The image above is taken from a woodcut print from the Iconologia, a guidebook to deciphering emblematic artworks written by Cesare Ripa and published in 1603. The woodcut depicts the emblematic figure of ‘Intelligenza’, or intelligence; and she is wearing some rather unusual accessories. Not least of these is the snake she wears tangled around her left wrist.
She also carries a globe, or celestial sphere, in her right hand, and has a garland of flowers in her hair. This image is probably the inspiration for this seriously impressive piece of arm candy:
which can be found adorning the left sleeve of Elizabeth I in the famous ‘Rainbow’ Portrait at Hatfield House. This serpent is decked out in real opals, rubies, gold and sapphires, and would have been very valuable. However, it also represented to the viewer the same ideas that are connected with Ripa’s figure ‘Intelligenza’: wisdom, patience, intelligence and humility. The serpent, like a seeker after knowledge, must crawl on its belly and be humble, in order to receive the true wisdom of the universe. This is just one of many fascinating paradoxes and strange messages to be found in Elizabeth’s apparel in this image.