Painters to the Elizabethan and Jacobean Courts: Nicholas Hilliard & Isaac Oliver (Guest Post)

Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619) & Isaac Oliver (1565-1617)

Guest post by Melanie V. Taylor

Nicholas Hilliard was England’s first English artist to become internationally famous.  His self portrait (© Victoria & Albert Museum, London) is a mere 41mm in diameter (1.6 inches) and it is for  these exquisitely delicate and miniature images of Elizabeth I and her court that he becomes famous.

I fell in love with Hilliard’s miniatures portraits when I was a teenager and harboured ambitions to become an artist.   His tiny images had details that hinted at an expertise to which I could only aspire.  At the age of thirteen I did have a painting exhibited in London’s National Gallery’s Children’s Summer exhibition, but that was more years ago than I care to remember. It was not until I did my Master’s degree in medieval and earlymodern studies at the University of Kent that I was able to study Hilliard in greater depth, as well as the times in which he lived and the influences he absorbed from and through his teacher, Levina Teerlinc.[i] Since graduating in 2006[ii], part of my research has been into the symbols and emblems used in medieval and early modern illuminated manuscripts and although Hilliard was painting for a mainly Protestant audience, many of these symbols from before the Reformation appear in some of his paintings.

We know Hilliard was born in Exeter, but the year is still debated as the parish records that would have shown his baptism have been lost.  Generally the year 1547 is accepted, but there are still some dissenters.

The oldest son of a goldsmith, Richard Hilliard and his wife Laurence, both Nicholas and his younger brother John would both follow in the footsteps of their father and become goldsmiths.  It would be Nicholas who would go on to be remembered some four hundred and seventy two years later, but not for his goldsmith’s work.  Nicholas went on to become the favoured artist of Elizabeth I, creating tiny portraits of the Virgin Queen who gave these small images of herself to loyal courtiers, diplomats and perhaps as love tokens to the love of her life, Robert Dudley.   These tiny portraits are what made Hilliard famous both in England and internationally. Not only did he paint these small portraits, he also painted larger ‘table’ portraits of the queen and recently another portrait of the Queen, together with one of Sir Amyas Paulet have been discovered.

Hilliard was brought up a Protestant and as a child spent time in exile in Geneva with the family of John Bodley, who was also a prominent citizen of Exeter.  Richard Hilliard had decided to send his eight year old son away with the Bodley’s in 1555 during the reign of Henry VIII’s Catholic daughter, Mary.  As those fascinated by Tudor history know, to be a Protestant during Mary’s reign was to court persecution and death.   Many adherents to the new Anglican church fled to Protestant Europe and many found their way to Geneva where the reformist theologian, John Calvin, was living and preaching.  It is very likely the Hilliard was educated with the Bodley children.  Thomas Bodley, John Bodley’s son and Hilliard’s contemporary, went on to reform the Oxford university library that now bears his name, The Bodleian.  Hilliard painted this miniature portrait of Thomas in 1598[iii], the same year that the new library became operational, and coincidentally also the same year that Hilliard drafted a treatise of how to paint and prepare pigments.  Hilliard possibly started this project at the request of his childhod companion. The draft treatise contains many similarities to another treatise published in 1573 by Anon, but includes Hilliard’s anecdotes of when he painted the Virgin Queen, his ideas of the rank of the person suitable to paint these portraits, as well technical details on how to prepare and mix pigments.[iv]

During the reign of Mary I, there were several other English families living in Geneva including that of Francis Knollys (1511-1596).  Francis was married to Catherine (née Carey) (c1524-1569) the daughter of Mary Boleyn and William Carey and therefore cousin to the future Elizabeth I.   Frances and Catherine had fourteen children, one of whom was Letitia who was first married to Walter Devereux in 1560, and much later in 1578, married the queen’s favourite, one Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.   Much has been written about Dudley’s reasons for marrying Letitia, but the marriage resulted in them both being banished from court.  Dudley was eventually allowed to return, but Letitia was never allowed to see her cousin the queen again.   There is one of Hilliard’s portraits of an Unknown Lady that is thought to be of Letitia and while some might accuse me of fantasy, it would be logical that Hilliard would be asked to paint her at the time of her wedding in 1578. Robert Dudley had been a very loyal patron so it is very likely he would have commissioned a portrait of his new wife from his favourite artist.

What has long been debated is Dudley’s relationship with Elizabeth.  Some years ago two miniature Hilliard portraits of Elizabeth and Dudley were put up for sale in 2009 fetching £80,000. They are clearly a pair and are only 15mm high (that is just over half an inch high). Their size suggests were probably painted for inclusion in a ring, but the ring no longer exists.  Some might consider this thought speculative, but perhaps Hilliard also created the ring they once sat in.

