Coiled snake appears in painting of Queen Elizabeth I

Published on March 5th, 2010 | by Admin


Deterioration of a 16th century painting of Queen Elizabeth I has revealed a mysterious coiled snake in her hands.

The serpent was depicted being clasped in the Tudor monarch’s fingers in the original version of the work – but it was painted over at the last minute and replaced with a more decorative bunch of roses.

Deterioration over time has meant the snake has revealed itself once more, with its outline now visible on the surface.

A serpent was sometimes used to reflect wisdom, prudence and reasoned judgment, but the scaly creatures are also linked to notions of Satan and original sin.

The gallery suggested the snake’s removal may have been due to the ambiguity of the emblem.

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4 Responses to Coiled snake appears in painting of Queen Elizabeth I

  1. Hels says:

    Thank you. I love art historical puzzles 🙂

    Goodness.. that snake is a very tricky element to decode. Original sin in the Garden of Eden is the obvious explanation, but probably inappropriate since in older age Queen Elizabeth reclaimed her virginity.

    If a serpent was used back then to reflect wisdom, prudence and reasoned judgment, that cluster of symbols seems to have disappeared in the last centuries. Even the connection to poison and to healing is ambiguous.

    For me, I immediately thought of Cleopatra who wanted to commit suicide by clasping an asp to her breast. I wonder if Elizabethan subjects would have known about Cleopatra.

  2. Anthony Holmes says:

    The article in the Telegraph covering this story also goes on to report that the portrait of Elizabeth I was painted over the portrait of another unknown woman wearing a French hood. This earlier painting was by a different artist and the panel was re-used for the Queen’s portrait. The earlier painting is making its presence known through the loss of paint from the Queen’s forehead and has been revealed by x-ray. Is it possible that the snake belongs to the earlier portrait and has nothing to do with the Elizabeth I?

  3. Edmund Blackadder says:


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