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Isaac Oliver (c. 1565-1617)

Portrait of an Unknown Woman c.1590

RCIN 420063

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This miniature was acquired by Frederick, Prince of Wales from the distinguished connoisseur and collector Dr Richard Mead as a portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots. It had been engraved by George Vertue and Jacob Houbraken as Mary, Queen of Scots while in Dr Mead's collection, although Vertue had expressed reservations about the identity. This identification persisted until the early years of the twentieth century. It is clear that the sitter represented is neither royal nor aristocratic, but a rich citizen's wife drawn from the class in which Isaac Oliver found his first patrons during the late 1580s. The sitter's costume, in particular her peaked hat and divided, pleated ruff may indicate a date as early as 1590 although more recent scholars have argued in favour of a date following Isaac Oliver's return from Italy (1596-1600). The exceptionally fine details, such as the lace bordering the ruff along the sitter's neckline and the skilful handling of the transparent modesty-piece which is painted to show her flesh beneath, indicate that this is a work of the mature Oliver.