Imaging the Filmic Gloriana / The Mask of Elizabeth

Fortyfivedownstairs, 25 July - 5 August 2017

These purse-sized gouache miniature portraits are based on 16 movie stills of actors playing Elizabeth I, the bastard, rebel spinster, Tower of London detainee,  survivor of both sexual and domestic abuse, the beneficiary of privilege and victim of adversity.

These portraits contemplate how dramaturges and wardrobe departments have represented and misrepresented this feminist icon and how in real life she became empowered to be the author of her own destiny whilst others conspired to corrupt and usurp it. They are a meditation on regaining authorship of one’s own story.

We speed read faces, scanning them with a type of visual shorthand as we skim over the chiaroscuro shadows. We allow our gaze to shoot towards the highlights and the details in shadows to recede and not register. thus the stronger highlights dictate the reading of the image. As in life, those when the loudest voices dictate the story telling whilst those with the quieter ones recede and become muted by the shadows.

If the devil is in the detail then the devil screams in these highly detailed studies that impede a speed-read and demand a more multifaceted reading of one woman’s story as told by 16 others.

The portraits are housed in elaborate highly ornamental resin frames embellished with baroque arabesques and objects both referring to the cinema and the reign of Elizabeth 1.

Photos by Lucia Rossi