But I digress.  The records of the Goldsmiths’ Company reveal that in 1562 Nicholas Hilliard was apprenticed to the queen’s goldsmith, Robert Brandon, and became a master goldsmith in 1569.  This is evidence of his official training as a master goldsmith, but the greater question for us is who taught Hilliard the art of limning?[v]

In his draft Treatise of of 1598 Hilliard tells us that his inspiration was Hans Holbein the Younger, but this inspiration could only have come from examing paintings or sketches because Holbein had died in November 1543 – some four years before Hilliard’s birth.   The Royal Collection contains many sketches of members of the court of Henry VIII, and it is very likely that Hilliard would have seen the original great mural of Henry VIII, his father, mother and Queen Jane painted by Holbein on the walls of the private royal apartments in Whitehall Palace.  Today we can only examine Holbein’s surviving cartoon of the king created for the mural as the mural was destroyed in the fire of 1698; the Royal Collection contains a copy of the final image made by Remegius van Leemput in the 17th century.  The next time you are in the National Gallery, look very carefully at Holbein’s life size cartoon of Henry VIII.  You will see the pin holes Holbein made in order to transfer the design to the wall.  These sketches and the mural may well have been shown to the young Hilliard.

Logically Hilliard must have had draughting skills in order to design items to make as a goldsmith.  What we do not know is whether he learnt to paint before becoming apprenticed to the queen’s goldsmith, Robert Brandon, or after.   I know what I was capable of producing artistically as a teenager, so it is very likely that he learnt these techniques prior to joining Brandon’s household.[vi]

The artist who had been appointed to replace the court limner Lucas Horenbout who had died in March 1544, was Levina Teerlinc and since she was still at court in the 1560s it is she who is the most likely candidate to be his teacher.

Levina Teerlinc was the daughter of the last of the great Flemish illuminators, Simon Bening.   Levina had married George Teerlinc of Blackenberg in 1545, not long before it is thought she (and her merchant husband) came to London.  The first time she appears in the king’s accounts is in 1546 where she is granted an annuity of 40l per annum, to be paid quarterly in arrears ‘at the king’s pleasure’.  It was a greater annual sum than received by Horenbout and was paid ‘unto her husband, George’ and in the accounts the spelling of the Teerlinc varies through Terling, Tarling, Teerling and Tarlinc in the various entries over the years.

After Queen Mary dies, there are a couple of interesting entries in the royal accounts. Robert Brandon is listed as being paid £1500, and Teerlinc’s name appears immediately underneath his and she is paid £150. Coincidentally, this is the total amount of the annuity that was outstanding from the beginning of Mary’s reign to the quarter before the queen’s death in November 1558. There had been no further patent since Teerlinc was first employed by Henry VIII ‘at the king’s pleasure’, but payments had continued under Edward VI.  My examination of the accounts revealed that payments had ceased under Mary.  In November 1559 Teerlinc was granted a lifetime annuity by Elizabeth I in recognition of her loyalty to the Tudor family. Despite beginning to create portraits of Elizabeth I in 1572 Hilliard would have to wait until much later in his career to receive a similar annuity and well after Teerlinc’s death in 1576.

There is another one of Hilliard’s Unknown Ladies dated 1572 in the Buccleugh collection, which tells us she is aged fifty two. Back in the early 1960s when Erna Auerbach wrote her book on Hilliard, she described this lady as wearing Flemish style clothes.  In 2002, the art historian Eric Drigsdhal identified portraits of Simon Bening and his father Alexander as individuals in the full page illumination of the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba at the court of King Solomon in the Grimani Breviary.  While I was researching my Master’s dissertation I was struck by the likeness between these three faces and have argued that the Hilliard’s Unknown Lady is a portrait of the then fifty two year old Teerlinc, thus giving us the date of 1520 being the year of her birth.  Since 1572 is also the year that Hilliard first paints the queen it is possible that this portrait was Teerlinc’s way of introducing her young protégé thus giving Elizabeth I a new artist who was capable of taking on the task of official limner to the Elizabethan court.

Teerlinc was well versed in the visual language of symbols and emblems used in illuminated manuscripts and would have schooled her young pupil in such a way that he could adopt these for an English Protestant client base.

