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Portrait miniature

Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England (painted)

  • Date:

    1578-1579 (made)
    1675-1700 (mounted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hilliard, Nicholas (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on vellum

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Mrs Doris Herschorn

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 57, case 4

Object Type
The other known version of this miniature, also by Hilliard, is in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen. Examination has revealed that the Queen's version uses the more expensive blue pigment ultramarine for the background, while the V&A version uses the more common blue bice. The Queen's version is the more costly object and is generally believed to be the one painted from life.

The troubled reign in Scotland of Mary, Queen of Scots ended in 1568 when the Scottish Lords forced her to flee to England. Mary had long claimed the English throne and as a Roman Catholic, had English Catholic supporters who wished to see her Queen instead of the Protestant Elizabeth. Mary was placed in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury and held in various country houses for 19 years. In 1587 Mary was executed for treason against Elizabeth.

Mary sat for this portrait when she was a prisoner of her cousin Elizabeth I. Hilliard was not a court artist, but had an independent practice in London. It is possible that this miniature was commissioned by Mary herself rather than by Elizabeth. But Mary's jailer, the Earl of Shrewsbury would have had to sanction the sittings. In this portrait, Mary prominently wears a gold crucifix with a white figure of Christ, thus asserting her Catholicism.

Physical description

Portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, painted in watercolour on vellum, stuck to card with an oval mount from the later 17th century.

Place of Origin

England (painted)


1578-1579 (made)
1675-1700 (mounted)


Hilliard, Nicholas (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on vellum

Marks and inscriptions

'MARIA, Regina Scotia'
on rectangular vellum surround


Height: 4 cm miniature, Width: 5.1 cm miniature

Historical context note

Mary sat for this portrait when she was a prisoner of Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth probably commissioned this portrait of her cousin whom she never met

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of Mary, Queen of Scots, painted by Nicholas Hilliard. English, 1578-1579.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) sat for this portrait when she was a prisoner of Elizabeth I. Mary had asserted her claim to the English throne and Elizabeth felt compelled to keep her in custody. Elizabeth probably commissioned this portrait of her cousin whom she never met. [27/03/2003]


Vellum; Watercolour




Paintings; Royalty; Scotland


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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