Political  Allegory,  Absolutist  Ideology,  and
the "Rainbow Portrait" of Queen Elizabeth I

Fischlin, Daniel
Renaissance Quarterly. New York: Spring 1997. Vol. 50, Iss. 1;  pg. 175, 32 pgs
Abstract (Article Summary)

Fischlin comments on the well-known "Rainbow Portrait" of Queen Elizabeth I. He argues that there is strong evidence to support a reading of the portrait as primarily a political allegory, one whose religious dimensions underpin an iconographic representation of sovereign self-investiture.

Full Text (12280   words)

Copyright Renaissance Society of America Spring 1997

IT IS SOMEWHAT SURPRISING, given the nature of royal investment in various forms of political and religious iconography associated with Renaissance portraiture, that the well-known "Rainbow Portrait" (c.1600-03; fig. 1) of Queen Elizabeth I, held by Robert Cecil, Lord of Salisbury at Hatfield House, but of unknown provenance,l has not received sufficient attention to its political allegories. Much has been made of the religious symbolism associated with the portrait, especially by Rene Graziani, who argues, for example, that "Elizabeth wears the gauntlet on her ruff in right of her title, Fidei Defensor, official champion of the Christian religion" (255),2 and that the hair style of the Queen with its "Thessalonian bride allusion. . . [contributes] to the sponsa Dei theme" (259).3 No doubt conventional religious symbols are at work in the portrait, but I would argue that there is strong evidence to support a reading of the portrait as primarily a political allegory, one whose religious dimensions underpin an iconographic representation of sovereign self-investiture. Graziani's conclusion that the "'Rainbow' portrait keeps a fine balance between what belongs to the queen as a great Christian sovereign on the one hand and on the other the confession of utter dependence on God" (259) needs reevaluation, especially in terms of the so called "utter dependence on God" that the portrait putatively manifests.

Roy Strong's suggestion that the portrait is "above all a composite portrait which has, like the 'Sieve' portraits, to be read as a series of separate emblems as well as collectively" (1987, 158) emphasizes less the religious aspects while underscoring the disparate elements of the symbolism. This despite his general assertion that Renaissance state portraits are meant "not to portray an individual as such, but to invoke through that person's image the abstract principles of their rule" (1987, 36). Strong hints at possible political readings of Elizabethan portraiture when he suggests that images of Elizabeth "produced after 1580 must have reinforced the concept of the monarch as a being sacred and set apart, whose very jewels embodied the glory and riches of the kingdom" (1987, 36). After a brief summary of Mannerist treatises on painting by Ludovico Dolce and Paolo Lomazzo, Strong concludes that "for the Renaissance neo-platonist the portrait painter was concerned with the ruler . . . as the embodiment of the 'Idea' of kingship" (1987, 37). Surprisingly, Strong does not elaborate on these views in his reading of the "Rainbow" portrait. Instead, he focuses on the diverse elements of its symbolism, ranging from representations of the Pax Elizabethae, to conventional representations of the Queen's virtues of wisdom and prudence, to symbolism associated with the "springtime renovatio of the golden age" (1987, 160), all of which suggest a diffuse and rather cliched political symbolism at work.

A via media exists between Graziani's and Strong's authoritative readings, which I wish to develop in this essay. A number of features in the portrait combine to form a forceful, political allegory that is presented within a complex skein of allusions, not all to be read in terms of traditional iconography. Strong in fact notes that if the portrait is attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts, "it would have to be placed among his most adventurous compositions" (1987, 161), suggesting that the resonances of the portrait, whoever drew up its program,4 may not have been wholly within the interpretive traditions of Elizabethan portraiture.


The portrait, no doubt, is a hybrid-aesthetic, religious, literary, and so forth-but it is a hybrid designed in such a way as to occlude the overt political significations that would have undermined it as political representation. The very fact that commentators have missed or ignored the political symbolism at work in the portrait indicates either that it is so obvious as not to warrant mention, or that it is so cleverly concealed as to be virtually unnoticeable. If the latter option is indeed correct, then the highly accomplished technical features of the painting may well serve to distract viewers from the cryptic and dissimulative artifices that are the keys to the portrait's allegorical dimensions. Those dimensions include the political insofar as the portrait comments on monarchic governance in the anxious, historical contexts of a sovereign who, without direct heirs, was near the end of a reign in which some measure of political stability, however illusory, had been achieved. Though commentators have averted their eyes from the political dimension, preferring instead to reflect on the general structure of the portrait,5 it seems clear that the portrait intends a political allegory, however concealed, that comments on the dimensions of the absolute ideology it enacts. But what evidence can be brought to bear on such an argument?

First is the obvious misrepresentation and distortion of the aged Queen's body and face that the portrait constructs. Strong has noted the "use of the established Mask of Youth image of the Queen" (1987, 161), an allegorical representation of dissimulation in which the monarchic presence is invested with supranatural powers over corporeal disintegration, thus confirming her association with an ex illo tempore world. Susan Frye observes, in this last regard, that

Although Elizabeth frequently admitted the consequences of her aging, her iconographic response to the fear of premature burial was to claim herself ageless. The inherent claim was that her active virtue, so often particularized as her virginity or chastity, protected Elizabeth from the aging process, helping preserve her metaphoric fertility in the guise of a continuing physical fertility. Her represented denial of old age was an assertion of her political viability, an attempt to transcend her society's tendency to disparage and ignore any woman past childbearing age - without, however, challenging that prejudice. As usual, Elizabeth's selfrepresentation made no claim for women as a whole, but, rather, sought to distance her from normative constructions of the feminine. (100-01)6

Hence, political viability, the capacity to sustain the illusion of sovereignty, entails for Elizabeth the assertion of a position outside orthodoxies relating to the representation of feminine aging. Sovereignty, in the curious logic of iconic representations of the Mask of Youth, denies the norm even as it seeks to perpetuate the norm against which the sovereign is defined and without which he or she would not have hierarchical place. Mary E. Hazard writes that "the appearance of the Queen under the Mask of Youth or Beauty [in the Rainbow portrait] constitutes an iconic representation of the legal fiction of the monarch's two bodies .... If the king never dies, by the same logic, the queen never ages: the body of the monarch lives in a perpetual present" (79). The fiction of a "perpetual present," outside the normative conception of time, was a significant dimension of iconic representations of absolute power, the icon itself having extra-temporal resonances that were useful in the construction of illusory images of absolute power. To subject the sovereign to time was to undermine the symbolic fiction of absolutist practice as occurring in an ex illo tempore, divine dimension from which it gained its putative authority.

But such an ex illo tempore world is not wholly spiritual or Godly. Rather, such a world revokes the viewer of the portrait to the powers of mimesis itself, the mimetic achievement of the portrait being its capacity to rewrite the realities of corporeal function. Such a rewriting, by way of what is in effect a form of anti-mimesis, has political consequences. The "reader" of the portrait is thereby ensnared in the following knot: on the one hand, the portrait is obviously a distorted version of an elderly woman in her late sixties; on the other hand, the willful distortion enhances the force of mimesis in its ability to rescript reality. The latter is clearly what underlies the metaphysical dimensions of the absolute monarch, who is absolute only insofar as he or she is capable of sustaining the fiction of that absoluteness through the distortive, anti-mimetic techniques of literary, iconographical, and public representations of his or her body, his or her will. Thus, the very premises of the portrait ensure that the covert political foundations of absolutist ideology engage the viewer much in the same way that the words Elizabeth is said to have spoken to her troops prior to the Armada enable the potent association between the literal and figural body of the monarch: "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too" (cited in Montrose, 315).7

The ineluctable political logic underlying the portrait is that the Queen possesses unseen powers over all acts of representation, powers that fly in the face of even the most egregious distortions of reality relating to her body and what it represents.

