Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619)
Portrait of a lady, possibly Penelope, Lady Rich
Watercolour and bodycolour on vellum laid on card
Oval 5.7 x 4.6 cm
Lord de Roos; probably his sale Christie's, London, 4 June 1839 (102); Queen Victoria by 1870
Nicholas Hilliard, the son of an Exeter goldsmith, was apprenticed to Elizabeth I's goldsmith and jeweller, Robert Brandon, whose daughter he married in 1576. He began to paint miniatures in 1560, later claiming that he was in general terms influenced by Hans Holbein the Younger and Albrecht Dürer. Although he worked for the English court, Hilliard travelled to France (1576-9) in search of additional patronage and would have encountered the work of François Clouet during that visit. Regardless of these particular formative influences and of others cited in his Treatise concerning the Arte of Limning (c.1600), Hilliard's style - based on sophisticated technical knowledge - is distinctive; it incorporates a glorious sense of design most evident in the treatment of costume with all its accessories, and the calligraphic flourishes of his inscriptions. Most closely associated with the court of Elizabeth I, Hilliard's appointment as Court Limner was renewed during the reign of James I, although it is often argued that by that time his style had become old fashioned. There are eighteen autograph miniatures by Hilliard in the Royal Collection, including five portraits of Elizabeth I and three of James I.
Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002