Detail of the faded posy, showing a coiled serpent.
A rarely seen portrait of Queen Elizabeth I is to go on show at the National Portrait Gallery. The painting depicts the mannish Bess holding a coiled serpent, a detail that only recently came to light thanks to deterioration of the paintwork. The likeness dates from the 1580s or '90s and was painted by an unknown artist, who soon after covered up the snake with a small bunch of flowers.
The serpent's purpose in the painting and the reasons for its obscuration are unknown. The Queen was no stranger to symbolic accoutrements, however. The famous Rainbow Portrait, for example, shows Elizabeth in a dress covered with eyes and ears.
The portrait has not been publicly displayed at the gallery since 1921. It will hang alongside three other likenesses of the Virgin Queen at a new exhibition, Concealed and Revealed: The Changing Faces of Elizabeth I, which runs in Room 2 from 13 March to 26 September.