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Portrait miniature - An Unknown Girl, aged four
  • An Unknown Girl, aged four
    Oliver, Isaac, born 1558 - died 1617
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An Unknown Girl, aged four

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England (painted)

  • Date:

    1590 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Oliver, Isaac, born 1558 - died 1617 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on vellum stuck onto a playing card and set in an ivory frame. The playing card shows half a red cypher (heart or diamond) on the reverse.

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by George Salting

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 58, case 2

Object Type
A miniature is so-called because of its watercolour technique, not because of its size. These two miniatures are unusual in being painted as a pair. Both are inscribed in gold 'Ano Dm 1590' ('The year of Our Lord 1590'). One is inscribed 'Aetatis Suae 4' ('aged 4'), the other 'Aetatis Suae 5' ('aged 5'). Although the dresses of the two children are alike, it is notable that their ruffs are in different styles. The younger child does not smile and holds an apple. The elder has a slight smile, holds a carnation and wears a ring on the fourth finger of the left hand.

Subjects Depicted
When these miniatures were painted, only the well off could afford to have portraits painted. We do not know who these children were, but we may assume that they were sisters and that they came from a wealthy family. Isaac Oliver (about 1558-1617) introduced distinguishing elements into these very similar images: the apple and carnation, the frown and the smile. It is possible that these symbols had a personal meaning for the family who commissioned the portraits, and they may not have been the artist's idea. In many paintings an apple (the fruit that Eve took from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden) stood for the biblical story of the Fall of Man. A carnation symbolised the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. But how these applied to these two girls is now unclear. The significance or otherwise of the ring is also unknown.

Physical description

Portrait miniature of a young girl aged 4, half-length, holding an apple; inscriptions in gold on either side of the head; set into a circular turned ivory frame

Place of Origin

England (painted)


1590 (made)


Oliver, Isaac, born 1558 - died 1617 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on vellum stuck onto a playing card and set in an ivory frame. The playing card shows half a red cypher (heart or diamond) on the reverse.

Marks and inscriptions

'Ano Dni. 1590 / AEtatis Suae. 4.'
In the year of our Lord 1590 / The age of 4
Inscribed on either side of the head. Please note that the information about the inscription given in Roy Strong, Artists of the Tudor Court, catalogue 145 and 146 which incorrectly reverses the inscriptions for P.145-1910 and P.146-1910.


Height: 24.2 cm estimate, Width: 26.3 cm estimate

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of an unknown girl, aged four, holding an apple, watercolour on vellum, by Isaac Oliver, 1590.

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

Baker, Malcolm and Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997. 431 p., ill. ISBN 1851773088.
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985. 220 p., ill. ISBN 094810769X.
Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620.. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
These two little girls are shown wearing fine clothes and their lace ruffs are particularly grown-up in style. The frowning child carries an apple which was a symbol of the Fall of Eve. The smiling child is holding a pink carnation, a symbol of love, faithfulness and religious salvation. [27/03/2003]


Watercolour; Vellum



Subjects depicted

Ruffs; Apples; Childhood; Children; Cauls (headgear); Fruit; Girl


Paintings; Portraits; Children & Childhood


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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