There is a treatise, first published in 1573[vii], that describes the art of a limner giving recipes and instructions for the preparation of surfaces, colours and various ways to apply these and gold and silver leaf.  The author is  unknown, but it is possible that it was written by Teerlinc.  Hilliard’s later draft treatise of 1598 replicates much of this earlier book including how to create faux jewels using coloured resin applied over silver leaf.

The Virgin Queen’s favourite, Robert Dudley, knew of Hilliard’s work long before our artist came to the notice of the Elizabeth I and since Teerlinc had been at court since 1546, it is possible Dudley was introduced to her protégé through her.  In my novel, Dudley and Hilliard first meet each other when Dudley comes to pick up a miniature to celebrate Elizabeth’s accession. Hilliard first painted Elizabeth in 1572.  This miniature is in the National Portrait Gallery, London:

1573 was the year when it is now thought Hilliard painted a large portrait of Elizabeth known as The Phoenix portrait  The Pelican portrait probably followed the next year.[viii] .  The National Portrait Gallery, London, attributes these two portraits to Hilliard’s brush.  Earlier this year (2018) Dr Carey, senior curator of the Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor, revealed two more portraits by Hilliard that had been in the collection and lain unrecognised until recently,  one being of the queen and the other being of Sir Amayas Paulet.  It is impossible to over state the importance of these finds as they give scholars of Hilliard another pair of portraits to pour over and analyse.  Through scientific analysis of pigments and examination of the dendrochronology, their work will add to the slowly building database of Hilliard’s methods and hopefully eventually we will be able to identify more of his sitters.

Levina Teerlinc died the month before Hilliard’s marriage in July 1576 to Alice, the daughter of Robert Brandon.   By the mid 1579s Hilliard had become firmly established at court as Teerlinc’s successor.   Shortly after the wedding the newlyweds left for Paris as an unofficial part of the new ambassador’s entourage.  That ambassador was Sir Amyas Paulet.  When Dr Carey presented her paper on the two Hilliard portraits at a conference held at the Royal Maritime Museum, Greenwich earlier this year it was immediately apparent that the queen’s face was created from the same template as the Phoenix and Pelican portraits.

On a more personal note, in 1578 Hilliard’s wife Alice returned to London probably because she was pregnant.  The portrait of Alice Hilliard carries all the symbols suggesting she is pregnant, such as the ear of corn and the pink rosebud pinned to her bodice. (Image © V&A London)  Hilliard painted a portrait of his father in the same year and since the younger Hilliards had gone to Paris in 1576 it is assumed that Nicholas painted this portrait of his father Richard during his father’s visit to France.   It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Alice was chaperoned by her fifty eight year old father-in-law on her return trip to England.  (Image © V&A)

1577 is the year Hilliard painted his self-portrait when he was aged 30 Look closely and you will see there is a sprig of dandelion tucked into his hat band. The dandelion one of the medieval floral symbols of grief and perhaps he gave this portrait to Alice as token of his love and how he is grief strick at their separation when she left for London with his father.  Since France was a hot spot for Protestants (it was only six years since the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre), another layer of meaning might be that this sprig of dandelion refers to Hilliard’s remaining in the French lion’s den of religious upheaval. The French for dandelion is ‘les dentes de lions’, which refers to the shape of the leaf considered to resemble the teeth of a lion  and may well be the reason why they called their first born Daniel after the Old Testament Jewish hero who, when thrown into arena to be torn by lions, he survives because God intervenes.

We know a little about the life the Hilliard’s led in France, but from surviving portraits we know he painted of the members of the French court, such as the portrait of the Duc d’Alençon (Image source Wikipedia).  Hilliard has omitted the terrible small pox scars that marred the Duke’s face.

On his return to England in 1578 Hilliard’s career blossoms.  It may be this year that he was sent to paint the woman who was at that time, a ‘guest’ of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.  It might seem odd for a modern audience but there was probably a season for painting miniatures.  Consider how in an English winter our natural light is limited both in day length and in lux levels.  It seems logical that the late summer 1578 was a possible date for our artist to travel to the Earl of Shrewsbury’s seat and paint the Earl’s royal guest when the light and day length were still good enough to paint by.[ix]  However, it is also possible that he was sent up to Tutbury prior to 1576.[x]  What we do know is that he painted two miniature portraits of Mary, and in this one in the Royal Collection Hilliard has used the expensive blue pigment made from ground lapis lazuli for the intense blue background.  The other portrait, with the lesser blue pigment made from azurite, is now in the Victoria & Albert.  This latter portrait was known to be in the Royal Collection during the reign of the Stuarts and when James II fled to France in 1688 he took it with him.  At some point in the past it was suggested that these were painted by Hilliard in 1560.  Despite Hilliard having a phenomenal talent, it is highly unlikely that anyone would commission a thirteen year old boy to paint a queen.

