28 May 2011

The sieve as a symbol of virginity

Quentin Metsys Elizabeth I The Sieve Portrait c. 1583

The rationale for the symbolism would not be intuitive to the modern viewer, and has nothing to do with the hymen.  Here's an explanation from Chris Skidmore's Death and the Virgin Queen:
In a series of pictures of Elizabeth, known as the "Sieve" portraits, painted between 1579 and 1583, Elizabeth is depicted holding a sieve, a symbol of her virginity.  This referred to the story of Tuccia, a Vestal Virgin at Rome, who when she was accused of breaking her vow of virginity, proved herself by filling a sieve from the waters of the River Tiber and carrying it back to the temple of Vesta without spilling a drop.
You learn something every day.  More re the book later.

Image via Document.No.


  1. I notice that she doesn't look very happy...

    --Swift Loris

  2. There's a lovely little sub-plot about modern hydrocolloidal science and the Vestals' sieve in Robertson Davies' The Rebel Angels; it's a terrific book, and might serve to distract you a little during your current family/business hiatus if you need to take your mind off things.

  3. Requested from our library; thanks, Liz.


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