact Elizabeth died a virgin, and it is treasonous for somebody like Camilla Lombardi, Head of the Portrait Miniature Department at Bonham's, to insinuate otherwise by sayings things like: "The intense personal nature of these miniatures, gives you a clear sense of the passionate woman behind the carefully cultivated public image."

That is absurd.  Elizabeth's only passion was ruling England, her true husband.

During Hilliard's day the portrait miniature was considered one of the most exalted of art forms.  Sometimes Hilliard even dabbed his stoat-toothed tools in liquified silver, which, as you can see, blackens over time.  Note the black jewels evident in Elizabeth's hair and necklace.  Also note the beautiful spiderweb veil, very bride-like, and virginal.

Related links. Here's a link to a well written article about the above miniature and its recent sale.  And a link to my favorite portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.  And finally a link to a brilliantly written post entitled Nicholas Hilliard and the Armada Perm.

Bonus link: Is This Portrait of England's King John Actually William Shakespeare? 

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