In addition to giving us an insight into when it was the best time of year for painting, Hilliard  tells us that the sulphur from the fires from coal fires and the fumes from goldsmithing will affect certain pigments, which suggests he kept his goldsmithing separate from his painting.  This provides another clue that he painted in the summer when there were fewer domestic fires.

The Hilliards had seven children in all.  Hilliard’s son Daniel was born in the May if 1578 while his father is still in France. Daniel was their firstborn.  It has been speculated that their daughter Elizabeth was named after the queen, which seems logical, but it is unknown if the queen was the child’s godmother.  Their son Francis may have been named after Sir Francis Knollys, but since Hilliard painted a miniature of Sir Francis Drake the child may have also been named in honour of the great naval captain.

Lawrence, named after his grandmother, would go on to follow in his father’s footsteps, but did not have the same level of talent.  Was Lettice named after Letitia Knollys? As you see, the naming of the Hilliard brood was certainly linked with those at court, but we do not know precisely which courtier might have been godparent.  Sadly there was a stillborn son who arrived on Christmas Eve 1584 who was named Nicholas.

Their last child, was a daughter named Penelope.  Homer’s Penelope (the faithful wife of Odysseus) is often considered to be the embodiment of marital fidelity, and since she was the last of the Hilliard’s children, perhaps she was named as a statement of the faithfulness of Alice and Nicholas to each other.  In  my novel The Truth of the Line, I have chosen that this last child is named after the wife of Marcus Teerlinc.  Marcus was the son of Levina and George Teerlinc and followed in his father’s footsteps.  I have him living longer than he actually did, and married to a woman called Penelope, but whether or not his wife was actually called Penelope is unknown.[xi]  Since Marcus was a merchant, I thought it apt for his wife’s name to reflect his ocean exploits, which may or may not have been similar to those of Odysseus.  This portrait, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, was first thought to be that of the Levina Teerlinc, because of the identification of the tiny die that nestles in her ruff as a toy that in Dutch is called a ‘teerling’, which is another way of spelling Levina’s married name, as seen in the royal accounts.

However, since the age of the sitter is revealed as being fifty and those who study fashion have identified this woman’s clothes as being of the styles worn at the end of the 16th century, this woman was alive long after Levina had died.   It is possible there is another Hilliard miniature in the locket that hangs over this woman’s heart.

Thanks to Hilliard we are able to put the faces to names of some of those courtiers of the court of the Virgin Queen in the same way as his two predecessors, Lucas Horenbout and Hans Holbein the Younger.

If Holbein’s surviving sketches were in the Tudor library, then it is possible that Teerlinc showed them to her protégé.  Rather than say he had been taught by a woman, when he was drafting his treatise at the end of the 16th century he may have chosen to acknowledge Holbein as his muse having had the privilege of studying his sketches.[xii]  A knowledge of these would go some way to explain why Hilliard believed that painting from life captures the essence of the character of his sitters which is lost if he worked from sketches.  Certainly Holbein’s portraits created from his sketches loses something of the freshness of the original sketch. Nowhere is this is more apparent than in Holbein’s portrait of Lady Mary Guildford when you compare it to his sketch.  The serious features of the painted Mary are a far cry from the  sketch where she appears to be about to burst into giggles.[xiii]

One of Teerlinc’s duties is thought to have been the illumination of the capital P on the front of the Coram Rege Rolls.  The front sheet of the Michelmas term of 1553 is a narrative showing the tumultuous events Mary I was forced to endure to the throne of England.[xiv]  Erna Auerbach first promulgated the idea that this narrative is Flemish in design and it would be logical for Teerlinc to have been the author of this miniature painting.  The writing declaring England’s first queen regnant is in burnished gold leaf and the whole page is a masterpiece of the limner’s art.   Unfortunately the coloured narrative is unfinished so we will never know what the empty banners held by the angels were going to reveal.  There are similar highly decorative front pages of the Coram Rege rolls from later in the century and  some of these may well have been by Hilliard, or his workshop.

Another example of the limners’ art is The Ashbourne Charter granting the people of Ashbourne a Free Grammar School, which was illuminated by Hilliard in 1585. The charter for the founding of Emmanuel College, Cambridge has a nearly identical illuminated letter E at the beginning of its charter, and coincidently the college was founded in 1584 by Sir Walter Mildmay.  Clearly our artist was so pleased with this design for the letter E that he chose to repeat it.

