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A collage of a photograph of a white woman's torso layered over a painting of Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth I used to bare her belly to her courtiers in an act of self-blason. She had been a popular subject for blasonneurs in her court, who were infatuated with her distance and divinity.


She would parade her delightful belly in front of her courtiers, teasingly reminding them that none of them would ever possess her, or her belly.


In 1597 a french ambassador describes Elizabeth wearing a dress that is open in the front and having “a trick of putting both hands on her gown and opening it insomuch that all her belly can be seen.”


Anna Furse, our artistic director, encountered this story in her research on blason and anatomy theatre, and it helped inspire the Dear Body project.


Self-blason can look the male gaze right in the eye, disarming it with humour and self-possession, and so empowering the body-subject. It is indeed a clever trick.


You can learn more about self-blason, and create your own, at one of our Dear Body workshops. Enquire at


• story taken from Jonathan Sawday’s ‘The Body Emblazoned’ (1996)


Image Description: a photo of a bare belly is superimposed on a portrait of Elizabeth I. She is wearing a red gown and has a wry smile. The collaged image was created by Vida Adamcewski and Nina Klaff using a snippet of a portrait of Vida taken by photographer Rosie Foster.

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