The Secrets in a Portrait of a Queen

Resplendent in a jewelled silvery white gown that would today cost around £500,000, Queen Elizabeth I certainly knew how to flaunt her power, wealth and, even in her late 50s, her womanly assets. Portraits of the rich and famous in Tudor times were loaded with symbolism. Search out the Tudor rose and the suggestion of forgiveness in the sun breaking through a thundery sky (the portrait was commissioned by a gentleman who fell from grace then was forgiven).

But if you look closely, in her left hand Elizabeth is holding a pair of leather gloves and this is a very personal symbol. Throughout her life Elizabeth knew that her hands were her best feature. In every portrait her hands are almost iridescent with remarkably long fingers, probably painted that way by royal request. During meetings with ambassadors from far flung countries, Elizabeth would peel leather gloves on and off in a flirtatious manner to display her wrists and long fingers. (Think about the Hollywood 1950s to 1960s striptease routines when long gloves were a key garment to be removed.)

So even in history, leather gloves were transformed into a glamorous accessory. Comfortable and warm, essential for hiding Winter roughened hands but more importantly a stylish way to enhance and emphasise an erogenous wrist.

For the history buffs among you who want to view the whole portrait, here is the link The National Portrait Gallery.

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