Elizabeth I, the Folger’s “Sieve” Portrait

Posted by on Mar 13, 2014

Elizabeth I, the Plimpton Sieve Portrait by George Gower (1579)
Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Originally built as a private retreat for the library’s founders, Henry and Emily Folger, the room resembled an Elizabethan withdrawing room or parlor, with rectangular paneling in dark oak, a beamed ceiling, polished hardwood floors, and blind leaded windows filled with opaque glass. In the middle stretched a long carved table surrounded by chairs a little too delicate for the rest of the room. Presiding over the whole was a magnificent portrait of Queen Elizabeth I….


I gazed up at the queen. Her gown of red velvet and padded ivory satin worked in gold and pearls set off a fair complexion, deep red curls, and black eyes. In one hand, she held a sieve, symbol of her persona as the Virgin Queen. The painter had given her a face capable of both greatness and cruelty.


—Interred With Their Bones

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