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Thursday, 3 May 2012

Painting of the Month (29) May 2012: Nicholas Hilliard

'Young Man Among Roses' painted sometime between 1585 and 1595
Nicholas Hilliard founded the Elizabethan school of miniature portrait painting. Although, at first glance, this painting may appear unremarkable it is, in fact, extremely interesting, not least as an historical artefact. This was painted in the era of William Shakespeare's sonnet writing and the male subject is the epitome of Elizabethan romanticism; tall and handsome with dark, curly hair and an incipient moustache.
Miniature paintings were made with watercolour painted onto vellum and stretched over a piece of card about the size of a playing-card. Actually, they often were fitted onto playing-cards! The paints were often mixed in small shells and a dogs tooth fixed on the end of a small stick used to paint fine detail.
Hilliard was greatly influenced by the painting style of Hans Holbein who had died (of the plague) in 1547, and who had been court painter to Henry VIII. The style is fairly flat with strong contours and without the use of chiaroscuro, which is heavy use of light and shade. The artist reported that when he was asked to paint Elizabeth I she posed herself like this young man.
The style of the picture also tells us that the Tudor court in the 1580s was influenced by French style and was greatly francofile. 
He was originally a goldsmith like his father before him and his father sent him to Geneva as a youth to protect him from persecution as they were part of the Protestant revolution that was sweeping the country at that time. In Geneva he was exposed to the French language and culture and that influence remained with him. Despite his success he always had financial problems and he was imprisoned for debt in 1617, two years before his death.
There is an extensive collection of his work in London's fabulous Victoria & Albert museum.
Hilliard self-portrait aged about 30


Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Very interesting post.

John said...

Another fascinating post Bazza! The man in the painting is indeed what we `imagine` an Elizabethan man to look like, I am sure that they didn`t all look like the epitome of Tudor times!

bazza said...

Starting Over: Thanks for commenting. I glad you found it so.

bazza said...

John: I think this particular picture is largely responsible for our present-day image of the Tudor period. He looks a bit effeminate by today's standards!

Dixie@dcrelief said...

Hi Bazza. I love painting miniatures; I suppose the love is all the tiny detail work that most might not like. As a result I've had a difficult time transferring my art to a larger size canvas. I'm hooked on tiny brushes!!!

Nicholas Hilliard is not an artist I'm familiar with, and I'm grateful to see you about on him. I'm inspired to have a much closer look at his art. I did realize that one of my favorites was done by him. It's a painting of Queen Elizabeth I, in an all white gown with headpiece.

I simply love your blog. So informative and a lot of fun. Be well.

Kelly said...

I found the part about Hilliard's school for Elizabethan miniature painting to be the most fascinating. to think that they were actually fit those miniature painting onto a real deck of playing cards is incredible. Very cool, engrossing post, Bazza.

bazza said...

Dixie: Is that the picture where it looks like she has a 16 inch waste?
I'm happy that you like my Blog because I write it to please my self so it's always nice when someone like you makes me blush!

bazza said...

Kezza: It did occur to me after I wrote this that playing cards might have been bigger in those days! I think miniature paintings were the nearest thing to a sixteenth century cell phone with a camera.

Crack You Whip said...

This is a GREAT post! fun and informative!

bazza said...

Crack You Whip: I bet you say that to all the boys!
Thanks for visiting and following. I will be over to visit you later.

THE SNEE said...

Hi Bazza,

Sorry that I've been so inconsistent with my commenting lately, I've been reading, but haven't been very articulate.

I am always amazed by artists who are so adept with detail on such a small scale, and Hilliard is no exception. I was particularly struck by your description of him as poor and struggling. You'd never know by looking at his whimsical portraits that he suffered at all!

bazza said...

Snee: The strange thing is that I don't think he was struggling in terms of professional success - just in terms of personal money management. He was obviously born long before Dickens wrote about Mr McCawber's famous dictum regarding income and expenditure.
Incidentally, there is no need to apologise for your absence; you are very welcome to comment just whenever you feel like it!