If you live in London, you have until 25 November to see an exhibition at the British Museum called Shakespeare: staging the world.
It includes this painting of Elizabeth I.
Known as the Sieve Portrait, it’s the work of Quentin Metsys the Younger, who was an artist of the court.
But of course, it’s not just the portrait of a woman. It’s an icon, created to represent a Queen.
As such, it’s a picture with a message. The globe in the background points to her power. The sieve is a reference to a myth and places the Queen in the role of a vestal virgin, who carried water in a sieve without spilling it as a proof of chastity.
In the background, you can see the court of men, ruled over by this unassailable, powerful woman.
Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, from throughout her reign, send out the same message. They are, if you like, a visual representation of her brand values.
And here's another that looks pretty similar.
This one is called the Darnley Portrait and the artist is unknown. Art historians say that this portrait establishes a ‘face pattern’, which is used repeatedly in portraits in subsequent decades.
I remember watching a programme years ago where a portrait of Elizabeth I was examined and found to have tiny pin-pricked holes, outlining her face. It’s thought that the artist had been provided with a face template to ensure his work fitted with the visual identity the Queen laid down. She used this template to remain young, virginal and powerful in the eyes of her subjects.
In later years, the face pattern is seen to change slightly, suggesting that the visual identity was updated on a couple of occasions.
Remember, the Queen didn’t often sit for portraits so having a template would also have represented a practical measure to enable artists who never or rarely saw the Queen to paint her.
This historical information may or may not be of interest to you, but I mention it because I think it gives you a slightly different way of looking at changes in brand and visual identity.
Recently, one of the charity world’s most powerful brands had a change of visual identity. From this...
Or in Elizabethan terms, it has changed the face it displays to the world.
Looking at the logo alone, there’s a clear link from one to the other, but when I’ve seen posters, the overall change seems more substantial. I’ve struggled to recognise some of their new tube ads as theirs. And I'm interested.
The new visual identity may or may not still be conveying the same brand values, but it does looks different. And you can understand why changes like this can be confusing to a donor.
You no longer look like the person they recognise.
Various studies have been done about how fundraising can suffer as a result of a brand/visual identity overhaul.
Elizabeth I was one of the most powerful people in the world for 45 years, despite coming to the throne in turbulent times and, inconveniently (to her father at least) being a woman.So perhaps it’s worth taking a leaf out of Elizabeth I’s book and considering managed adjustments, rather than radical overnight change to a brand or visual identity.
And here’s some evidence that approach might just work: