- Museum number
A Pictish woman; nude with stained and painted body, curved sword and spears
Pen and brown ink and watercolour over graphite, touched with white (oxidised)
- Production date
Height: 230 millimetres
Width: 179 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- For an introduction to this group of drawings by John White and a list of abbreviations used in the Literature at the end, see curatorial comment for 1906,0509.1.1, the title page inscription to the album.
The following text is taken from K. Sloan, 'A New World: England's First View of America' (London, BM Publications, 2006), no. 33, pp. 160-61:
[NB. If you use any of the text or information below, please acknowledge the source]
There is an element of theatre and particularly of Elizabethan masques in John White’s images of the Picts. It is doubtful that any performer in a masque would be as completely naked as the figures here, but diaphanous materials and the types of short and revealing costumes shown in drawings that do survive indicate that they were more daring than we might imagine. The paint or tattoos cover their bodies completely, creating a kind of second skin that is also reminiscent of armour such as that worn by the Earl of Cumberland for a tournament (see a miniature by Hilliard in the National Maritime Museum). Men showed off their shapely legs to their upper thighs in silk hose until near the end of the century.
In John Speed’s 1611 'Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain', the image of this Pictish woman was incorporated with the image of a woman neighbour of the Picts (no. 25) into an ‘Ancient British Woman’ with long flowing skirts and hair over a body completely tattooed with small birds and animals. The type of tattoos shown in this later image and those found on the ‘Daughter of the Picts’ (see no. 26) are also reminiscent of the elaborate and exquisitely fine embroidery found in Elizabethan dress. The ‘Rainbow portrait’ of Queen Elizabeth at Hatfield House, the home of the Cecils, Lord Burghley’s family, depicted her dress covered with spring flowers and her cloak strangely embroidered with eyes, ears and mouths to symbolize ‘those who watched and listened to purvey their intelligence to her’ while a serpent on her sleeve, similar to the strapwork pattern on the previous Pict’s legs, indicated her wisdom. The Elizabethan court and its portraits were full of symbolism, and stars and crescents as seen here were often used to refer to Diana or Cynthia, goddess of the moon or to Astraea, the just virgin of Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue who inaugurates a golden age bringing peace and eternal springtime. It is entirely possible that there is a further layer of meaning in White’s image of the Picts alluding to the Queen and ‘Virginia’ that has yet to be unravelled.
Engraved by de Bry, in 'America', I, Pictes, pl. II: ‘The truue picture of a women Picte’
Lit.: LB 1(28); ECM 70; PH&DBQ 00; PH 67; for symbolism in the Queen’s portraits see Strong 1999, pp. 47–50, Frances Yates, 'Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century', London, 1975, 1993, and an extensive literature by Karen Hearn, Tarnya Cooper, Susan Doran and others
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1954, BM, Anglo-Flemish Art Under The Tudors, no.59
1965 Jan 30-Feb 22, NGC, Washington, John White, no.98
1965 26 Feb-14 Mar, NC Mus of Art, Raleigh, John White, no. 98
1965 17 Mar-5 Apr, NY, Pierpont Morgan Libr, John White, no. 98
1980 BM, 'British Figure Drawings' (no.cat)
1987 Feb 5-May 25, BM, 'An A-Z of P&D'
2007 Mar-Jun, BM, 'A New World:...', no.33
2007/8 Oct-Jan, Raleigh, North Carolina Mus of History, 'A New World:...'
2008 Mar-Jun, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 'A New World:...'
2008 Jul-Oct, Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, 'A New World:...'
2012 London, BM, Shakespeare
- Associated titles
Associated Title: America
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The provenance given above refers to the moment when the album of drawings connected with John White was purchased by the Department of Manuscripts in what is now the British Library. The album was transferred to the Department of Prints and Drawings in 1906, where it was assigned new register numbers.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number