Portrait of Elizabeth Flay

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Portrait of Elizabeth Flay

Elizabeth Flay (1587-1673) was one of Exeter's prominent 17th-century citizens. A shrewd business woman, she long outlived her husband Thomas, who had been an apothecary and alderman and died in 1634. The couple founded six almshouses in Goldsmith Street whose site now lies within the Guildhall Shopping Centre.

Richard Davin, a costume expert, comments: "Painted c. 1625-30. Staring out at us from beneath her enormous black beaver hat, balanced by an almost equally large ruff encircling her neck, Elizabeth Flay wears the rich clothing of a prosperous member of the Exeter bourgeoisie."

"A partlet of fine white lawn, with lace insertions, infills the neckline of her bodice, which is edged with a black trimming- possibly one of the newly-fashionable black silk bobbin laces from Flanders. Elaborately ruffled, lace-edged cuffs finish off Mrs Flay’s sleeves, and two broad bands of gold lace or embroidery decorate the centre front of her underskirt. The fine black cords or ribbons and strings of pearls around Elizabeth’s forearms can be clearly seen, as can the numerous rings worn on each hand. On her right thumb Elizabeth Flay wears what may be a signet ring- perhaps her late husband’s or her father’s."

This anonymous oil painting has sometimes been attributed to James Gandy; the skull beside her hand reminds her of her mortality.

Acknowledgments: RAM Museum

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