This fall, National Geographic released a new magazine, Exploring History. Although she did not feature as the cover story (that place of prominence belongs to Abraham Lincoln), Elizabeth I appears in two different sections of the magazine. Her first appearance is in the fall historical events section, which details her birth on September 7, 1533, along with coverage of Columbus’s arrival in the New World in October, 1492 and with the French-decreed arrest of the Knights of the Templar in October, 1307. The second section to discuss Elizabeth is listed under “Discoveries”, which details how modern technology reveals that the image of a snake was removed from one of Elizabeth’s official portraits.
During Elizabeth’s time the iconography of a snake represented wisdom and often embellished the Queen’s jewels and clothing. But in Christian tradition the serpent signifies the devil and original sin, which is perhaps why the unknown artist thought better of his choice and covered up the snake with a small bouquet of roses.
-Exploring History, Fall 2011, pg. 10
It is an interesting revelation. However, this story has been out for over a year, at least since spring of
2010. Additionally, I am not certain that the image of a snake was removed due to fear that the snake would be connected to the serpent in the Garden of Eden (a theory, I believe, originally put forth by those at the National Gallery). In the famous Rainbow Portrait, Elizabeth’s fabulous dress can be seen to sport the magnificent image of a curling snake, and she owned other pieces of clothing and jewelry that displayed serpents as well. Of course, changing times could have meant Elizabeth decided that a different emblem needed to be used. We will perhaps never know the reason for the alteration, but it is nice that National Geographic’s new arm is demonstrating an interest in Elizabeth in its newest publication!
If you are interested in learning more about Exploring History, please see http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/history
EDIT 10/05/11: Perhaps the reason for releasing this as “new” news relates to a story relating the painting’s recent removal to Kenilworth Castle. To learn more about it,please see http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/2011/10/05/kneilworth-castle-displaying-mysterious-portrait-of-elizabeth-i-92746-29542129/
To see a 2010 piece on the painting, please see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/7367751/Mysterious-snake-appears-in-painting-of-Queen-Elizabeth-I.html