The Ashbourne charter not only includes visual references to the Tudors, but a grey falcon, holding a sceptre and wearing the imperial crown appears on folio 3.  When the bird was originally created it would have glittered in the light as it is of silver leaf which has oxidised and turned grey. Hilliard originally used silver leaf to denote the falcon being white, which anyone who knows their Tudor emblems will know this was the personal emblem of Elizabeth I’s mother, Anne Boleyn. The other Tudor references in the margin of this charter are the Beaufort portcullis, the red and white Tudor rose en soleil, and red roses of Lancaster.  It is well known that the queen’s mother wished for proceeds of the dissolution of the monasteries to be used for education, but for this overt rare visual reference to the queen’s mother to be placed above the words on the final folio suggests that there may have been a conversation about the inclusion of the Boleyn falcon.  Perhaps this conversation was even with the queen herself when Hilliard was asked to illuminate this charter.[xv]

The surviving account for the creation and decoration of this charter itemises the amounts paid for the preparation of this illuminated document paid by the rich Derbyshire merchant, Humphrey Strete, being a total £28 12s.  There are two specific items of interest in the bill, the first being ‘for the ingrosinge of this patente’ being the preparation of the written elements, followed by an item ‘for the lymmninge & garnishinge of the same’.  This latter item is specifically for the painting and decoration of the charter and from this we learn that Hilliard was paid some £4 16s 8d for his efforts (about £16,600 in today’s money).[xvi]    My thanks to Dr Suzannah Lipscomb for her fascinating article on the Charter on her website that has the images referred to above.

1583 saw the queen reach the age of 50, a good age for anyone in the sixteenth century, but for a queen who was aware of the benefits of visual propaganda, there was no possibility of allowing a realistic representation to be continued to be created.  Hilliard had to think up another way continuing the idea of the English’s monarchs status of the Virgin Queen.   He came up with the idea of focusing on her fabulous wardrobe and jewels, with her face becoming a mask.[xvii]  Elizabeth as Gloriana was born.  Using symbols that continued to promote Elizabeth’s status as England’s Virgin Queen, Hilliard’s portraits become glittering images full of faux jewels created by dropping coloured resin on top of burnished silver leaf, with her features being less important. The gossips stated that by now Hillaird was able to produce a recognisable image of the queen in a mere four lines.

This particular portrait dates from the 1590s  and is a great example of these portraits of Elizabeth that have become known collectively as The Mask of Youth.  Sixteenth century artists would paint diamonds as black, but the black on this particular portrait is more likely to be oxidised silver leaf.  In the absence of detailed information on this specific image, this is speculation, but if it were to be silver leaf then the whole effect would have been a shimmering fantasy of Elizabeth’s jewels and fabulous dress, with her face being a repetition of a template Hilliard had in a workbook, except he had painted her image so many times he could probably have sketched her face in his sleep. When this Hilliard miniature went under the hammer in 2007 it went for £276,000 being $560,000 at that time.

Look carefully at this portrait and you will see there is a jewelled crescent moon in her hair.  Any educated Tudor person would recognise a crescent moomas being an emblem of the virgin goddess of the moon, Cynthea, also known as Artemis in Greek mythology, or Diana in Roman. A study of the classics was de rigeur for any child of Tudor nobility or the aspiring merchant classes.[xviii] The contemporary viewer would immediately recognise this symbol as representing the queen’s virginity and that she is a divine being, as well as the long established meaning of the gemstones – diamonds for constancy, pearls for purity and rubies for love or sacrifice.  The Roman poet Ovid is one of the Latin poets they probably studied.  His three volume Ars Amorica (the Art of Love), Metamorphoses and various other poems, inspired many 16th century european artists, but we do not have many examples of English painters creating allegorical images in a similar vein.

Unsurprisingly, Hilliard also designed the second Great Seal of England that was used on official documents from 1586-1603; the first had been designed by his teacher, Teerlinc.[xix]

Heavy with symbols of power and her divine right to rule; inscribed ‘Elizabetha dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina Fidei Defensor’ (‘Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith’) this image of the queen is very similar to illuminated letters appearing on both charters for the Ashbourne grammar school and Emmanuel College.  Without the Great Seal being attached to any document carrying the monarch’s signature meant the written content of that document was not official.  Evidently, when Elizabeth signed the death warrant of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots she gave specific instructions that the Great Seal was not to be affixed until she said so.  The rest is history!

