Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
Nicholas Hilliard's miniature dates from the early 1580s when the artist was at the apogee of his career. He had returned most probably in late 1578 from a spell attached to the retinue of François, duc d’Alençon, brother of the French king and suitor to Elizabeth I. Something of the French court style of the artist and miniature painter François Clouet (c. 1520-72) had been imparted to Hilliard during his time in France and the new oval format and sophisticated style of this miniature provide evidence of Clouet's influence. It is particularly close in conception to Hilliard's Portrait of a Lady, possibly Marguerite de Valois, painted by Hilliard in France in 1577 (K. Hearn, Nicholas Hilliard, 2005, no. 7).
Hilliard had first been employed by Elizabeth I to paint her portrait in miniature in 1572 (National Portrait Gallery, no. 108). The result of that sitting was a fresh and natural image of the young queen; a decade later, when the present miniature was painted, Hilliard's representations of the Queen were becoming increasingly stylised as though in anticipation of the 'Mask of Youth' pattern which he would adopt in the 1590s, and which would no longer be painted from life.
Hilliard accomplished the queen's jewellery in the present miniature with extraordinary finesse. His technique for painting gemstones involved laying a mixture of pigment and resin onto a burnished silver ground and so creating a heavily raised surface. Hilliard was the son of a leading Exeter goldsmith, and a member of the Goldsmiths' Company in his own right, and his knowledge of precious stones and the setting for jewels is implicit in his 'Treatise Concerning the Arte of Limning' . It is therefore highly likely that he produced his own designs for jewellery and lockets to house miniatures, and it is conceivable that this miniature was once framed in just such a locket.