Friday, 5 March 2010

Serpent Revealed

Yesterday the National Portrait Gallery in London released this artist's impression of a serpent in the hand of Queen Elizabeth I, the outline of which was found under a posy of roses during cleaning. The original painting dates from the 1580s or early 1590s. The BBC and most of the newspapers have reported this item as a mystery snake without thinking about it (CLICK). This isn't a zoological specimen, but a mythological symbol and as such should be referred to as a serpent, as in the Garden of Eden. And what does a serpent symbolize in Christian mythology? Cunning, deceit, treachery, evil. So the Queen's grasp on the serpent serves as a warning against treachery, perhaps even a veiled threat to a great household under suspicion. After Elizabeth's death a more acceptable posy of roses could be substituted for the menacing serpent. Anyway, it's all good publicity for Concealed and Revealed: The Changing Faces of Elizabeth I, which opens on 13 March and continues until 26 September (title link).


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