An analytical perspective on the ‘Armada Portrait’

Painted in 1588, the magnificent Armada Portrait is illustrative of the devastating or triumphant events of the same year, depending on the side you were on. Queen Elizabeth I was victorious in fighting off the Spanish Catholic threat. A threat that was openly supported by Pope Sixtus V and led by the powerful King of Spain, Philip II.

Elizabeth is portrayed as a heroic warrior, illustrated through the paintings of the jubilant happenings within the naval war in the portrait, providing a dramatic insight of another place and time. 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 that her hand is firmly placed over a globe illuminates her unlimited power over nations, especially over the Americas (the country her hand is touching). It was at this time that she was colonising the Americas with the help of her close adviser 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 on her lower abdominal area emphasises her sexual innocence and highlights her supreme power without depending on a man. This gives complete contrast to traditional views of women and their portrayal 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 two main ways. It could firstly 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. Green is interestingly used, as it is known to portray fertility and the nature of Elizabeth’s life goes against this theory. However, it could be argued that green represents the fertility of her kingdom and her success, causing her to be a great monarch. Furthermore, it could show the safety Elizabeth created for England by winning the war against Spain and the enemy Church. Lastly, similar to fertility, it could represent the wealth of her country, linking to the gains she was receiving in her colonies.

This painting symbolises the exceeding amount of power Elizabeth gained as a result of winning against a force that had been an increasing threat throughout the whole of her reign. The 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 Tilbury supports this view. Elizabeth was a miraculous monarch who defended her country in a sophisticated and patriotic style.

Ellie Lavender


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