Queen Elizabeth's Public Face

Tarnya Cooper looks at the wider iconography of Elizabeth, and how this evolved during her reign.


Goe litel book I envy not thy lott, Though thou shalt go where I myself can not.

Manningham’s words seem to envisage a future for his diary beyond his own mortal life. The concept of passing time is, of course, fundamental to all forms of historical record, whether personal memoir, official charter or portraiture.

Portraits of a monarch, however, did not abide by the conventions that applied to portraits of private citizens. The royal portrait did not strive to perform the role of carefully observed presence – to record the features of the sitter for posterity – but aimed to reflect a perfected emblem of that presence during the monarch’s lifetime. Images of Elizabeth acted as idealised symbols of embodied statehood and just, God-given order. In this respect, royal portraits had more in common with images of religious deities, as they needed to be depicted as distinctively monarch-like, rather than wholly individualistic.

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