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An Unknown Woman

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1615 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hoskins, John I (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on vellum put down on pasteboard

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with funds from the R. H. Stephenson Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery, case 5

This modest work is an important early miniature portrait by John Hoskins, who originally trained as an oil painter. This work is datable to about 1615 and shows the still dominant influence of Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619). The red curtain background is typical for this time, a development of the flat blue background of Elizabethan (later 16th-century) miniatures. Red paint is laid in flat, but the artist then used a wet brush to lift the red paint in strokes, giving the effect of folds in a curtain. Hoskins has also painted the woman's pearl earring using Hilliard's jewelling technique. This involved laying on a raised blob of white lead paint with some shadowing to one side. This was then crowned with a rounded touch of real silver that was burnished with, to quote Hilliard, ‘a pretty little tooth of some ferret or stoat or other wild little beast’. This brought the silver to a sparkling highlight, while actual gold is used to paint the pearl’s gold setting. Silver tarnishes with age, and so this pearl now appears black. Twenty years later Hoskins was painting pearls and gold in a more painterly fashion, using white and yellow paint rather than actual gold or silver. This change was influenced by Charles I's court painter, Anthony van Dyck, who arrived in London from Antwerp in 1632.

Physical description

Portrait, head and shoulders, to front, of a woman with long loose hair, wearing a ruff and a low cut embroidered jacket; in her left ear she wears a pearl earring. Features delicately stippled in grey with some yellow hatching in the shadows, on a pale thick carnation ground; the hair in long wiry strokes over a pale opaque yellow wash; the dress and white ruff in pale brown embossed with white and with touches of metallic gold and silver; background a crimson curtain flooded wet-in - wet; a gold marginal strip; on vellum put down on pasteboard.

Frame: A relatively modern oval complex bolection moulding of fruitwood, stained dark brown; a Simple brown hanger stapled to the back.

Place of Origin

England (painted)


ca. 1615 (painted)


Hoskins, John I (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on vellum put down on pasteboard

Marks and inscriptions

Signed in gold, centre left


Height: 49.5 mm, Width: 39.5 mm

Object history note

Provenance: H E Backer, from whom purchased with funds from the R H Stephenson Bequest, August 1942.

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of an unknown woman, watercolour on vellum, painted by John Hoskins, ca.1615.

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

Murdoch, John. Seventeenth-century English Miniatures in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: The Stationery Office, 1997.
Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1942, London: HMSO, 1955.


Watercolour; Vellum



Subjects depicted

Ruff; Woman; Pearl


Portraits; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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