A second element of the portrait that has not received much commentary is the Queen's cloak, with its eerie depiction of eyes and ears facing out toward the viewer. Strong associates these with verses from Henry Peacham's Minerva Britanna (1612), in which a similar cloak is worn by Ragione di Stato (Reason of State) in imitation of an emblem from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia (Rome, 1593): "Be seru'd with eies, and listening eares of those / Who can from all partes giue intelligence / To gall his foe, or timely to prevent / At home his malice, and intendiment." Strong continues on to say that "Peacham is using the ears and eyes in the same way that John Davies refers to the Queen's use of her servants . . . in his first entertainment in 1600: `many things she sees and hears through them, but the Judgement and Election are her own" (1987, 159). The point is well-taken, especially in the context of James VI and I's similar comments in the second book of Basilikon Doron (1597): "And shortly, follow good king Davids counsell in the choice of your seruants, by setting your eyes vpon the faithfull and vpright of the land to dwell with you" (168). Even more relevant, however, are comments James makes at the conclusion of book two of the Basilikon Doron, where he effectively states to Henry that his subjects, "by their hearing of your Lawes . . . [and] by their sight of your person, both their eyes and their eares, may leade and allure them to the loue of venue, and hatred of vice" (179). The political implications of love of virtue and hatred of vice are noteworthy, for it is precisely by encouraging such emotions that the monarch defines his or her subjects' subservient relations to the absolutist state, the moral standard against which all ideology is to be measured and regulated. James's advice, then, has not so much moral or didactic implications relating to the religious conduct of his subjects but rather to their political conduct. The king or queen signifies quite literally the embodiment of the laws and virtuous attributes that ensure the State's survival.

The eyes and ears evident in the "Rainbow" portrait, when read in such a context, do not signify fame, as Frances Yates has suggested in a reading discounted by Strong.8 Nor do they simply and univocally signify the Christian imagery that Graziani gives them by way of Matthew 13:16-17 ("Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear"). "In the portrait," Graziani argues, "we are to understand that the Queen wears this blessing like a cloak or mantle. She is one who has seen and heard, an exemplary Christian and someone specially favoured" (256). Though this may very well be the case it hardly tells the whole story, for it assumes that the pose of the exemplary Christian occurs only within a religious context, not the larger context in which such a pose had its obvious political uses.9 Elizabeth was a pragmatist, both political and religious, and kept her eye firmly on the secular dimensions of religious squabbling, going so far as to state in a letter to James that "I am of this religion, qui vadit plane, vadit sane" (168). Christian rhetoric was a conventional tool of political artifice for Elizabeth and the purely religious reading is too narrow an explanation of what the eyes and ears in the "Rainbow" portrait signify, especially within the context of Strong's argument regarding the portrait's composite symbolism. Instead the eyes and ears echo the watchful gaze of the Queen, proliferating that gaze and twinning it with the attentive ears that attend to the viewer's relation to the portrait. The symbolism, then, is closer to the Benthamian or Foucauldian panopticon10 than it is to the religious zealot blessed by divine intervention. The Queen watches and listens vigilantly, seeing from all perspectives, hearing in all directions, the image perhaps distantly echoing the motto seen on the globe that appears in Quentin Massys the Younger's Sieve Portrait: "Tutto vedo e molto mancha" [I see all and much is lacking]. Surprisingly Strong, who is an adept and sensitive reader, misses precisely this point in the emblematic poetry he cites from Peacham.ll The function of the eyes and ears is political service that gives "intelligence" that galls foes, preventing their malice and the achievement of their "intendiment." That Ragione di Stato is wearing such a garment in Peacham's emblem merely reinforces the garment's political context, one that is refracted in the portrait's political allegory.12

The closest readers of this portrait have gotten to such an observation is Francis M. Kelley's comment, cited by Graziani in a footnote, that "the coiled snake and ears and eyes suggest her ceaseless vigilance" (247, n. 4), and Frye's observation that the portrait "depicts an assemblage of iconographic elements that claim the queen's chaste body as the center of the Ptolemaic universe while wrapping her in a mantle whose open mouths, ears, and eyes form a disquieting suggestion of vaginal openings combined with a sense of governmental surveillance" (102-03).13 Frye does not develop her "suggestion of vaginal openings" nor their relation to government surveillance, if any at all. Reading the folds in the mantle as mouths - themselves a visual metonymy for the vagina - is extremely problematic with regard to the apparent logic of the portrait's representation of the "queen's chaste body." This problematic is further heightened by Strong's outright declaration that "the golden cloak is adorned with eyes and ears but not with mouths (eliminating the usual misreading of it as Fame)" (1985, 122).

Nonetheless, if the erotics of the portrait entail a contemporary reading of the mantle's folds as mouths or vaginas, the political dimension of the queen's erotic allure cannot be ignored. Joel Fineman, in a brief discussion of the Rainbow portrait's "fetishistic erotics," aligns those erotics with "an equally fetishistic principle of sovereign power" (228). Fineman is transfixed by the portrait, commenting that

what is genuinely mysterious and surprising about the Rainbow Portrait, especially if we assume this large picture was originally displayed at court, is the way the painting places an exceptionally pornographic ear over Queen Elizabeth's genitals, in the crease formed where the two folds of her dress fold over on each other, at the wrinkled conclusion of the arc projected by the dildo-like rainbow clasped so imperially by the Virgin Queen .... In reproduction, the vulva-like quality of the ear is perhaps not so readily apparent, but, enlarged and in florid color, the erotic quality of the image is really quite striking, as is the oddly colorless quality of the rainbow, a kind of dead rainbow. (228)

John M. Archer reads the folds as "tongues" (4), the shift from Frye's to Strong's to Fineman's to Archer's interpretation of the folds indicating the difficulty critics have had in attributing meaning to the fold, itself a particularly canny iconic representation of a sliding signifier.t4 The painting clearly eroticizes Elizabeth's body, whether or not one sees the portrait in the same way as Fineman, Frye, Archer, and Strong. The ambiguous folds, in combination with the vaguely phallic rainbow and the string of pearls looped suggestively round Elizabeth's genital area, image an erotic potential complicit with the sovereign vitality the portrait projects. Moreover, the capacity to transfix with both an erotics of ambiguity and an ambiguous erotics fortifies the absolutist dimensions of the portrait, for Elizabethan absolutism depended on precisely such an effect both to create its allure and veil its weaknesses. The power of erotic display is not easily separated from the representation of absolute power, as is demonstrated in, to cite but one of many examples, Holbein's depiction of Henry VIII sporting a prominent codpiece - a painting, incidentally, that was hung in the Privy Chamber at Whitehall, a place not without its potent political resonances.15 Furthermore, if the queen's left hand, with its index finger inserted in one of the mantle's folds has some sort of masturbatory significance, again if one accepts Frye's sexualized reading of the mantle's folds, then the painting seems to be asserting, however cunningly or ambiguously, the Queen's sexual aloofness, itself a metonymy for her political uniqueness.16 The portrait may slyly hint, however shocking such a suggestion may be, at the nature of the unmarried queen's autonomous sexual practices while also affirming the queen's political authority by virtue of the gaze she maintains and the intelligence she receives while touching herself. She is, quite literally, the "unmoved mover" (Belsey, 20) and the embodiment of her motto, semper eadem, the "always she" around whom political and sexual autonomy are gathered like the folds of her mantle. The effect is similar to what Mary E. Hazard describes in her analysis of the Hampton court portrait of Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses (monogrammist "HE"):

