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A Wintery July

Queen Elizabeth I Armada dress article

When we moved to the Gold Coast five years ago, one of the main reasons was the weather. We arrived at the beginning of winter and experienced a winter unlike any we had seen before (except in California) – blue skies, pleasant temperatures, no humidity, not too much rain. Which makes the last several months disappointing to say the least. Today, it is cool if not cold, the sky is grey and rain is threatening. There are floods in suburbs of Sydney. The locals say this happens every now and again but I can't wait for normality to be restored!

There is one upside. My studio is cosy and I have it properly lit so I can see what I'm doing and I really do enjoy my embroidery.

I finished my Queen Victoria a few days ago and now need to take the photographs and prepare the website for her launch. Although she has been quite a popular doll over the years, I don't have a fabric or porcelain version on my website at the moment but I must have made perhaps half a dozen versions in a black and a blue dress, young and old, mostly porcelain but I also made one fabric version a couple of years ago as a special order. There is a picture of her here in my studio at a preliminary stage just to give you a teaser.

I have just started work on something I have been toying with for quite a while. I'm going to make a fabric version of my Queen Elizabeth I Armada dress.

You can see the porcelain version on the website (as well as an Elizabeth in the Hardwick costume) and what I am doing now is scaling everything down. As you can see in the embedded photograph below, this is quite intricate work but it will look gorgeous when I have finished.

There is a large body of research on Elizabeth's portraiture and I try to use it to shape my dolls. For example, although you might think that she lathered her face with white make up (to cover smallpox scars) in later life when examining later portraits, analysis has shown that paintings of Elizabeth’s extremely pale complexion would originally have been much rosier because the reds in the flesh paint have faded.

True, like most of us she 'weathered' as she aged. In her Sixty-Fifth Year she was described as follows, “Her face is oblong, fair but wrinkled; her eyes small, yet black and pleasant; her nose a little hooked; her teeth black (a fault the English seem to suffer from because of their great use of sugar); she wore false hair, and that red”. In later life, she suffered the loss of her hair and her teeth, and in the last few years of her life, she refused to have a mirror in any of her rooms.

Research into the portraits throws up fascinating insights. For example the 'Hidden Serpent' portrait from 1580-90 by an unknown artist was painted over an unfinished portrait of an entirely different sitter facing in the opposite direction to Elizabeth. The eyes and nose of the face underneath can be seen with x-radiography as can lips and a headdress and the ruff which was positioned underneath Elizabeth’s chin. The identity of the original sitter remains a mystery. Oh! and the Serpent cannot be seen because it was over-painted to extend her fingers and show her holding a small bunch of roses. It is thought that the association of a serpent with Satan may have trumped the other serpent allegory of wisdom prudence and good judgment. Not the political image she was looking for.

There are more than a dozen portraits that have enough detail of the costume to make a set worth considering for an extended collection of dolls (see first the National Portrait Gallery

I would add to these:

Elizabeth as a Princess c 1546 by William Scrots

The 'Hampden' portrait c1563 attributed to Steven van Herwijk

The 'Pelican' portrait c.1575 attributed to Nicholas Hilliard 

The 'Phoenix' portrait c1575 attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

The 'Schloss Ambras' portrait 1575-80 by an unknown artist

The 'Plimpton Sieve' portrait 1579 by George Gower

The 'Drewe' portrait 1580s by George Gower

The 'Welbeck' portrait 1580-85 by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder

The 'Sienna Sieve' portrait c1583 by Quentin Metsys II

In 'parliament robes' 1585-90 attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

The 'Ermine' portrait 1585 by William Segar or George Gower

The 'Hardwick' portrait c1590-99 unknown artist

The 'Rainbow' portrait c1600 unknown artist

The 'Coronation' portrait c1600-1610 unknown artist

There are some others I could add, but enough!

I can't imagine ever having the time or energy to make them all, but I have so far made porcelain dolls of the Armada, Hardwick and Ditchley portraits so perhaps I should recreate these and add another two or three to make a collection in fabric. Any thoughts welcome from you, the reader.

Finally, just a word about bigger things. Like so many, I have been outraged by the horrors of Russia's war on Ukraine. We have helped as we can and send our prayers to those suffering from this barbarism that, sadly, harks back to the dark days of the 1930s in Germany, days everyone thought would be part of our history, not a blueprint for our future.

Moving on, let me say thanks for spending time with me and my best wishes.

Stay safe.

Stay well.


Lady Finavon


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