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Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619)

Elizabeth I (1533-1603) c.1560-5

RCIN 420944

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This important miniature of Elizabeth I, shown in the early years of her reign, is one of a group of nine early miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard which have recently been ascribed by Graham Reynolds to the 1560s, when the artist was at the outset of his long and successful career. Hilliard's success as a miniature painter followed swiftly on from his apprenticeship to the London goldsmith Robert Brandon in 1562, and within a year he had painted a miniature of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1545-1567) (Private collection) which demonstrates that he already had access to court patronage at this early stage. It is similar in treatment to the miniature of Elizabeth I in the Royal Collection, and both share his distinctive, attenuated script visible in the inscription in gold around the edge of the miniature. It had previously been suggested that this gold script might have been added by Hilliard to another artist's work, but it is now thought that this is a genuinely inscribed portrait of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard from life c. 1560-65, and that it has no place within the uncertain perameters of the work of Levina Teerlinc. The costume, with the cloth-of-gold bodice and the heavy gold chain from which a jewel is suspended, emphasises the high status of the sitter; confirmation that the subject is indeed the Queen is found in the telling red and white roses (the symbol of the House of Tudor) which adorn her gold hair net. Roses are also seen embellishing Elizabeth's costume in what was previously thought to be the earliest miniature of her by Nicholas Hilliard dated 1572 and inscribed with a crowned 'ER' (National Portrait Gallery, London no. 108).