16th century propaganda is something I found particularly fascinating when looking at Tudor portraits as the number and complexity of different symbols used in the paintings is incredible, particularly in portraits of Elizabeth I. It is clear that through paintings of herself, Elizabeth wanted to portray certain characteristics and ideas to her people.

Tudor Rose from The Pelican Portrait 1572The Tudor Rose
The Tudor emblem is incorporated into many of Elizabeth’s portraits, in order to emphasise her right to the throne and her place in the line of Tudor monarchs.

Sword from The Ermine Portrait 1585The Sword
In the Ermine Portrait, Elizabeth is depicted with a sword lying by her arm to give the impression that, although she rules peacefully, she is prepared to defend her realm at all costs.

Sieve from The Sieve Portrait 1583The Sieve
This is a symbol for virginity, deriving from the Ancient Roman story of the Vestal Tuccia, who carried water in a sieve to prove she was chaste.

Vesta, if I have always brought pure hands to your secret services, make it so now that with this sieve I shall be able to draw water from the Tiber and bring it to Your temple

Serpent from The Rainbow Portrait 1603The Serpent
A Serpent is embroidered on Elizabeth’s sleeve in the Rainbow Portrait, with a heart-shaped ruby in its mouth. The serpent is thought to represent wisdom and the ruby Elizabeth’s heart, implying that the Queen’s wisdom controls her emotions.

Rose from The Pheonix Portrait 1572The Thornless Rose
Roses are depicted in many of her portraits, particularly here in the Pheonix Portrait. This symbol is associated with the Virgin Mary, implying that Elizabeth, as a virgin queen, was married to England, as Mary was married to the Church.

Rainbow from The Rainbow Portrait 1603The Rainbow
Rainbows were meant to symbolise peace, with the old Latin Motto, ‘Non Sine Sole Iris’: ‘no rainbow without the sun’

Book from Elizabeth as Princess 1546-7The Book
This image was included in the portrait of Elizabeth aged only fourteen and the portrait was sent to her brother King Edward VI as a gift. The image of her finger marking the page of the small book demonstrates her pious protestantism, which must have pleased her brother.

‘For the face, I grant, I might well blush to offer, but the mind I shall never be ashamed to present. ….when you shall look on my picture you will witsafe to think that as you have but the outward shadow of the body before you, so my inward mind wisheth that the body itself were oftener in your presence.’

Eyes and ears from The Rainbow Portrait 1603Eyes and Ears
The eyes and ears painted into the fabric of Elizabeth’s dress in the Rainbow Portrait clearly imply a sense of
omniscience; as queen, she was able to hear and see all. The addition is thought to refer to Hymns to Astraea by Sir John Davis.

Ermine from The Ermine Portrait 1585The Ermine
This symbol emphasises Elizabeth’s purity and virtue as the ermine was thought to be willing to die to save its pure white coat as the queen was willing to die to protect her country and her chastity.