She Becomes Her

written by Sophie | Sophie’s Studio

In this painting I was inspired by the paintings of Robert Peake the Elder (ca. 1551-1619). He was an English painter working at the English court during the later years of Elizabeth I and during most of the reign of James I. He was the main ‘Picture maker’ to Henry, Prince of Wales since 1604 and became Serjeant Painter together with John de Critz in 1607. Peake’s paintings were fairly old-fashioned at the time, showing the influence of Elizabethan painter Hilliard in its rich colours, exquisite detail and pattern and lack of realism in form and perspective.

One of his paintings in particular, of an unknown lady, inspired me to create She Becomes Her because of its wonderfully modern looking blackwork skirt, her beautiful detailed bodice and her slightly mischievous look. The background of this painting is an earthy greenish-brown. The painting shows well how these early Jacobean paintings remain so flat in its presentation of women.

The lady’s face and hands are like a doll; porcelain white with an unnatural blush. She has smooth long hands with unrealistic thin fingers and high fashionable hair. There is very little detail in the face and very little textures in the skin. At the same time there is an abundance of detail and variety of texture in the dress and jewels. Her dress and jewels reveal her station in life. The lady is her outfit. The outfit is her.

My lady of 2014 is wearing a skirt inspired by Peake’s lady, a bodice  decorated in a faint historic style, a jet black beaded cape from the 1920s and a feather in her hair. Her face paint recalls the Tudor and Jacobean ideal of a white skin, but in my painting it is applied badly, or not finished, on a naturally tanned woman. The ‘ideal’ has gaps and shows us a hint of the woman underneath. She is completely composed however, her hands and her posture show a self awareness and conscious self presentation.She is playing a part, or perhaps it has taken over her character. She is her. But who is she? The newspaper in the background is  quiet hint to the current debate about the way women get presented and represented in the media; magazines and papers and how this plays with our own image of femininity. The 2-dimensional pictures in the media become real life or even real life goals. The writing on the picture plane breaks the illusion of realism and abruptly brings it back to a flat surface.

Robert Peake the Elder, Portrait of a Woman, c. 1600. Yale Centre for British Art

She Becomes Her, Oil on linen, 101.5x66cm, 2014.

Published: September 1, 2017

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