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The Amberley Queens, Joy Gregory

Photograph a black woman with curly hair and a golden headband. Her hands are clasped in front of her and she is draped in a golden shawl on one shoulder. She is posing as a heroine from antiquity - Semiramis.

At a glance

Artist: Joy Gregory

Date: 1999/2000

Materials: C-Type print on board

Acquisition: Commissioned by Pallant House Gallery, through the Arts Council England South East ‘Making Art Matter’ scheme


The contemporary artist and photographer Joy Gregory [b.1959) was artist-in-residence at Pallant House Gallery in 1999. During this period she produced a series of nine photographs which she titled The Amberley Queens – Heroines of Antiquity.

These C-type photographs were produced in response to the Amberley Panels – a series of painted medieval panels depicting women from ancient history carrying shields and weaponry. These women were empire builders, warriors, and great leaders. While the Amberley Panels depicted women with European features, Joy Gregory chose to make her portraits of the ‘Queens’ more accessible and relevant to contemporary British society.

The medieval Amberley Panels, also known as the Nine Ladies Worthy, were commissioned by Robert Sherborn, Bishop of Chichester in the 16th century. They were displayed in his home, Amberley Castle. Bishop Sherborn chose to depict three Amazons (women warriors skilled in hunting), three Middle Eastern Queens, and the prophet Cassandra in his commission. One of the original panels is now lost, and one of the figures cannot be identified. It is possible that the Amberley Panels were made in 1526 when Henry VIII visited Amberley. The king sought advice from the Bishop on whether to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The Amberley Panels were on display at Pallant House Gallery in 1999 when Joy Gregory produced The Amberley Queens. They are now on display in the Bishop’s Palace in Chichester.

The heroine from antiquity depicted here is Semiramis who started life as a peasant and rose through society to become one of the most powerful monarchs in the land of Shinar. Known as Queen Sammu-ramat of 9th century BC Assyria, she conquered Abyssinia and marched through India. As a memorial to her success, she created the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.