‘Elizabeth & Her People’ At The National Portrait Gallery

A proud insight into the prosperous  England of Queen Elizabeth I

How did  Elizabethan’s society look like? And what were its most important achievements in social and economic fields ? These are the questions of the art curators of Elizabeth & Her People, a stunning exhibition which opens tomorrow at the Londoner National Portrait Gallery.

001 QE-Procession Portrait

The Procession Portrait of Queen Elizabeth Unknown Anglo- Netherlandish artist , c.1600 -03 © Sherborne Castle , Dorset

The main purpose of the organizers is to give a comprehensive and deep as possible insight into the historical period, taking into account all the social classes . The long-lived reign of Elizabeth I, which lasted for over forty years,  marked an era of prosperity and growth for England in 1500 and with the advent of the first Stock Exchange, the Anglican Church and the development of trade is considered a key period for the growth of the UK. Built around the concept of social mobility , the idea of putting skills before noble origins, the reign of Elizabeth I, thanks to the remarkable economic development and merchant , marked the birth and rise of social self-made man , character who appears in varied portraits of the exhibition.

Butchers , poets, writers , blacksmiths, merchants became part of the portraiture of the period , starting  an unprecedented ‘ gentrification ‘. The entire exhibition is thought and built on the economic and cultural fervor of the time of Elizabeth I. Visitors will be able to explore four themed rooms , each dedicated to a different social class , respectively nobility , ‘professionals ‘ , writers and artists and poorer class of ‘ working people ‘ and ‘ poor ‘ .

The first room displays  a huge portrait of the Queen Elizabeth I, wearing a black velvet dress with elegant inlaid gold and cerulean blue ruff . The dress worn by the Queen ‘s emblem of grandeur , decorated with flowers , fantastic creatures , marine and terrestrial , and completed with a large pendant pearl ( symbol of purity ) which emphasizes the virginity of the queen.


Queen Elizabeth I , The ‘ Ermine ‘ Portrait Attributed to Nicholas Hilliard, 1585

Reproduced by permission of the Marquess of Salisbury, Hatfield House

Despite the historical documents of the time reported several love affair of the Queen, including the famous pirate Francis Drake and British poet Sir Walter Raleigh. In his portrait, located in the second room of the exhibition, a small half- moon reflecting on sea is painted which metaphorically represents  Sir Raleigh’s will  to be controlled by the Queen just like the moon controls the tides. Elizabeth I is said to be linked with moon goddess Cynthia and historians claim that the ” newly -revealed water” refers to the explorer using the same play on words : ” Walter / Water” . In fact Sir Walter wrote a series of poems for her majesty the Queen , who was under the pseudonym of Cynthia. This  delicious section of the exhibition is dedicated to artists and poets and includes also a portrait of the famous English poet John Donne with ‘love sickness’.

The NPG art curator Tarnya Cooper succeeded in telling us the age of Elizabeth I by a new narrative perspective including Elizabethan soldiers, butchers , businessmen and women as well as writers and poets of the time. The neophyte visitor will also appreciate the cabinets displaying a wide range of objects of the time, which partially flatten the noble purposes of the retrospective.

Undoubtedly a very British exhibition.  A true and genuine embodiment of endless love for United Kingdom, with a fresh eye on modern history and its main remarkable achievements.

Giuliana Patrone

General Information

Elizabeth & Her People
10 Oct 2013 – 5 January 2014
National Portrait Gallery – London
Admission: £ 13.50
Hours: Monday , Tuesday, Wednesday , Saturday, Sunday from 10 am to 6
Thursday and Friday from 10 am to 9
+44 0207 3060055
Exhibition curator : Tarnya Cooper
For more information click here :

(photographs courtesy of NPG press office)


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