Hilliard was kept busy painting portraits of the queen, Robert Dudley and many others whose identities have long been lost.  One of the most intriguing is one in the Victoria & Albert museum of an unknown young man with red hair who holds the hand of a woman emerging from a cloud.

Unlike many other Hilliard portraits that state the age of the sitter and the year the portrait was painted, this one merely states 1588, together with the apparently nonsensical latin motto Attici Amoris Ergo.  The motto translates as ‘by, with, from, or through the love of Atticus’, and as we all know 1588 is the year of the attempted invasion by the Spanish Armada.  Whether this is the year this portrait was painted for a lover, or perhaps the year this young man died, we do not know. It has to be the most intriguing of alI Hilliard’s portraits.

Painted slightly later than the Attici Amoris Ergo portrait, Hilliard’s Young Man Among Roses is a full length image of a young man leaning against a tree.  Roy Strong has argued that this portrait is of the young Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, but not everyone agrees.

Certainly this young man appears to be the epitome of a foppish youth who appears to be entwined by one of the queen’s emblems, the eglantine. He is dressed in black and white – the colours of the queen’s livery – and at the top there is another puzzling motto, Dat poenas laudate fides (My praised faith procures my pain).  This has been identified as a quote from the Roman poet Lucan who wrote the poem, De Bello Civili.  Clearly the quote is relevant to the sitter, or perhaps both sitter and the recipient of the image, but unfortunately we have no idea for whom this full length portrait was destined.  Lucan’s  poem is about Julius Cesaer’s war against Pompey the Great in 48-49 BC and better known as Pharsalia, after the Battle of Pharsalus of 9th August 49 BC which was the definitive battle in Julius Caesaer’s war against Pompey the Great and the Senate.  Is this a portrait of a love lorn swain, dying of love because his heart is entwined within the eglantine rose? Perhaps the warlike reference is to do with the heart’s battle in love, or maybe the meaning is a very specific specific one that was only understood by the recipient.  Like the young man holding the anonymous woman’s hand coming from a cloud, the intent of this motto also remains a mystery.

These references to ancient people and classical poetry demonstrates how Hilliard must have had a knowledge of their works.  It could be considered a romantic notion to picture both Thomas Bodley and the younger Hilliard sweating over their latin grammars and translating the works of Cicero and Lucan, but in 1598 Hilliard is keen to state how the art of limning is only for gentleman.  He qualifies this by telling us that the artist has to be able to converse with their sitters who, by implication, are educated.  Since he also tells us that he has painted the queen ‘from life’ and we know she was a very educated woman, then it is another, slightly covert way that Hilliard brags about his exclusive client list.

This is another portrait that has been identified as Robert Devereux.  This young man does resemble the Man Amongst Roses.  Robert Devereux had succeeded Robert Dudley, who was both his godfather and eventually stepfather, as the queen’s Master of Horse and in 1588 was twenty two years old.  Painted in the same year as the red haired young man with the unintelligible latin motto referencing Atticus, Hilliard tells us in his exquisite gold lettering that this young man is aged 22.  The date of 1588 in these two miniatures made me wonder whether these two young men had their portraits painted because they were off to fight the Spanish and were leaving a portrait for their loved ones to remember them by in case they never returned.  In more recent times many soliders going off to war had their photographs taken for just this purpose.

Hilliard lived and worked in Gutter Lane next to the Goldsmith’s Hall in a property he leased from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.  As an artist he was also teaching and we know of two young men who benefited from Hilliard’s expertise.  The Englishman Rowland Lockey was apprenticed to him as a goldsmith and Isaac Oliver.  Oliver does not appear in the lists of apprentices in the records kept in the Goldsmith’s Hall, so we know he was not an apprentice for this discipline.

French born Isaac Oliver (c1565-1617) went on to become the favoured artist of James I, but one of Oliver’s paintings of the 1590s is of Elizabeth I and is a re-working of a painting of that is attributed to Hans Eworth and held in the Royal Collection. This painting is oil on panel and measures 629 x 844mm ( 24.7 x 33.2 inches) without the frame.  Eworth had reworked the story of the Judgement of Paris where the mortal, Paris, is asked to judge a beauty contest between the three goddesses, Venus, Juno and Minerva.  Paris’s decision leads to the Trojan war, but in Eworth’s painting, the artist has made a couple of substantial differences to the original story.  Eworth substituted the English queen for Paris, the golden apple became the orb, and instead of the queen awarding the trophy to one of the three goddesses, she keeps it for herself.

