Thursday 5 December 2013

Elizabeth I & Her People – Exhibition and book review

When we went to see the Cheapside Hoard exhibition we spend the afternoon at the National Portrait Gallery for its Elizabeth I & Her People exhibition. The exhibition is excellent, and contains lots of costume and other materials as well as the portraits.

 I think we went the wrong way round the exhibition and were meant to start with Elizabeth and work our way round to the poor, but I looked to my right and that was it. There was the possibly / probably sailor’s shirt and breeches from the Museum of London. They are displayed in a glass case were you can view from three sides, and get close enough to see the diaper pattern of the  shirt material and the twill weave of the breeches, the website link has several close up photos. There has been much discussion, among re-enactors at least, about whether the outfit is as old as they say, some of which is focused on the shoulder reinforcement. I must admit this type of reinforcement is just what I have done on my son’s shirt where constant wear has thinned the material to tearing point. The outfit is displayed with the print of Vecellio’s sailor of 1598. Also in the working class section of the exhibition is the lovely child’s knitted mitten again borrowed from the Museum of London

Next we have the professional classes, with portraits of lawyers, clergymen and physicians, including a rather gruesome John Banister delivering and anatomy lecture. There is one woman, the calligrapher Esther Inglis., and following on from these, the rising merchant classes. In this section as well as the portraits you will find, some of a collection of 16th century knitted caps, from the Museum of London., a beautiful blackwork woman’s waistcoat from the Fashion Museum Bath, and other clothing related items like pins and thimbles. One thing you can stand and try to read is a long inventory of goods from a London haberdasher in 1582. There are also gloves and drawing instruments and coins.

Still moving round in the wrong direction we have the gentry, nobility and court. Here the portraits include the English sea dogs, Raleigh, Frobisher and Drake, the nobility in the guise of  the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk by Hans Eworth, Elizabeth’s favourite the Earl of Leicester and her Lord Treasurer, William Cecil, among others. This grouping is accompanied by more upmarket goods, pomanders, sweet bags, rings, rapiers, and a very nice wheel-lock pistol.

Then we have Elizabeth herself in several portraits including the ermine portrait, and two versions of her with three goddesses. We were back at the beginning, having gone the wrong way around the entire thing. Here we found maps of Britain and London and Hoefnagel’s Fete at Bermondsey.

The book is well worth £25 (it’s a hardback), and as well as providing a catalogue of the exhibition there are four essays at the beginning of the work including, for those interested in clothes, Susan North on What Elizabethan’s wore: evidence from wills and inventories of the “middling sort”

Cooper, Tarnya. Elizabeth & her people. National Portrait Gallery. ISBN 978 1 85514 465 1

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