Fri, 05 Mar 2010 16:33 CST
As many a courtier fatally found out, it was never a good idea to displease the Virgin Queen.
Which may explain why an artist carried out some serious alterations to his first draft portrait of Elizabeth I back in the 16th century.
Where he had drawn the Queen clutching a serpent, the painter had second thoughts and substituted a much more feminine bunch of roses.
The revisions would have remained a mystery had it not been for the ravages of time.
For yesterday, the National Portrait Gallery revealed how the image of the coiled snake had re-appeared.
Deterioration over the centuries has meant the serpent depicted in the Tudor monarch’s fingers in the original version has revealed itself once more, with its outline now visible on the surface.
The portrait was created by an unknown artist in the 1580s or early 1590s.
The image has not been on display at the London gallery since 1921 but it will form part of an exhibition titled Concealed and Revealed: The Changing Faces of Elizabeth I, from March 13 to September 26.
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.
A statement from the gallery said: ‘The snake is mainly black but has greenish blue scales and was almost certainly painted from imagination.’
The image of the monarch covers a portrait of another woman, whose identity is unknown.
The gallery believes the unfinished portrait was by a different painter, showing how 16th century panels were sometimes recycled by artists.