Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Coolest Old English People Ever

September 3, 2010 · No Comments

For a former empire, the British sure do like to only acknowledge the wealthy white people who inhabit this relatively small island.  The National Portrait Gallery was wall to wall dignified important white people.  For the most part I did not come across images of other ethnicity or socio-economic class.  Everywhere I turned I saw another sleepy-eyed English man or woman gazing down on me.  While this lack of diversity was a little distressing (where was Gandhi!?  He was a great subject of the British Empire!), once I got past this I loved every second of the National Portrait Gallery.

Image taken from Wikipedia

I encountered my favorite painting early on — a magnificent portrait of Elizabeth I (1535-1603) by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger from 1592.  This image of Elizabeth standing atop the world was a beautiful example of Elizabethan portraits.  The Latin inscriptions (translated as “she gives and does not expect,” “she can but does not take vengeance,” and “in giving back she increases”) were fantastic examples of typical courtly sucking-up.  I enjoyed these phrases in particular because Elizabeth was not known for her patience, humility, or charity.  These stock sayings speak more to the traditions of the Early Modern Era than the character traits of this Tudor monarch.  The other aspect of this portrait that caught my attention was her dress.  This style of gown, a trademark of the later part of Elizabeth’s reign, is frequently referenced in modern culture, for example, the Fairy Queen in the last act of the Merry Wives of Windsor that we saw a few nights ago wore a replica of the gown in this portrait.  That this style, which appeared very late in her reign, has become a byword for Elizabethan fashion seized my attention.  I had not realized that by the time this portrait was painted, Elizabeth was old and no longer appeared like the young flawless beauty seen in this portrait:  instead of porcelain skin she was pock-marked, instead of brilliant red-hair she was going gray.  I found this distortion of truth, particularly highlighted by the exhibit itself (this portrait appeared at the end of a series illustrating Elizabeth through her lifetime), fascinating.  All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the past at the National Portrait Gallery.

Categories: 2010 Amy · Museums

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below..

You must log in to post a comment.