The objects of her gaze become subject to the queen even as her portrait is subject to the gaze of the viewer, and with similar paradoxical effect. Fixed as iconic subject, the image of the queen reciprocally acts upon a community of viewers, reminding them in turn of their status as political subjects, for dominance over the viewer is an implicit effect of icon, a conventional genre designed to evoke uncritical submission. In a very real sense, both the figures in the painting and the viewers without are objects beneath her regard. (64)

Furthermore, if the supposed rainbow that Elizabeth grasps in her right hand has any erotic significance related to masculine, or phallic, sexuality, the portrait further complicates its representation of the queen's sexuality. On the (literally) one hand, the queen holds the unusually shaped cylinder (as opposed to the more common, one-dimensional, flat representation) of the colorless rainbow. On the other hand, the queen fingers a fold whose visual ambiguousness parallels that of the rainbow's. Phallic representation is undercut by the more subtle visual and figurative resonances of the fold, which refuses to be read except in terms of its ambiguities as mediated by the centrality of Elizabeth as an emblem of empowered femininity.

The portrait's compositional balance entails an erotics in which the queen exerts control over the masculine, a control that may in fact be further heightened by the sexual autonomy suggested in the positioning of her left hand. A further possibility is that the Rainbow emblematically endows her with masculine attributes and that, in a sense, she becomes male by virtue of her grasp of its cylindrical shape as it descends into and merges with her anatomy.17 The rainbow is visually preeminent in the portrait while the left hand's relation to the fold is subordinate, functioning more as a Barthesian punctum than anything else.ls Thus the symbolic logic of masculine hierarchy is maintained even as it is subverted by the portrait's obvious depiction of female empowerment, or even, to use Constance Jordan's term, "political androgyny" (157). In effect, if one accepts such a reading, the portrait rescripts the sovereign's potency in terms of both masculine and feminine agency. Such a rescripting fulfills the symbolic logic of absolutist hierarchies whose traditionally patriarchal assumptions had to assimilate the gender displacement caused by Elizabeth's accession to the throne. The autoerotic valences the portrait may generate reflect what Philippa Berry calls the "gynocentric cult of an unmarried queen," in which the "emphasis of the love discourses [of Petrarchism and Renaissance Neoplatonism] upon masculine subjectivity was to be seriously undermined" (38). The portrait inverts and re-tropes the traditional dynamics of sexual representation, which, as Archer states, involved making women the subjects of sexual surveillance by men" (53), while sustaining the illusion of that traditional dynamic. Thus, Elizabeth as icon becomes subject to the gaze of the observer. But at the same time the symbolics of the portrait reshape the observer's gaze, subjecting it to the density of allegorical conceit, political allusion, and erotic ambiguity that Elizabeth as representation instantiates."

The fraught politics of Elizabethan female self-representation required a substantial shift in iconic representations of what had traditionally been the domain of "masculine subjectivity," especially if one accepts Mark Breitenberg's suggestion about the "essentially iconic nature of Renaissance interpretive codes" (4). The shift necessarily generated visual and verbal ambiguities burdened with interpretive possibilities that remain difficult to reclaim with even the most informed historical hindsight. The obscure erotics of the Rainbow portrait, its visual representation of what Berry refers to in a discussion of Spenser's Cantos of Mutability as "an indecipherable feminine figure" (165), attest to the power, political and otherwise, framed in the very elusiveness of its mise en scene.20

A further symbolic dimension to the eyes and ears, missed by previous commentators on the portrait, is its relation to Ripa's emblem for "Gelosia" in the 1603 version of Iconologia. The emblem depicts a "Donna con vna veste di torchino a onde, dipinta tutta d'occhi, e d'orecchie, con l'ali alle spalle, con vn gallo nel braccio sinistro, & nella destra mano con vn mazzo di spine" (194; see fig. 2). Ripa explains that *Gli occhi, & orecchie dipinte nella veste signifi cano l'assidua cura del geloso di uedere, & intendere sottilmente ogni minimo atto, & cenno della persona amata da lui" (194). The eyes and ears on Elizabeth's cloak, when seen in such an emblematic context, signify her jealous relation, what Archer calls her "scopic anxiety" (42), to the body of the commonwealth that is her beloved (the "persona amata"). They demonstrate the assiduous care she takes in subtly hearing and seeing the smallest acts and signs shown her by the body of the commonwealth. In addition, the eyes and ears give emblematic context to another Elizabethan motto, video et taceo, 'I see and remain silent," suggesting that the inscrutability of her gaze and the ambiguous potency of her silence are key features of her public representation of monarchic authority. Ripa's comment that "Gelosia e vna passione, & vn timore" (194), that jealousythe ambiguous significance of the eyes and ears, for they embody both Elizabeth's love of the commonwealth and her anxiety with regard to the potential threat it poses against her reign. Thus, the eyes and ears symbolize the crucial dimensions of absolutism, torn between jealous love and fear of loss, both of which can only be insured through the perpetual vigilance that figuratively covers and protects Elizabeth's sovereign body.21

The third notable element in the political allegory, and one that has similarly been overlooked by major interpretations of the portrait, has to do with the so-called rainbow that the Queen grasps with her right hand, above which is appended the Latin tag, Non Sine Sole Iris, or "No rainbow without the sun." The tag confirms the emblematic context of the portrait, providing an obscure gloss on the portrait's meaning. For Graziani, the rainbow fits its sixteenth-century context as a religious icon, "notwithstanding the fact that Italian artists were tending to discard it in its traditional contexts [related to the Sacrifices of Noah]" (251). Graziani continues on to argue that "the Queen grasps the rainbow as a token of protection and assurance, very much in the spirit of a later Protestant expression, `taking hold of God's promises" (252). Strong suggests the rainbow as a "traditional symbol of peace" (1987, 158), allying it with notions of the covenant made between God and Noah after the Flood: "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth" (Genesis 9:13). For Graziani, as for Strong, the Biblical symbolism is dominant, and there is no question that readings which fail to note such associations are seriously flawed.

Again, however, such a reading is far from complete within the context of the political allegory at work in the portrait. Elizabeth's grasp of the rainbow extends notions of Biblical covenant in a manner hitherto unnoted, for unlike Noah, who does not touch the rainbow, Elizabeth does. Furthermore, the rainbow is primarily a symbol of divinity, set in place by God, as a reminder to God, of the covenant made: "and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth" (Genesis 9:16). Thus the rainbow becomes in such a context a highly charged covenantal symbol that is grasped by Elizabeth as an emblem of her proximity to divine authority as well as of her capacity to mediate between the divine and the earthly. Her ability to grasp the covenant signifies the alignment of her power with divine power, the alignment of her perspective in remembering her covenant with her subjects with that of God's, who, we must not forget, sets the rainbow in place more for divine than for human benefit. In other words, the rainbow establishes the covenant from the perspective of the top of the hierarchy, whether divine or monarchic, suggesting a cosmic alliance between the two that is enabled by Elizabeth's potent capacity to grasp the nature of the covenant.

The political implications, though highly conventional, are profound, for the suggestion is that Elizabeth is empowered by her proximity to the divine and that she is in some senses a simulacrum of that divinity. The Latin tag may thus be read, within quite a different context, as referring to the Queen's presence as a marker for divine presence. The Queen holds forth the rainbow by virtue of the divine light she emits, not the rainbow without the sun coming to emblematize the power that radiates from the Queen as a function of her proximity to the divine. "[T]he Queen is lit," as Strong observes, "neither from the left nor from the right but actually seems to radiate light as she moves before the arch that encompasses her figure" (1987, 160). Elizabeth's radiation of light coincides with the type of the Tudor Godly Woman as emblematized in the biblical type of the "Woman Clothed with the Sun (Rev. 12)," a figure that characterized, according to John N. King, "representations of Queen Elizabeth as. . . wise and faithful" (1985, 50).



