Thursday, 17 July 2014

Crafting the Image of Elizabeth I Part One

Queen Elizabeth I was very aware of how important her image was to her subjects and to the rest of the world. She cultivated her appearance as the Virgin Queen by applying make up and wearing elaborate wigs and gowns. She famously never married, choosing to retain sole power as Queen of England.

Inspired by surviving portraits of Elizabeth I, I decided to see if I could recreate her image in copper and silver. The portrait below was a particular inspiration. It dates from c. 1588 and commemorates the defeat of the Spanish Armada. It part of the National Portrait Gallery's collection although it is rarely on display.

© National Portrait Gallery, London

First, I had to pare down the design to make it easier to pierce from silver sheet. I drew my design onto the sheet and drilled tiny holes where the eyes, eyebrows and mouth were going to be. The next stage was to pass a saw blade through the holes and sketch out the design by cutting into the metal. This is incredibly fiddly and you need an exceptionally steady hand! There is an added sense of fear because if you make a mistake, you cannot rectify it and you have to start again. 

Next, I needed to cut out a heart shaped piece of copper for the hair. I wanted it to cover the detail in the face and to strengthen the design so it had to be big enough to fit neatly behind the ruff.

The fear of filling the pierced design with solder is very real and so I've found the best way to achieve good results is to use very tiny pieces of solder positioned very carefully. I then laid the silver Elizabeth onto the copper sheet and moved the flame continuously whilst checking to see if the two metals were fixed together.

After soldering, Elizabeth I looked quite like a zombie! The flux has reacted here to provide a greenish tinge and the copper is demonstrating the beautiful fire patterns that can be achieved through heating copper and then quenching in cold water very quickly.

I've included a photo below of the process of soldering a brooch pin onto the back of Elizabeth. I used silver solder to solder between a silver pin and the copper sheet.

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