An analytical perspective on the ‘Armada Portrait’

Painted in 1588, the Armada Portrait sums up the devastating or triumphant events of the same year, depending on the view you take. Elizabeth I successfully fought off the Spanish Catholic threat that was openly supported by Pope Sixtus V and led by King Philip II.

The Queen herself is portrayed as a heroic warrior, which is illustrated through the paintings of the jubilant happenings within the naval war within the portrait, giving a dramatic insight of another place and time in the painting. Elizabeth’s face is cold and strong, giving the essence of her power, authority and representing her undefeated throne. It may have even acted as an instrument of humiliation for the defeated party. The fact her hand is firmly placed over a globe illuminates her unlimited power over nations, especially over the Americas which is the country her hand is touching. At this time, she was colonising the Americas with the help of her close advisor Francis Drake, later made Sir. The crown very visibly placed behind her reminds the audience of her status and position, thereby stressing the obedience required of them.

The wearing of multiple bows, especially one placed on her lower abdominal area emphasises her sexual innocence and highlights the fact she had supreme power without depending at all on a male partner. This gives a complete contrast to traditional views of women and they way they were portrayed in earlier paintings. It has been noted that the mermaid carving symbolises the destructive nature of women, and the fact Elizabeth has her back to it illustrates her going against this perspective. (Clare from ‘The Elizabeth Files).

The use of red can be interpreted in many different ways. Firstly, it could represent the lust over the Queen that men may have experienced, and her virginity causing her to be more attractive. On the other hand, it could symbolise the danger she presented to her enemies, as she had just defeated a great nation and opposing religion, which is the final interpretation of this colour. Green is interestingly used, as it is known to portray fertility and the nature of Elizabeth’s personal life goes against this theory. However, it could be argued that green represents the fertility of her kingdom and the successes she was making, causing her to be a great monarch. Furthermore, it could show the safety Elizabeth created for England by winning the war against Spain and Catholicism. Lastly, similar to fertility, it could represent the wealth of her country, which links to the gains she was receiving in her colonies.

To me, this painting symbolises the exceeding amount of power Elizabeth gained as a result of her winning against a force that had been an increasing threat throughout the whole of her reign. This painting would have marked a celebration of her braveness and courage at a time of crisis, as well as her ability to act as a king in war; her speech to her troops at Tilsbury supports this greatly. Elizabeth should still be seen as a miraculous monarch that defended her country in a sophisticated and patriotic style.

Ellie Lavender

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