But the rainbow as a symbol, however oblique, of the "Woman Clothed with the Sun" is not the only divine woman with whom it may be linked. Images from Henry Hawkins's emblem book structured around a series of Marian devotions, Partheneia Sacra, or, the Mysteriovs and Deliciovs Garden of the Sacred Parthenes (1633), use "The Iris" to reinforce the devotional importance of the "Virgin of Virgins" (Hawkins, 94; see figs. 3 and 4). "The Devise" of the "Iris" functions for Hawkins as "the Triumphal Arch of the heauenlie Numens, set-vp in triumph as a Trophey of Beautie, to allure the eyes of al, to stare and gaze vpon it" (92). Hawkins argues that "this heauenlie Bow deciphers the Queen of Heauen, this mirrour of Nature, and the astonishment of man-kind" (96), and goes on to suggest that "the grace of GOD being a ray, as it were, of the Diuine Essence, reflecting on the purest Virgin, a lucid clowd, concaue and waterish, produced the Iris or Rainebow in the Hierarchie of the Church, as in the firmament of the Heavens; and therefore called the Iris or Celestial Bow, a signe of the Reconciliation of GOD with al mankind" (97). In his concluding apostrophe to the "Iris," Hawkins invokes "my most deer Diuine Mother" to guard me with the bow of thy safeguard and protection" (102; mispaginated as 122), again confirming the sacred associations of the rainbow with the Virgin Mary.22 The rainbow emblematizes Mary's virginity, allure, and beauty, her ability to mirror and astonish, her queenliness and capacity to reconcile and protect, all virtues that had political resonances during Elizabeth's reign. These virtues, at once sacred and profane, may well be encapsulated in the Rainbow portrait's symbology.





Even though the Partheneia Sacra appeared well after the presumed dating for the conception and execution of the Rainbow portrait, its symbology nonetheless allows for the rainbow as a potential signifier of divine virginity, let alone as a "token of protection and assurance" (Graziani, 252) or as a "traditional symbol of peace" (Strong, 1987, 158). Frances Yates, tracing some of the symbolic links between the Virgin Mary and Queen Elizabeth, suggests that many of Queen Elizabeth's virginal symbols - including the Rose, the Star, the Moon, the Phoenix, and the Pearl, all of which, incidentally, are to be found as emblems in Hawkins's Partheneia Sacra - "were also symbols of the Virgin Mary" (78). Yates proposes the possibility, however "daring" or "startling" (78), that "the cult of the virgin queen, was, perhaps half-unconsciously, intended to take the place of the cult of the Virgin" (78), and uses as her evidence a Dowland lute song that links the phrases "Vivat Eliza" with "Ave Mari," an engraving of Elizabeth that notes Elizabeth's birth on the "Eve of the Nativity of the blessed virgin Mary" and her death on the "eve of the Annunciation of the virgin Mary" (78), and some of the "chants of the university poets" at Elizabeth's death, in which "one of the names used of Elizabeth by her poets, namely `Beta,' is assimilated to `Beata Maria" (79). For Yates, the "mysterious" symbolism used to represent Queen Elizabeth also had ties with Astraea-Virgo, who symbolically echoes the Virgin Mary (80). Read in this polysemous context, the rainbow redoubles Elizabeth's divine associations, connecting her allegorically with both the Woman Clothed with the Sun and the Virgin Mary, thus adding to her iconic stature as an incarnation of divine (and virginal) empowerment.

The secular symbolism of the rainbow, though difficult to dissociate from its sacred symbolism, also has significance in political terms. Janet Arnold, for instance, notes that the rainbow "appears in [Claude] Paradin's Heroicall Deuises [1591] with the motto `The raine bow [sic] doth bring faire weather,' and this text: `The most faire and bountifull queene of France Katherine used the signe of the rainebow for her armes, which is an infallible signe of peaceable calmenes and tranquillitie" (84). Paradin's symbolic sense of the rainbow is echoed in George Wither's A collection of emblemes, ancient and modern (1635), which figures a rainbow and sun appearing over storm clouds, with the epigrammatic commentary that "the rainbow brings promise of the sun after a storm; so man should have hope that God will relieve his sorrows" (cited in Diehl, 172). Though impossible to determine the extent of the intertextual associations among Paradin's, Withers's and the Rainbow portraitist's use of the rainbow, the association of the rainbow with monarchic virtues of "peaceable calmenes and tranquillitie" made it an appropriate device in Elizabeth's iconographic repertoire. And, in fact, the rainbow portrait is not the only instance in which Elizabeth made use of its symbolism; Arnold states that "The rainbow is used as an embroidery motif on many of Elizabeth's gowns and may be seen on one surviving fragment of a smock" (84). Ultimately, the secular symbolism of the rainbow as an emblem of hope, tranquillity, wisdom, and faith cannot be separated from its sacred symbolism as emblematic of the divine presence that empowers the absolute monarch.

But the Rainbow portrait, while seeming to point to the convergence of these sacred and secular symbolic values in the image of the rainbow, also leaves room for considerable ambiguity in how that image is to be interpreted. A rather puzzling detail of the painting, already noted in comments made by Joel Fineman, has a direct bearing on how one reads the rainbow symbolism. The rainbow's obvious lack of discernible rainbow colors - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet - in a painting that is "rich in coppery hues" (Pomeroy, 64) and in other forms of chiaroscuro light, would seem to suggest two somewhat contradictory possibilities.24

On the one hand, the lack of rainbow colors may well be a subversive undercutting of Elizabeth's symbolic magnificence, the anonymous painter figuratively undermining Elizabeth by showing her in a situation where no rainbow shines because there is no sun - that is, because Elizabeth's magnificence is false or in decline. Such a strategy would be in direct violation of an account Nicholas Hilliard gives in A Treatise Concerning the Arte of Limning (c. 1598-99) of Elizabeth as portait-subject carefully choosing "her place to sit . . . in the open ally of a goodly garden, where no tree was neere, nor anye shadowe at all, save that as the heaven is lighter then the earthe, soe must that littel shadowe that was from the earthe" (29). Hilliard characterizes Elizabeth's request as "curiouse" before going on to admit that Elizabeth's demand had "greatly bettered my Judgment besids divers other like questions in Art by her most excelent Majestie which to speake or writ of, weare fitter for some better clarke, this matter only of the light, let me perfect, that noe wisse man longer remaine in error of praysing much shadowes in pictures" (29). Elizabeth clearly had little sympathy for the use of shadow in limned work if only because, as Hilliard puts it, to best "showe ones selfe, nedeth no shadow of place but rather the oppen light" (28-29). The Rainbow portrait obviously and perhaps subversively contradicts the philosophy of representation implicit in such an observation - a philosophy that is at pains to empower the object of the painter's scrutiny - by framing Elizabeth's presence in shadow. The symbolics of the Rainbow portrait, when read in the context of Hilliard's anecdote, may be seen as inflected with resistance to Elizabeth's efforts to control the aesthetics of her public representation. Thus, the shadows engulfing her image may portend the twilight of her reign, and the fact that rainbows are impossible in the crepuscular light she emits. No rainbow shines, literally, because there is no sun to illuminate it.25

