Monday, 15 February 2010

Non sine sole iris - No rainbow without sun

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.
Genesis 9:12-17
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."

Revelation 4:2-3 "Immediately I was in the spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald"

Friday, 12 February 2010


Angelica Kauffman, R.A.,: Colour, ca. 1778-1780
Oil on canvas, 1300 X 1503 mm © The Royal Academy, London

I have been busy preparing a lecture on Angelica Kauffman and have therefore had little time for blogging, but this is an opportunity to mention her visualisation of the occupation of painting. This is one of four allegorical ceiling paintings she created for Somerset House (the first building to house Royal Academy) in 1778-80, now in Burlington House, The Royal Academy, London. is sometimes entitled "Painting", at other times "Self-portrait as Painter", "Colour" or, as in the case of the Bartolozzi print "Colouring". Like many other painters of the late 18th and early 19th century she referred to the rainbow in relation to colour. Newton's influence was clearly still very strong.
The rainbow is, of course, also a suitably picturesque element in an allegorical painting. Kauffman's painter dips cheekily into the colours of the rainbow to use them on her palette (we'll just forget about subtractive and additive colours for the moment, shall we?). I must admit, it is a lovely image. I wouldn't mind having a nice copy of it on my wall, though the effect of the rainbow is naturally lost in the un-coloured stipple engraving by Bartolozzi 1787:

By coincidence I found this use of the rainbow-inspired visualisation of colour, light and shade by George Field from 1845. Considerably later than Kauffman, but Field wrote and published on colour theory since the very early 1800s. Poor quality, could no use flash with this book:

What is perhaps more relevant is one of the first colour circles (1793) painted by Kauffman's personal friend Johann W. von Goethe, comprising Newton's rainbow colours:

He also used the image of the rainbow in 1827 to illustrate this handwritten version of one of his poems: