A queen locked in a struggle of being a single woman and the sole ruler of her kingdom must create the image that would help lead her divided country to a golden age. This image must comfort her people while showing strength and perseverance to her enemies who would try to take the throne from her. Elizabeth I worked hard with artists, poets, playwrights, and musicians to create the almost mythological image of “Gloriana,” the virgin goddess. Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke explore how this image was created throughout Elizabeth’s reign in their latest book, “Gloriana: Elizabeth I and the Art of Queenship.”
When you first see the title of this book, you would assume that it will be yet another biography with art sprinkled in. You would be wrong. This book focuses solely on the different forms of artwork that built the Gloriana persona over the decades of Elizabeth I’s reign and how we perceive the pieces of art centuries later. Each section of this book discusses a particular aspect of Elizabeth’s reign while examining how art changed with a different artist or courtier highlighted, alongside portraits and miniatures thoroughly inspected for the symbolism hidden in plain sight.
I love examining Tudor-era artwork on my own to try and crack the code behind the symbols they chose to use, especially Elizabethan portraits, particularly The Rainbow Portrait. Collins and Clarke’s examination of the symbolism in each portrait and miniature, including dendrochronology to determine when paintings might have been painted, was captivating and enlightening. It reminded me of a history class I took in college about art history, which I have fond memories of learning about how art changed up to the Renaissance. I found it equally fascinating that they chose to highlight the life of Nicholas Hilliard, who does not get enough attention as a Tudor artist compared to Hans Holbein the Younger.
However, Collins and Clarke examine more than just the typical portraits, paintings, and miniatures. The myth of Gloriana would not have survived without poets, musicians, and playwrights, like Edmund Spenser, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and William Shakespeare. It was a multi-faceted effort to promote the Elizabethan propaganda that allowed Elizabeth not only to survive but for England to thrive.
“Gloriana: Elizabeth I and the Art of Queenship” by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke is a delightful book for any Tudor or art nerd in your life; informative, educational, and easy to read. Each page will give you a better understanding of Elizabeth I’s reign, her propaganda, and the myth of Gloriana.