Portrait Miniature thumbnail 1
Portrait Miniature thumbnail 2
+2
images
Not currently on display at the V&A

Portrait Miniature


Object Type
From the late 1580s there was a proliferation of portraits of Elizabeth I. In this period, the political and religious temperature of Europe rose and there were many threats to the Queen's safety, especially from Spain. It therefore became fashionable to express loyalty and devotion to the Queen by wearing her image. The original jewelled and enamelled case in which this miniature is set demonstrates the expense to which some would go to house her image.

People
Elizabeth I rarely sat for portraits, so one sitting provided a 'pattern' that was then repeated in various forms. This face pattern is by Nicholas Hilliard and is often called the 'Mask of Youth'. The Queen was then 60, but the artist reduced her features to a few simple lines, so rejuvenating her appearance. In this version Elizabeth wears her hair long and unbound, as unmarried girls did, to signify her virginity. This gives pictorial expression to her claim to be a Virgin Queen wedded to her kingdom.

Time
The locket is an example of how the former Roman Catholic practice of wearing holy images became transferred to images of Elizabeth. It reflects the near-cult that grew up around her, with the devotion once given to the Virgin Mary in Catholic countries, but no longer possible in Protestant England, finding an outlet in the homage done to the Queen.
watch How was it made? Portrait miniatures The V&A holds the national collection of British portrait miniatures - a unique watercolour art form which developed during the reign of Henry VIII. Miniatures were popular as portable images of loved ones until the the rise of photography in the mid 19th century. The collection contains o...
read Portrait miniatures at the V&A In 1857, the year the new South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) opened to the public, the museum acquired its first portrait miniature – an image of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard. The miniature, housed in an enamelled gold locket with a jewelled cover, is a rare survival as most E...
object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 3 parts.

  • Miniature
  • Box
  • Lid
Brief Description
Portrait miniature of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard in a case of enamelled gold set with a diamond and ruby, England, ca.1600.
Physical Description
Portrait of Elizabeth I contained in a gold enamelled case set with diamond and ruby.
Dimensions
  • Height: 62mm
  • Width: 48mm
Dimensions taken from: Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620.. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.
Styles
Gallery Label
British Galleries: Nicholas Hilliard and Miniature Painting
Nicholas Hilliard trained as a goldsmith and developed painting techniques that exploited this training. He used metallic pigments to mimic the jewellery on the opulent clothes that were fashionable. Hilliard created the image of Elizabeth and her courtiers that we know today, but he never won a salaried position at court. He had to set up shop in the City of London. From there he painted anyone who could afford his services.

ELIZABETH I
Elizabeth I was aged about 60 when these miniatures were painted. Hilliard deliberately painted her face using a few simple lines to create a 'mask of youth'. He then focused on her sumptuous costume and jewels to create a portrait that is an image of a magnificent Queen rather than an ageing woman.(27/03/2003)
Summary
Object Type
From the late 1580s there was a proliferation of portraits of Elizabeth I. In this period, the political and religious temperature of Europe rose and there were many threats to the Queen's safety, especially from Spain. It therefore became fashionable to express loyalty and devotion to the Queen by wearing her image. The original jewelled and enamelled case in which this miniature is set demonstrates the expense to which some would go to house her image.

People
Elizabeth I rarely sat for portraits, so one sitting provided a 'pattern' that was then repeated in various forms. This face pattern is by Nicholas Hilliard and is often called the 'Mask of Youth'. The Queen was then 60, but the artist reduced her features to a few simple lines, so rejuvenating her appearance. In this version Elizabeth wears her hair long and unbound, as unmarried girls did, to signify her virginity. This gives pictorial expression to her claim to be a Virgin Queen wedded to her kingdom.

Time
The locket is an example of how the former Roman Catholic practice of wearing holy images became transferred to images of Elizabeth. It reflects the near-cult that grew up around her, with the devotion once given to the Virgin Mary in Catholic countries, but no longer possible in Protestant England, finding an outlet in the homage done to the Queen.
Bibliographic References
  • 100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985. 220 p. : col. ill., p. 42.
  • Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.
  • pp. 26-7Catharine MacLeod with Rab MacGibbon, Victoria Button, Katherine Coombs and Alan Derbyshire.‎ Elizabethan treasures : miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver. London : National Portrait Gallery, 2019.‎ ISBN: 9781855147027‎
Collection
Accession Number
4404 to B-1857

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdDecember 15, 1999
Record URL