On the other hand, the lack of color in the rainbow - of which Elizabeth Pomeroy says, "but, strangely, the little arc she holds is not nearly as colorful as her own hair and cloak" (65) - may well indicate Elizabeth's surpassing relative significance in relation to the natural world, her place near the top of the hierarchy being confirmed by her luminescence, which contrasts so vividly with the pale arc she holds in her hand. Her grasp of the rainbow emblematizes the symbolic union of Elizabeth's physical body with the divinity that authorizes it to represent the body politic, the portrait echoing Francis Bacon's notion that "there is in the king not a Body natural alone, nor a Body politic alone, but a body natural and politic together: corpus corporatum in corpore naturali, et corpus naturale in corpore corporato."26 No rainbow shines because it is outshone by the Queen's own brilliance, her own surpassing light, her incarnation of political will authorized by the divine. Thus, though it is tempting to say that no rainbow really exists in the portrait, the politics of its representation as absence or presence have a great deal to do with how one reads its significance, either as a referent for the decline of the absolute power invested in the monarch, or as a mark of her overshadowing presence that obscures or transforms the many colors of the rainbow into the uniform light generated by Elizabeth's sovereign powers.27

Furthermore, the rainbow and its tag cannot be separated from the political contexts established in Michael Neill's reading of the portrait as emblematic of Elizabethan imperial ambitions in Ireland. For Neill, the Rainbow portrait is "the last of the series of great royal icons in which the queen identified the idea of the nation with the display of her own royal body," and is a "frightening assertion of a royal power so absolute that it can absorb the very signs of barbarism [the Irish mantle with which Elizabeth is clad]28 into its scheme of civilizing control" (29). Neill suggests that the portrait boldly appropriates "the most threatening of all images of degeneration . . . the Irish cloak of inscrutability, here emblazoned, however, with the signs of her all-seeing power" (29). Moreover, Neill's reading proposes that Elizabeth's "bridal locks present her as the spouse of her kingdom" and that the "punning motto displayed above the rainbow of peace in her right hand identifies her symbolic nuptials quite specifically with the conquest of Ireland: Non sine sole Iris - `there is no Rainbow without the Sun,' but also (since Iris was one of the ancient names for Ireland, cited by Camden from Diodorus Siculus) `there is no Ireland without her queen"'" (29-31). For Neill, the portrait's "political agenda" anticipates "Mountjoy's imminent defeat of the most powerful and obstinate of the Irish rebels, Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and hence the final subjugation of Ireland" (31). The painting's appropriation of the Irish mantle, "one of the great symbols of cultural difference" emblematizes "the incorporation of a conquered people into the body of the English nation-state" and is "a chilling reminder of what it meant to be subjected to the inquisitorial `perspective' of monarchical power" (31). The flip side of Neill's reading, however, is that such an inquisitorial perspective subjects the sovereign as well, her putative inscrutability and panoptic power being dependent on the demonized Irish "other" who literally and figuratively clothes her and gives her political and military substance, while also symbolically embodying the spouse she never took. The subversive potential of such a reading cannot be separated from the admittedly more likely reading of absolutist self-affirmation proposed by Neill. Nonetheless the potential for such an ambiguity remains encoded in the portrait's images, just as the potential for challenge to the sovereign's power is ever-present regardless of the panoptic control exerted by the portrait "in the minds of potentially dissident subjects" (Neill, 31). The polysemous coding at work in the image articulates the symbolic contradictions embodied in the absolute sovereign.

Whatever one's reading, then, whatever the intention of the artist, the symbolism is acutely political, acutely ambivalent. The religious connotations that cannot be detached from the rainbow's iconography are no doubt in place, though not in an uncomplicated manner. The canny manipulation of such imagery has as much to do with political uses of religious symbolism as it has to do with the monarch's control over her representation in portraits, that very control being itself an exemplum of the monarch's power. The possibility, discussed earlier, that such control has been supplanted or challenged by the artist's manipulations indicates that the visual resonances of the portrait have as much to do with the contestations, mimetic and otherwise, to which power and its exercise are always subjected as it has to do with the direct representation of an unobstructed, unchallenged absolute monarch. Furthermore the painting problematizes the relations between its visual and written texts, as if to suggest that the contestatory interpretive possibilities generated by the agglomeration of those texts parallel the contestatory political contexts that surround the absolute monarch.29

It is not unreasonable to suppose that Elizabeth, near the end of an extended, unparalleled reign, would have had the temerity let alone the force of personality to rescript traditional symbols in an autonomous manner suited to her political purposes. This was the woman, after all, who in an earlier time (January 1586-87) had written to James about his mother, Mary Queen of Scotland, saying "let all men knowe, that princes knowe best their owne lawes, and misiuge not that you know not" (Bruce, 43). The same letter refers to Mary as "the serpent that poisons me" (42), and begs James to "[t]ransfigure yourself into my state . . . and therafter way my life" (43). Though I do not mean to suggest a direct linkage between Mary, the serpent, and the serpent found on Elizabeth's left sleeve in the Rainbow portrait - the latter described by Strong as an "attribute of Prudence and of the goddess Minerva" (1987, 159) - the serpent image does have powerful connotations relating to the ever-present threat of evil that calls for prudence, wisdom, and perpetual vigilance on the part of the sovereign. Moreover, the serpent has emblematic associations with "Intelligenza" in Ripa's iconographical vocabulary, thus reinforcing the connections with the earlier cited verses from Peacham's Minerva Britanna. The serpent, in Ripa's emblem for "Intelligenza," "mostra che per intendere le cose alte, e sublimi, bisogna prima andar per terra come fa il serpe" (260), showing that to understand the sublime, one must first pass like the serpent by way of the earth. Thus, the serpent emblematizes not only knowledge of the sublime but also the ever-present physical realities of earthly existence to which the sovereign is subject. The absolute monarch links the exalted with the terrestrial and must negotiate the symbolic space of each if she is to survive. The mediation of this dual reality that informs the symbolic dimensions of the monarch's political power is rendered in the image of the serpent.

Nor is the serpent's appearance on Elizabeth's left sleeve accidental,30 the sinister side having in Roman and Greek augury conflicting meanings, both favorable and unfavorable. Thus, whether directly or indirectly, whether intentional or unintentional, the portrait brings into play a further symbol of ambiguity, one that poses in the manner of the pharmakon both the threat of poisoning and the means by which that threat can be avoided. The ambivalence has a notable political function, especially poignant in light of Elizabeth's earlier cited comments to James about Mary, and symbolizes both the threat to the State with Elizabeth's sovereign body as target - and the means by which that threat will be averted through the exercise of wisdom and prudence. Visually balanced in the portrait's composition between good and bad fortune, between the divine rainbow and the potentially evil Edenic snake, the sovereign negotiates her way forward by virtue of her capacity to shape representation, which at the same time poses an ongoing challenge to her by virtue of its ambiguities or deliberate falsehoods, symbolized in the snake, the colorless rainbow, the mask of youth, and the cloak that not only masks Elizabeth's aged body but also signifies her awareness of the duplicities by which she is surrounded (thus necessitating the eyes and ears that serve her with "intelligence"). The portrait, seen in such a light, takes on very particular political resonances that play into both the fin-desiecle and retrospective tones that may be discerned in it. Its conflation of conflicting and ambiguous images represents the struggle to maintain the illusion of autonomy in the face of an approaching personal apocalypse beyond Elizabeth's control.

