Great Dames

Boudicca and her Daughters on the Victoria Embankment is the most famous representation of the British queen. Queen Victoria felt a resonance with Boadicea; the work was as commissioned by Prince Albert and executed by Thomas Thornycroft.
My friend K Dee recently put together a photo stream of portraits of women to “help me remember, in case I ever start to forget, which sort of female image I find reflects a healthy civil society, and which I do not.” That in turn reminded me of Lady Antonia Fraser’s wonderful Warrior Queens: The Legends and Lives of Women Who have led Their Nations in War, and I decided to focus on great queens and their artistic representation this week.

One of Fraser’s primary subjects is Britain’s Boadicea. I have a half-finished portrait of her in my studio that I will be working on next week.
Her name comes down to us as Boudica, Boudicca, Boadicea or Buddug. It derives from the Proto-Celtic feminine adjective boudīka, which translates to “victorious” in English. What we know of her comes from the writings of Tacitus and Cassius Deo.

Boadicea's husband Prasutagus was a client-king of the Roman Empire. Although his will left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Emperor, upon his death, his kingdom was annexed to Rome. Boadicea was beaten, their daughters were raped, and Roman financiers claimed the family assets as their own.

Boadicea Haranguing the Britons, line engraving, published 1793, by William Sharp, after John Opie. The engraving is finer than the painting.

Boadicea raised the Iceni and neighboring tribes—estimated to be 100,000 strong—in what would become the longest-lasting revolt against Roman rule by a client state.  The natives sacked Camulodunum (modern Colchester), Londinium, and Verulamium (St. Albans) before being defeated by Suetonius in the Battle of Watling Street. Boadicea committed suicide rather than be captured by the Romans.

Considering that Boadicea is one of the fundamental heroes of early Britain, she is shockingly unrepresented in art. One has to ask why the Pre-Raphaelites, with their consuming interest in British history, gave her such a cold shoulder. Her militancy, her political skill, her energy, and her mastery apparently gave them fits; they were much more interested in the wasting maiden.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

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