Speaking Stitches, Laughing Flowers: an Emblematic Reinterpretation of the ‘Rainbow’ Portrait of Elizabeth I

Abstract
The imagery of the ‘Rainbow’ Portrait of Elizabeth I which hangs at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire has been the subject of numerous academic investigations. However, few have addressed in satisfactory depth the many emblematic references that appear in the painting. Additionally, little research has been done to interpret the painting through an understanding of the material properties of the objects and clothing which it depicts. Through an interdisciplinary investigation this dissertation draws on evidence from Cesare Ripa’s emblem collection, the Iconologia (first published in 1593), combined with an examination of the Bacton Altar Cloth embroidery, c. 1590 -1600, currently being conserved [at the time of writing] by Historic Royal Palaces, supported by analysis of contextual source materials including John Gerard’s The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes and other ‘herbal’ texts, a selection of contemporary portraits, and poetry and theatrical dialogues from John Davies and William Shakespeare, to reveal a number of previously undiscussed visual references in the ‘Rainbow’ Portrait. These findings serve to aid our understanding of this enigmatic painting, and the intentions of its probable commissioner: Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.

Click below to download a PDF copy of Speaking Stitches, Laughing Flowers: an Emblematic Reinterpretation of the Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I, an MA by Research dissertation by Natalie Bramwell-Booth awarded by the University of Hertfordshire in 2019.