The capacity to shape images - whether literary, visual, or musical, whether public or private - has a great deal to do with the creation of an intelligible mythography associated with the iconic display of power so crucial to early modern absolutist ideologies. In the uncertain political contexts prior to James's ascension to the throne of England in 1603 heightened by the troubles in Ireland, the Scottish border problem, worries about dynastic continuity, not to mention the failed Essex rebellion in February 160131- the portrait served a powerful emblematic purpose in reinforcing Elizabeth's political authority by way of her control over imagery and her ability to make mimesis do her bidding, even at the risk of exposing the ambiguities entailed by way of such a strategy. Nonetheless, the portrait clearly visualizes the body of the Queen in a manner that acknowledges her two bodies, one symbolic the other corporeal, a concept that Ernst Kantorowicz calls "a landmark of Christian political theology" (506). To deny or ignore the political dimension of such a representation while affirming only the theological is to evade crucial issues relating to how theology and politics were inseparable constituents of absolutist ideology in early modern England. The silent pageant of the portrait's personal and public symbols, carefully watching and listening to its viewers, evinces political will embodied in the interplay of its historical context and its allegorical structures, all of which are profoundly intertwined with the ideology of absolutist self-representation and self-affirmation.




1 Roy Strong places the painting within the "tradition of the Anglo-Flemish studios" (1987, 161) and suggests either Marcus Gheeraerts or Isaac Oliver as the most likely painters. For a more detailed account of the several artists thought responsible for the painting, see Auerbach and Adams, 60-61. The precise dating of the portrait is largely conjectural, based on internal evidence from the portrait itself, contextual iconographic evidence relating to the Queen's wardrobe, personal iconography, and larger trends in European iconography, or from circumstantial evidence surrounding the circumstances of Elizabeth's appearances near the end of her life. Janet Arnold suggests the portrait may have been "completed after the Queen's death [1603]" (82) and that the portrait may originate in Elizabeth's "appearance at a masque. . when she visited Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper, at Harefield Place in July 1602" (83). Mary C. Erler dates the portrait "between December 6, 1602, the Cecil entertainment, and Elizabeth's death on March 24, 1603, though a posthumous painting is not impossible" (370). For additional information regarding the portrait's possible genealogies, see Strong, 1985, 122.
2 There is "no precedent" for such an interpretation according to Strong, who suggests instead a more secular interpretation based on the "chivalrous context" (1987, 160) of the emblem.

3 The source of this allusion, as noted by Strong, is Cesare Vecellio's Habiti antichi e moderni di Diverse Parti del Mondo (1593). Inigo Jones's designs for the Masque of Blackness (1605) "based the masquers' headdresses on one which Vecellio depicts for his Sposa Tessalonica. Exactly the same source was used by the painter for the Queen's headdress in the 'Rainbow' portrait" (Strong, 1987, 161). For some of

the visual sources of the Rainbow portrait, see Strong, 1987, 158-61.

4 Strong proposes that 'the programme for this picture was drawn up by, or in collaboration with, John Davies. The similarity to the imagery in his Hymnes to Astraea (1599) was noted as long ago as 1952 by Frances Yates" (1987, 157) and has been attended to more recently by Erler, who reads the portrait as a "summarizing vision of Elizabeth's great reign" (371). Graziani argues that "While we do not have any external evidence to establish the programme as the Queen's own invention, I see nothing that excludes this possibility" (259).

5 Elizabeth W. Pomeroy, for example, argues that the portrait has "multiple layers of representation and imagination" and goes on to state that "its apparent signs may resist inclusion in an orderly internal system" (73). Her focus on the Queen's wardrobe and patterns of dress, however, almost completely misses those other more significant "layers of representation" operative in the portrait. See also WJ.T. Mitchell's assertion that "We can never understand a picture unless we grasp the ways in which it shows what cannot be seen" (39). My reading of the Rainbow portrait attempts precisely this task by way of the covert ideological structures relating to absolutism on which the portrait comments.

6 Helen Hackett reads the representations of Elizabeth's mask of youth, "seen in numerous Hilliard miniatures and the Rainbow portrait," as "implying that her sexual intactness had brought with it resistance to bodily decay" (178). Such a resistance had obvious connections with the association Elizabeth's image-makers strove to create between immortality and chastity. The association enabled the myth-making apparatus of absolutist self-representation, which Hackett reads as having Biblical overtones: "Triumph over sexuality was interpreted as triumph over the Fall, in turn enabling triumph over the penalty of the Fall, mortality. Elizabeth's motto, `Semper Eadem,' `Always one and the same,' came to signify not only constancy, integrity and singularity, but also a miraculous physical purity and immutability" (178). The political dimensions of such virtues cannot be ignored, especially in reshaping the narrative context of the Edenic Fall, which ascribed to Eve the blame for humanity's fall from a state of grace (Genesis 3). Elizabethan images of the chaste queen figuratively rescript the implications of the Fall by promoting sexual purity as the means to overcome the mortality imposed by the consequences of Eve's actions.

7See also Louis Adrian Montrose's comments on the source for this statement 336, n. 26. Montrose offers a useful reading of the more obviously political "Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I" (George Gower?). aA foreign danger," according to Montrose, "that heightens the collective identity of Englishmen enables the Armada portraits to identify the social body with the body of the monarch. An emphasis on the virginity of that royal body transforms the problem of the monarch's gender into the very source of her potency. The inviolability of the island realm, the secure boundary of the English nation, is thus made to seem mystically dependent upon the inviolability of the English sovereign, upon the intact condition of the queen's body natural" (315). The politics of representation are quite different, however, in the Rainbow portrait. Inviolability is as much a function of the impenetrable mask of youth that the artist imposes on Elizabeth, as it is of the eyes and ears on the Queen's cloak that vigilantly guard and cover her body, making that body symboli

cally impervious to unknown threats. Gender seems to play less of an overt role than does political expediency in the portrait's symbolism. Even if one reads the eyes and ears as related to standard images of the Virgin Queen, impenetrable because she is protectively cloaked by an all-seeing, all-hearing intelligence, it should be remembered that "Elizabeth's public self-presentation as Virgin Queen" was a apolitical strategy, and one with considerable merit" (Levin 65).

8 See Graziani, 255, and Strong, 1987,158-59.
9 See, for instance, James VI and I's argument in The Trew Law of Free Monarchies, that "there is not a thing so necessarie to be knowne by the people of any land, next the knowledge of their God, as the right knowledge of their alleageance, according to the forme of gouernement established among them, especially in a Monarchie (which forme of gouernement, as resembling the Diuinitie, approcheth nearest to perfection, as all the learned and wise men from the beginning haue agreed vpon)"

(193). Such a perspective, establishing the direct link between monarchic government and the "Diuinitie' that it resembles, clearly represents a form of political enablement through a transcendental, religious signifier.
'10 See Foucault, 195-228. Foucault argues that "The body of the king, with its strange material and physical presence, with the force that he himself deploys or transmits to some few others, is at the opposite extreme of this new physics of power represented by panopticism" (208). Foucault's reading of the king's body invests overly in its material dimensions, neglecting the more elusive textual and symbolic dimensions by which the sovereign's body is disseminated and given meaning. In

fact, the "new physics of power" predates both Foucault and Bentham, Elizabeth's Rainbow portrait being a notable example of the "heterogeneous forces" and "spatial relations" that Foucault associates with that new physics (208). The composite nature of the Rainbow portrait's symbolism in association with the spatial dimensions given those symbols, especially in the relations of the portrait to its implied viewers, make it a noteworthy expression of panopticism 's "relations of discipline" (208). For a useful discussion of Foucauldian theory in relation to "the disciplinary power of surveillance" in the English Renaissance, see John M. Archer, 4-7.
11 Mark Breitenberg affirms that "The proliferation and popularity of emblem books . . . allows us to realize the sixteenth-century perception of the interconnectedness of pictorial representation, allegorical tableaux and rhetorical figuration" (5).

