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An Unknown Woman

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England (painted)

  • Date:

    1602 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hilliard, Nicholas (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on vellum stuck onto plain card

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Mrs Doris Herschorn

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery, case 3

Nicholas Hilliard was never employed full-time by the monarchy, so he was forced to set up his business in the City of London, much like any other craftsman. He thus lived by erratic commissions rather than being supported by the luxury of a steady pension. Many of Hilliard's sitters were none the less from the social class that centred on the court, and this miniature is a rare example of a portrait of a person from the very different world of the city merchants and their families. With her tall black hat, smocked stomacher and apron, this woman is typical of her class. Her dress is enlivened not by elaborate jewellery but by means of naturalistic touches in the form of roses and other flowers tucked into the corners of her dress. From the gold ring, which hangs from a black thread attached to a yellow knot at her breast, it is conceivable that the portrait commemorates her marriage. The Latin inscription, Videtur et Vere est, literally means ‘it seems and truly is’. It could be her family motto, meaning something on the lines of ‘free from deception’, but it could also imply that this portrait is indeed an accurate likeness.

Physical description

Portrait miniature, half-length, of a woman wearing a ruff and black hat; oval in a box of turned ivory; inscriptions in gold on either side of the head.

Place of Origin

England (painted)


1602 (painted)


Hilliard, Nicholas (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on vellum stuck onto plain card

Marks and inscriptions

'Videtur et Vere est'
'It seems and truely is'
Inscribed in gold around the top, left

'Ano Dni. 1602.'
Inscribed in gold around the top, right


Height: 59 mm, Width: 44 mm

Object history note

Provenance: With Danton Gerault [n.b. this is a mis-spelling of Danton Guerault, who was a dealer], previous history unknown; from whom bt by Mr S H V Hickson; sold from the collection of Mr S. H. V. Hickson, Sotheby’s 29th March 1965 (lot 75), bt for Mrs D Herschorn; bequeathed to the V&A by Mrs Doris Herschorn, 1975.

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of an unknown woman, watercolour on vellum in a turned ivory box, painted by Nicholas Hilliard, 1602.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620.. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.


Watercolour; Vellum



Subjects depicted

Hat; Roses; Ring; Woman; Ruff


Portraits; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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