The Rainbow Portrait Queen Elizabeth, attributed to Isaac Olivier, c. 1600-1602, oil on canvas, collection of the Marquess of Salisbury, Hatfield House, Salisbury
An addendum to my last post on rainbows in art. I guess the number of examples of the use of the rainbow in art must be endless, but it is also endlessly fascinating. I was lounging on the sofa on Sunday night, indulging in David Dimbleby's Seven Ages of Britain part 3, The DimbleBee brought my attention to this spectacular portrait of Queen Elizabeth holding a rainbow in her right hand. The rainbow bears the Latin inscription 'Non sine sole iris' ('No rainbow without the sun'). In 1972 René Graziani wrote an article on the portrait for the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes in which he disects the symbolism of the painting with particular focus on the rainbow. He explains that "the rainbow makes Elizabeth a peace-bringer". Graziani makes a strong case for a religious/biblical interpretation. The biblical allusion to God's covenant with Noah first comes to mind, but he also mentions Revelation 4, 2-3 (both see below). Bearing the Latin inscription in mind I understand this to mean that there is a covenant between Elizabeth and her people ("I am married to England.") and that Elizabeth = the sun = God. Or at least it assigns godlike qualities to her, as the saviour and protector of England, bringing prosperity and peace.
And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the
clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."
So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth."