Width: 4.600 cm
Sloane Collection (1753)
M&ME Sloane 1778
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
The Phoenix Jewel
England, about AD 1570-80
An idealized portrait of the Virgin Queen
On the front of this gold pendant is a silhouette bust of Queen Elizabeth I of England (reigned 1558-1603); on the reverse, is a device of a phoenix in flames under the royal monogram ('ER'), a crown and heavenly rays, enclosed within an enamelled wreath of red and white roses.
On succeeding to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth understood that she needed to avoid the excesses of the reign of father, Henry VIII (1509-47) and that of her sister, Mary I (1554-58). She adopted a cautious foreign policy, avoiding alliances until she was forced to act against Spain in the 1580s. At home, she tolerated Catholicism while actively encouraging Protestantism, and achieved much-needed monetary reform. Her reliance on ministerial counsel steered a way through the many political dangers of her reign. Elizabeth pursued a careful propaganda campaign, with particular emphasis on the legitimacy and stability of her monarchy. Attributes of majesty, authority and virginity were frequently represented in court balls, theatre productions, portraits, coinage, and jewels. These were often specifically produced as statements of confidence at specific crisis points in her reign.
Elizabeth is generally portrayed in an idealized manner: her portraits in the later years of her long reign show no sign of ageing. This magnificent jewel is a unique survival; no matching example is known. The portrait of the Queen is similar to that in a miniature by Nicholas Hilliard (around 1537-1619) dated to 1572. The phoenix rising from the flames is a well-known symbol of renewal, while the entwined red and white roses symbolize the consolidation of England under Tudor rule.
H. Tait, Seven thousand years of jewe-1, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)