The Eworth painting is still in its original frame and carries the legend IVNO POTENS SCEPTRIS ET MENTIS ACVMINE PALLAS / ET ROSEO VENERIS FVLGET IN ORE DECVS / ADFVIT ELIZABETH IVNO PERCVLSA REFVGIT OBSVPVIT PALLAS ERVBVITQ VENVS’. This translates as: ‘Pallas was keen of brain, Juno was queen of might, / The rosy face of Venus was in beauty shining bright, / Elizabeth then came, And, overwhelmed, Queen Juno took flight: / Pallas was silenced: Venus blushed for shame’.  Baron Waldenstein visited Elizabeth in 1600 and commented on the painting therefore we know that this was in the Royal Collection during Elizabeth’s lifetime. What we are not aware of is whether the painting was a gift from the artist, or from a courtier.  Eworth was favoured by Mary I and painted her portrait that was sent to Philip II. Later he was employed by the Office of the Revels right through to his death in 1574.

The image attributed to Oliver is now in the National Portrait Gallery, is on vellum, dated to c1590 and measures 114 x 158mm (4.5 x 6.2 inches), which is considerably smaller than Eworth’s original.

Oliver’s painting clearly shows elements of all three goddesses. Like the Eworth image,  Juno has her peacock, Minerva is dressed in armour and the naked Venus is accompanied by her son, Cupid. However, the faces of the women are all very similar, while the earlier and much larger painting resembles earlier portraits of the queen and the faces of the three goddesses and the queen’s attendants all differ. Also in the Oliver painting the queen holds a golden sphere, which is neither an apple nor is it recognisable as the orb.  The very distinct additions to the royal entourage is the umbrella, or is it a parasol held by two of the queen’s three ladies?  In the Eworth original there are only two women accompanying the queen.

The buildings in the background of Oliver’s painting are not recognisable unlike the buildings in the Eworth image.  The earlier image that inspired Oliver now hangs in the Queen’s Drawing in Windsor and it is Windsor castle that features in the background of the Eworth painting of c 1569.[xx]  It is thought to be the earliest representation of Windsor Castle.  The unanswered questions are why did Oliver not paint Windsor castle in the background?  He was in London so could have taken a trip up the Thames to Windsor.  Oliver’s background is reminiscent of a european walled city on the edge of a river.

We have to ask ourselves for whom did Oliver paint this image (clearly not intended for the queen) and was it painted after he had returned from his trip to Italy, hence the foreign looking walled city? He has also included a mountain.  Perhaps it is an apprentice piece to demonstrate he has reached a certain standard. What is apparent is that he knew the main structure of Eworth’s original painting so was he working from Eworth’s sketches and if so, who had these.  Eworth had died in 1574, but had been a member of the Dutch Church at Austin Friars. There was a large number of Flemings living in London who had escaped religious persecution and another of these was the artist Marcus Gheerhaerts.  Oliver married Gheerhaert’s sister Sarah in 1602.  With such a close knit group of like minded Flemish artists it is possible that Eworth’s sketchbooks had been given to Gheerhaerts or another member of the group.  Why did Oliver paint this and for whom; did Hilliard have a hand in challenging his pupil to use Eworth’s image as inspiration for a similar allegorical painting?  There were other artists all vying for royal patronage, including Gheerhaerts who also painted the queen.  Hilliard would have known them all so it is possible that all the artists had access to the Eworth sketchbooks.[xxi] We have no proof, so this is an educated guess.

Isaac Oliver’s young man leaning against a tree takes the essence of Hilliard’s Man Amongst Roses to a new level.  Oliver’s initials, I O are painted on the rock next to his knee.  This link to the Royal Collection will (I hope) allow you to click on it and zoom into the background where you can see the detail of the architecture, the knot garden and the couple walking together.  Back in the 18th century, Horace Walpole suggested this was a portrait of Sir Philip Sidney.

Over the years experts have often changed their minds about whether many miniatures portraits were by either Hilliard or by Oliver because their styles were very similar. As Oliver matured he began to develop his own style, and after his trip to Italy this becomes very apparent.  Andrew Graham Dixon believes that the Rainbow portrait, commissioned by Sir Robert Cecil c1600-02, that hangs on the stair at Hatfield House is by Oliver.[xxii]  Previously it has been attributed to Marcus Gheerhaerts and even Hilliard.

When Elizabeth died on 24th March, 1603 and James I of England ascended the throne, the aging Hilliard continued to create portraits for the royal family, but it was Isaac Oliver, his one time apprentice, who was to rise in popularity with the Jacobean court.  Hilliard outlived his protégé who died in 1617, by two years.

