Winter Queen exhibition: Pearls as symbol of power
A Leiden literary scholar, paintings of the Winter King and Queen and a string of pearls brought together by an exhibition in the Hague. Dr Nadine Akkerman: ‘The Winter Queen was a highly political person who used every means – including pearls - to showcase her royal lineage.’
Akkerman is a specialist on Queen Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen. She is the author of a series of books published by Oxford University Press on Elizabeth’s correspondence. When The Hague-based art dealers Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder decided to stage an exhibition of paintings to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the marriage of the Winter King and Queen, Elizabeth and Frederick, Akkerman was the obvious choice as historical adviser for the exhibition.
The 40 or so paintings were a rich source of possible areas for study, but Akkerman was asked to concentrate on fashion and clothing, a very visual and also very significant aspect of the works on display. Her task was to compile the background information and descriptions of the artworks. Fortunately, she already had much of the necessary information from her research on Elizabeth’s letters.
Many of the paintings show Elizabeth wearing not only sumptuous clothing, but also impressive jewellery. Akkerman: ‘Elizabeth was very concerned about making sure she made the right impression. She is often to be seen wearing a particular necklace of pearls. The pearls in question have an impressive provenance, and she used them strategically to reinforce her royal connections.’
Elizabeth Stuart was named after her godmother Queen Elizabeth I. It was as if the militant Queen had risen like a phoenix from her ashes. Elizabeth herself also identified with Queen Elizabeth I: she had portraits made of herself that imitated those of her godmother. Her signature was also an exact replica of that of her famous namesake.
When Queen Elizabeth I died, King James inherited ‘six long pearl necklaces with 25 pearls as big as nutmegs’ and ‘7 large single pearls for earrings and dress ornaments’. Queen Elizabeth inherited these from James’s mother and Elizabeth’s grandmother, Mary Queen of Scots, when she was sentenced to death. After James died, they were passed on to Elizabeth Stuart. By having her portrait painted wearing the pearls, that were so well-known as a result of the Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, Elizabeth Stuart reinforces the comparison with her illustrious predecessor.
(Text by Dr Nadine Akkerman accompanying the above painting of Elizabeth wearing the pearls in question)
Akkerman’s work on early modern women’s studies is rapidly gaining recognition. She is currently a permanent visiting scholar in the research group of eminent British Professor of Renaissance Studies at University College Leiden Lisa Jardine. Akkerman has also been asked by Oxford University Press to write a biography of Elizabeth Stuart. She is keen to get started, but it will have to wait until her current project on Female Spies has been completed. That will be in 2015 or thereabouts.
(12 March 2013 / MLH)
Tentoonstelling Frederik & Elizabeth (article LUCAS website, in Dutch)
Previously unpublished letters shed new light on Dutch Republic’s first queen