An Unknown Girl, aged five thumbnail 1
An Unknown Girl, aged five thumbnail 2
+4
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 58

An Unknown Girl, aged five

Portrait Miniature
1590 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

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.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Additional titleGirl aged five, holding a carnation (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Watercolour on vellum stuck onto a playing card and set in an ivory frame. The playing card shows a picture (possibly) a king on the reverse.
Brief description
Portrait miniature of a young girl, aged five, holding a carnation, watercolour on vellum, by Isaac Oliver, 1590.
Physical description
Portrait miniature of a young girl aged 5, half-length, holding a carnation; inscriptions in gold on either side of the head; set into a turned ivory circular frame



Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 54m
  • Estimate width: 43mm
Dimensions taken from Artists of the Tudor Court
Content description
Portrait of a young girl, half-length, turned to front; the sitter is wearing a caul and ruff and is holding a flower in her right hand.
Marks and inscriptions
'Ano Dni. 1590. / AEtatis Suae. 5.' (Inscribed on either side of the head)
Gallery label
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)
Credit line
Bequeathed by George Salting
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.
Associated object
P.145-1910 (Pair)
Bibliographic references
  • 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. Cat. 146, p. 102. Part Citation: "Once oddly attributed to Levina Teerlinc by Simone Bergman's in 1934 (Teerlinc died in 1576). The correct attribution being made by Carl Winter in 1943. These are amongst Oliver’s earliest surviving miniatures and already establish him as an artist whose range and approach was to be much more varied and complex than Hilliard, Miniatures of children, other than royal ones, are of the utmost rarity and the two girls must have been of exceptional status. Dr G C Williamson, not an infallible source, states that when there were in the possession of C. H. T. Hawkins they had with them a slip of paper stating that they were painted at Greenwich in 1590. Salting, who bequeathed them to the V&A had never seen this piece of paper, if, indeed, it ever existed. Justifiably, these miniatures quickly established themselves as two of Oliver’s most popular works."
  • pp. 132-5Catharine 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
P.146-1910

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Record createdMarch 27, 2003
Record URL
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