The Rainbow portrait, with its extensive use of emblematic content, reflects precisely such an "interconnectedness" between verbal and visual texts as well as among different allegorical configurations that promote notions of absolutist self-determination. Annabel Patterson, in a reading of the Henry V quarto as a a "symbolic portrait" of Elizabeth, states that "the eyes and ears on her mantle in the 'Rainbow' portrait... were a none-too-subtle reminder that the myth [of "unqualified power and vitality"] needed the support of public surveillance, that the cultural forms of late Elizabethanism took the form they did because the queen and her ministers were watching" (4647.

12According to Yates, the "'Rainbow' portrait of Elizabeth at Hatfield House may refer to some allegorical show in her honour at an Accession Day Tilt" (103, n. 1). If in fact true, this would confirm the significance of the political contexts of the portrait overlooked by so many of its readers. For more on the Accession Day Tilts, see Yates, 88-111; Yates argues that the chivalric code that the Tilts actualized had the function, among other things, of "being a vehicle for patriotic devotion to the popular national monarchy and zeal for the Protestant cause" (109).

13 Nobuyuki Yuasa calls the portrait "an enigma. . . when considered from the point of view of allegory" (2), though her argument also allows for the "political-socal symbols depicted in the lower part of the portrait" (10). Andrew and Catherine Belsey affirm, more generally, that the portraits of Elizabeth, aare elements in a struggle at the level of representation for control of the state" (35). John N. King argues that "the entire Gloriana cult was defined by the practicalities of Elizabethan and Jacobean politics. Differentiation among the different 'cults' of the Virgin Queen demonstrates how the royal image was fashioned dynamically by Elizabeth and her government from above, and by her apologists and suppliants from below" (1990, 36).

14 Jacques Derrida, in a discussion of Mallarme that resonates uncannily with the Rainbow portrait's interpretive enigmas, comments that the meaning of a fold "spaces itself out with a double mark, in the hollow of which a blank is folded. The fold is simultaneously virginity, what violates virginity, and the fold which, being neither one nor the other and both at once, undecidable, remains as a text, irreducible to either of its two senses .... But in the same blow, so to speak, the fold ruptures the virginity it marks as virginity. Folding itself over its secret (and nothing is more virginal and at the same time more purloined and penetrated, already in and of itself, than a secret) it looses the smooth simplicity of its surface .... It is divided from and by itself, like the hymen" (258-59). Psychiatrist Elinor Kapp, in an extremely unusual reading of Elizabeth as a young Princess, focuses on Elizabeth's "folded lips" and the "set of her head on the neck . . . [which] show a wariness that gradually as one studies the picture becomes the most striking thing about it. There is a haunting

loneliness about its reluctant but obsessive secrecy. No hint of laughter, of relaxed pleasure, or of the delicious trial of innocent flirtation that should be the inheritance of the pubertal girl, but a frozen watchfulness that recalls to me countless victims of deprived or abused childhoods" (308). Kapp's reading again points to the enigmatic fold (the lips or mouth) that refuses us its secrets, while giving presence to an ambiguous erotic charge. Christopher Pye, in a Lacanian reading of the portrait, suggests that it "presents the erotic object as little more than a breach" (69). To Pye, though the "slit-like eyes and mouths seem to turn the cloak into the substance of flesh, these openings nevertheless are explicitly only the lining of a fabric whose obverse is seamless and unmarked. Through the wound-like organs, the body seems to acquire an odd, hallucinatory reality" (68). Earlier on, Pye argues that "if the portrait of the living queen had something of the death mask about it all along, that is because the sovereign conveyed absolute presence and power in an irreducibly divided and alien form - as the profound vacancy of pure spectacle" (17). My own reading would be that such a "vacancy" is more a function of the repressed acknowledgment that power is contingent on spectacle, which is to say, that absolute power is not so absolute after all.

15 Strong writes that the Privy Chamber was aa bridge between the public and private aspects of the King's life. It was a room which could be shifted in mood either way, towards the totally informal, or, on semi-state occasions, with a swift mustering of its officers it could easily become the scene of 'informal' formal receptions . . . the monarch passed his time during the day and transacted most of the affairs of state [in the Privy Chamber]" (1966, 32); see also 28-32. For a comparative discussion of the Armada portrait of Elizabeth and the Holbein portrait of Henry, see Andrew Belsey and Catherine Belsey, 11-14. John N. King presents a cautionary

reading of Henry's codpiece as "no more than an item of conventional attire. Codpieces appear with some frequency in portraits of Renaissance royalty, nobility, and commoners" (1990, 59, n. 66). Roper argues that the codpiece was the "issue [in the sixteenth century] which provoked most explicit discussion of the male body . . . moralists like Musculus, author of the Hosenteufel, condemned the codpiece not because it paraded the phallus, but because it was a form of nudity. It displayed the penis to lascivious eyes which would only too easily be incited to lust" (117). 16Kng proposes that Elizabeth's "perpetual virginity symbolized political integrity" (1990, 67). Hackett affirms that "At the beginning of Elizabeth's reign there was already in place a structure of sexualized iconography which was available to be superimposed on the Queen as conventions of panegyric developed. It was already

established that the opposition between Protestant and Catholic, true and false, could be forcefully represented by a polarisation of the female into virginity or whorishness. Female sexuality was a focus of anxiety, and was therefore able to carry many meanings" VO). According to Hackett, during the early stages of her reign, Elizabeth "seems to have applied the iconography of sanctified virginity to herself with more seriousness than did her subjects" (71).

16 Constance Jordan suggests there is evidence Elizabeth "realized that a male sexuality was an important (and even an essential) feature of a monarch's power and that somehow she had to convey that in this sense too she was figuratively male. Her virginity had somehow to include the fiction of a male sexuality and the power it represented" (161). The political dimensions of the Rainbow portrait clearly attempt to articulate such a fiction. Leonard Tennenhouse argues that "The English form of patriarchy distributed power according to a principle whereby a female could legitimately and fully embody the power of the patriarch. Those powers .... were no less patriarchal for being embodied as a female, and the female was no less female for possessing patriarchal powers" (103). The Rainbow portrait problematizes such a reading by putting into question any notion of absolute gender categories through its enigmatic mix of visual ambiguities. For Tennenhouse, "Elizabeth Tu

dor knew the power of display" (102), and "in a system where the power of the monarch was immanent in the official symbols of the state, the natural body of the monarch was bound by the same poetics of display" (105). But the power of display is also the power to veil the significance of display. Veiling makes access to the monarch's immanence "in the official symbols of state" extremely difficult to achieve, thus insuring a measure of symbolic autonomy to the sovereign in the face of the perpetual gaze of her subjects. John N. King has further suggested that the historiography of Elizabethan iconography involves a blend of "the iconography of late medieval queens as well as a carefully orchestrated manipulation of the doctrine of royal

supremacy by the circle of courtiers, writers, artists, and preachers who operated under the aegis of Henry VIII and Edward VI. The biblical style of Reformation kingship dominates the early iconography of the reign of Queen Elizabeth prior to its eclectic infusion into her veneration as a classicized virgin: Astraea, Diana, or even the Roman Vestal" (1985, 84). The conflation of such diverse symbolic elements is partially accounted for by the degree to which Elizabeth's gender complicated her relation to the traditions of absolutist political symbology. King argues that Elizabeth's virginity compounded "an already difficult political problem" and that "apologists adapted late medieval iconography, which hailed queens consort as intercessors with imperious husband-kings, to offer instead emblematic variations that praised Elizabeth as a powerful monarch who could govern in the absence of any consort" (ibid., 42).
17 see Barthes, 25-27.