In February 2019 the National Portrait Gallery, London is hosting a temporary exhibition celebrating the work of Nicholas Hilliard and his apprentice and later rival, Isaac Oliver, The exhibition, Elizabethan Treasures : Hilliard & Oliver coincides with the 400th anniversary of the death of Nicholas Hilliard, England’s first artist of international renown.


Melanie V Taylor

November, 2018. where you can read my thoughts on the miniatures of the Unknown Lady of 1572 and Attici Amoris Ergo, as well as other art history related articles.


Further Reading.


M V Taylor: The Truth of the Line. Revised edition 2018.  This novel explores the relationship between Hilliard and Elizabeth I.  Was he a spy for Walsingham?  Did he record the trial and execution of Mary Queen of Scots. Has he stumbled on a dark royal secret and immortalised this man in the miniature Attici Amoris Ergo.  Available through my website.




Nicholas Hilliard & Edward Norgate; The Arte of Limning: A More Compendious Discourse Concerning Ye Art of Liming by Nicholas Hilliard; first published in 1834. Carcanet Press.


Secondary sources


Erna Auerbach: Nicholas Hilliard; Routhledge, 1961

Erna Auerback: Artists of the Tudor Court, Athlone Press. 1953

Mary Edmund: Hilliard & Oliver: Lives & Works of Two Great Miniaturists: Robert Hale 1983

Karen Hearn; Nicholas Hilliard (English Portrait Miniaturist): Unicorn Publishing Group; 2005

Karen Hearn: Dynasties: Painting in Tudor & Jacobean England 1530-1630: Tate Publishing, 1995

Maurice Howard: Tudor Image: Tate Publishing; 1996

Roy Strong: Artists of the Tudor Court: Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1983

Roy Strong; Nicholas Hilliard: Michael Joseph, 1975



[i] Teerlinc was the subject of my Master’s dissertation in 2006 written under my married name of Fraser.
[ii] The University of Kent’s taught MA programme, Medieval and Early Modern Studies, has grown in popularity from those heady days of 2006 when we were just six students in number.   This course now attracts students from all over the world.
[iii] The library has the Hilliard miniature and it is kept in its original round ivory box.
[iv] Still available today: published by Carcanet.
[v] The proper term for painting on vellum.
[vi] One of my paintings done when I was aged 13, was exhibited in the Children’s Summer Exhibition at the National Gallery, London in 1967.
[vii] A digitised copy of the 1598 edition is available through the Folger library.
[viii] The Phoenix portrait is in Tate Britain and the Pelican can be seen at The Walker Gallery, Liverpool.
[ix] Hilliard states that the sulphur in the fires from coal fires will affect certain pigments, and when the 1572 miniature first came into the NPG collection having previously been in a private collection in the Channel Island of Jersey, where the air is a great deal purer than that of London, the white lead elements of Hilliard’s portrait started to turn yellow as the sulphur in the London air reacted with the white surfaces of the painting turning them yellow.
[x] Stylistically it is clear this portrait of Mary Queen of Scots is from the 1570s when Hilliard has matured and mastered his skills.  The former idea of him painting it in 1560 is very much a case of someone aggrandising Hilliard’s talent without considering whether or not a thirteen year old would have the maturity to paint such a portrait.
[xi] I have not researched the various parish registers to find any record of Marcus’s wedding, so my suggesting his wife’s name is Penelope is based on Homer’s story of Ulysses whose faithful wife waited for his return from his voyaging.
[xii] The status of women in England was that of chattel until 1st January 1974, therefore women were of no legal consequence and probably why Hilliard talks about Holbein and not Teerlinc.
[xiii] The sketch is at Windsor, but the portrait is in the Art Museum, St Louis, USA.
[xiv] TNA ref KB27/1168-002.  Michelmas Term 1553.
[xv] This link will take you to Dr Suzanna Lipscomb’s article on this particular charter, which is now back in storage.  You will be able to look at elements of the charter in detail.
[xvi] Using this amount has a labour value of £16,600
[xvii] These portraits are also known as The Mask of Youth.
[xviii] In order to understand the subject matter of many allegorical paintings of the 16th century, it would be advisable to read the classics, such as the works of Homer, Ovid and Virgil, all of which have been translated into English.
[xix] TNA SC 13/N3
[xx] Wikipedia has this painting as being at Hampton Court Palace, but the Royal Collection Trust has it as hanging in the Queen’s Drawing Room, Windsor. I assume the RCT knows the whereabouts of its paintings!
[xxi] There are very few surviving sketchbooks of any artist, which is why the Holbein sketches are so important.


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