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Portrait miniature - Portrait of an unknown man
  • Portrait of an unknown man
    Wierix, Jan, born 1549
  • Enlarge image

Portrait of an unknown man

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    Antwerp (possibly, drawn)

  • Date:

    ca. 1600 (drawn)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Wierix, Jan, born 1549 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ink on vellum

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with funds from the Murray Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery, case 8

Jan Wierix was born in Antwerp in 1549 and died in Brussels about 1618. He was an engraver, draughtsman and publisher. His first dated prints were published as early as 1568. By 1569 he was working for Christoph Plantin's publishing house, the Officina Plantiniana, and living in the Lombaardevest, among many other booksellers and engravers. He continued to work for a variety of publishers, as well as publishing his engravings himself. Apart from his engravings, Jan made many miniature pen drawings. Most signed and dated examples are from about 1607–8. These are drawn in a meticulous engraver-like technique, using dots and minute cross-hatching.

This portrait drawn in ink on vellum (fine animal skin) is a forerunner of a type of portrait art that became fashionable in the second half of the 17th century in England. Vellum is more durable than paper. Such small black and white portraits were called ‘plumbagos’, meaning black lead, but they were usually drawn in graphite and sometimes in ink. This portrait by Wierix is done in ink. ‘Plumbagos’ developed in the Netherlands in the late 16th century within the print trade. They developed from the printmakers’ original drawings on paper, from which a print would have been engraved. 'Plumbagos' were introduced into England when the monarchy was restored in 1660, by printmakers who returned home from exile abroad.

Physical description

Portrait miniature drawing, ink on vellum, depicting an unknown man

Place of Origin

Antwerp (possibly, drawn)


ca. 1600 (drawn)


Wierix, Jan, born 1549 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Ink on vellum


Height: 61 mm, Width: 46 mm

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature in ink on vellum, depicting an unknown man by Jan Wierix (b. 1549). Belgium, ca. 1600.

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

Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1938, London: Board of Education, 1939.
Summary Catalogue of Miniatures in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Haslemere: Emmett Microform, 1981.
Jane Shoaf Turner and Robert-Jan te Rijdt, " Miscellania. V&A: ’The ones that got away’", Sculpsit & Delineavit, no. 42 (Jan 2018), pp. 91-97, fig.5


Vellum; Ink



Subjects depicted



Portraits; Drawings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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