19Archer links Foucauldian notions of sovereignty with precisely such a scopic dynamic between the observer and the observed, the sovereign and the subject: "The culture of display that Foucault associates with the concept of sovereignty was supplemented by a corresponding culture of observation and surveillance in which sovereignty and intelligence were bound pragmatically together" (6).
20Allison Heisch notes a "direct correlation between the political insecurity of [Elizabeth's] position and the often deliberate obscurity of her language" (32). Representational ambiguity had its obvious political uses, whether in visual or textual

terms, especially in relation to promulgating the illusion of the queen's two bodies ("I am but one Bodye naturallye Considered though by his [God's] permission a Bodye Politique to Governe" [cited in Heisch, 33]), itself dependent on the fiction of divine authorization. Andrew Belsey and Catherine Belsey comment on how, as "the Queen's iconic character is in the process of construction," her body became "more or less indecipherable" (20). In a series of portraits attributed to John Bettes [the Younger], she has become pure geometry" (ibid.). Indecipherability and elusiveness characterize the representation of Elizabeth's body in the Rainbow portrait, perhaps providing further evidence in support of Francis Barker's notion that "the body has certainly been among those objects which have been effectively hidden from history" (9-10).

21According to Arnold, the garment may have been "specially designed for a masque" (82), the theatrical display of the eyes and ears thus taking on a further allegorical dimension in the public sphere of representation that the masque embodied. The queen publicly incarnates political vigilance itself and the representation of that vigilance, as if to suggest that there is no room for the split between the signifier and signified in the construction of absolute representations of monarchic self-affirmation. Arnold also notes that "the Queen did have other clothes embroidered and

stained with similar motifs" (82). See also Archer's discussion of Ripa's emblem for the spy, "a man 'vestito nobilmente' in a cloak covered with eyes, ears, and tongues
. . the eyes and ears on the cape [in Ripa's words] `signify the instruments with which spies exercise such arts to please their Lords and Patrons"' (4). Archer states in a reading largely derived from Strong, that the "painter of Elizabeth's Rainbow portrait took up the eyes, ears, and tongues motif for the mantle that the queen wears, probably to indicate . . . the many servants who provided her with intelligence" (4). Such intertextual and intervisual allusions produce a sophisticated texture of political, religious, and erotic inflections that make it difficult to reduce the symbolic content of the portrait to a simple system of one-to-one correspondence between the symbol and its referent.

22For further references to Hawkins's use of the rainbow in relation to the Virgin Mary, see Diehl, 171-72.

23King affirms that "It is undeniable that Elizabeth's retention of virginity constituted 'a political act' and that the celebration of her remoteness from erotic love played an important role during her reign" (1990, 30-31). The use, however unusual or unlikely, of Marian symbology in the Rainbow portait may serve to reinforce the divine linkage that authorizes Elizabeth's absolute power, while supporting the politics of her virginity as wholly defensible given the Scriptural example of the Virgin Mary.

24Again, the painting hints at aesthetic practices that fall outside of conventional representations, Strong arguing that "the ethos of the Queen's portraits" was one in which athe standard ingredients of Renaissance painting, chiaroscuro and both linear and aerial perspective had yet to be received or understood" (1987, 44). A further possibility is that the lack of color in the rainbow is due to fading or chemical changes in the pigments used to paint it. To my knowledge, no evidence exists to substantiate such an hypothesis. Furthermore, in order to support the faded rainbow hypothesis, one would then have to explain why the other colors of the portrait have remained so well-defined.

25This observation would be at direct odds with Frye's suggestion that 'Both the illumination of her face and chest and the inscription 'Non sine sole iris'. . . make clear that Elizabeth represents the sun" (101-02). The ambiguity arising from how to read the portrait's framing of the relations between its figurative sun and rainbow must be understood within the general historical context of Elizabethan or Tudor portraiture, one in which there is little likelihood that the painter would reveal, in any way accessible to the royal sitter or the contemporary viewer, a subversive image. As Strong points out, "In the Tudor period royal portraiture was controlled by the use of approved images. The control broke down from time to time as in the 1590s when portraits of Elizabeth depicting her as old and therefore vulnerable. . were destroyed by order of the Privy Council" (1985, 122). Nonetheless, the very

ambiguity regarding the provenance and dating of the Rainbow portrait point to the potential ambiguities in how it is to be read. If the portrait was posthumous or painted extremely late in Elizabeth's reign, as is most probable, then the degree to which symbolic control over the portrait's images may have been effectively enacted could have been subverted. The relativism of readings that give rise to interpretive ambiguities depends on the degree to which one attributes iconic significance to disparate elements of the portrait. If one makes a further interpretive shift and reads the portrait as dissimulative rather than allegorical, a very different symbolic structure

becomes apparent, producing different cues for reading, different implicit constraints on interpretation, and ultimately a different kind of ambiguity than the one produced by more conventional interpretations. In a sense, my reading, by placing the portrait in a different context from the one in which it is customarily viewed, also implies that the portrait creates its own context and hence different rules for reading its assemblage of images. Mary E. Hazard states that the "portraits which represent the qualities of the subject (Ermine, Sieve and Rainbow), that is to say, those portraits which might be described as representing the genitive of quality or description, are the most problematic to interpret - partly, as we have seen, because of the contextual ambiguity of the inflection: the ambiguity of relationship between picture and text, often a recherche source; the ambiguity intended by a political subject, patron, artist, or some combination of these. Such pictures were probably as difficult to interpret for Elizabethans as for us" (79).

26  Cited in Kantorowicz, 438.

27The association of sovereign power with light is a commonplace absolutist topos. In Eikon Basilike, for instance, published within hours after the death of Charles I on 30 January 1649, light figures as a retrospective and nostalgic metaphor for the political and symbolic order that will have been lost after his execution: "Happily where men have tried the horrours and malignant influence which will certainly follow My enforced darkenesse and Eclypse, (occasioned by the interposition and shadow of that body, which as the Moone receiveth its chiefest light from Me) they will at length more esteeme and welcome the restored glory and blessing of the Suns light" (74). The encroaching shadows of the Rainbow portrait may well prefigure the "horrours and malignant influence[s]" that posed an ongoing threat to the stability of absolutist claims to political power.

28 Identified as such by Arnold in Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock il, 81.

29In this last regard, Leonard Barkan observes the need "to question the assumption that a picture's caption or its verbal narrative exists in the same discursive space as the picture itself; on the other hand, we have also been forced to notice that even the most non-narrative images exist in a verbal nexus" (330).

30 In Ripa's emblem for "Intelligenza" the serpent also appears on the left, Ripa taking pains to indicate which symbol appears on which side of the emblem: "nella destra mano [Intelligenza] tenga vna sfera, e con la sinistra vna serpe" (259; see fig. 5).

31 See the Belseys' brief summary of the political circumstances Elizabeth faced near the end of her reign (33). They argue that "Elizabeth's control, especially in the later years of her reign, was in practice increasingly precarious" and that the "sphere of the state was by no means as unshakeable as Court propaganda implied" (ibid.).


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*I am indebted to Ann Rosalind Jones, Julia Burnside, and Leslie Marshall for their help in locating some obscure references at a late stage in the writing of this essay. I also wish to thank Andrew Taylor for his perspicuous comments on my argument.