An Unknown Woman in masque costume thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery

An Unknown Woman in masque costume

Portrait Miniature
1609 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Throughout her life, Queen Elizabeth I's cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, had threatened the English throne, to the point where Elizabeth was forced to execute her ambitious rival. But when Elizabeth died childless, it was Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, who inherited the English throne his mother had coveted. Thus the crowns of Scotland and England were united. The ageing Queen Elizabeth had communicated the splendour and power of her rule through public tournaments. James developed a very different, but equally dramatic, form of pageantry and propaganda to eulogise the new royal family: the court masque. This lady of the court, depicted in colourful theatrical costume, is ready to play her role in a masque, a sophisticated mix of verse, song, mime, dance and elaborate scenic and symbolic spectacle.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour on vellum stuck to plain card
Brief Description
Portrait miniature of an unknown woman, a masquer in Ben Jonson's Masque of Queens, watercolour on vellum, painted by Isaac Oliver, 1609.
Physical Description
Portrait miniature, of a woman, half length, wearing an elaborate costume and headress of different colours adorned with pearls and other jewellery. In an oval frame with a loop at the top.
Dimensions
  • Height: 62mm
  • Width: 51mm
Dimensions taken from: Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620.. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.
Styles
Marks and Inscriptions
'IO' (Signed to the right in monogram)
Gallery Label
  • Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars label text: Unknown woman in masque costume About 1609 England By Isaac Oliver Watercolour on vellum stuck to plain card Purchased by the Art Fund and presented in 1942; V&A P.3-1942
  • Treasures of the Royal Court: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars audioguide: Use one of the magnifying glasses to look closely at this miniature painting of an unknown woman by Isaac Oliver. Miniatures were painted in delicate watercolour on vellum, the fine inner layer of animal skin. Examine the woman’s extravagant costume, captured by the artist in intricate detail. She is dressed for a theatrical masque, a court entertainment which combined music, dance and poetry. These required elaborate dress and stage designs and were a significant part of court culture under James I. Anne of Denmark, James’ wife, often played the leading role herself; her ladies also taking part. Here, the anonymous court lady is playing one of the parts in The Masque of Queens. She is dressed as one of the masque’s twelve heroic and victorious queens. Her costume, with its heavy cloak pinned at the shoulder, resembles that worn by a classical Roman military leader. The ornament on her breast is like a cuirass, a piece of armour for the male chest. The piece was written by playwright Ben Jonson, designed by architect Inigo Jones, and performed at the palace at Whitehall in 1609. The miniature artist, Isaac Oliver, was a French Protestant refugee who fled to London with his parents as a child, and grew up to become Anne of Denmark’s ‘limner’, or miniature painter. Miniature painting was known in England as limning - from the Latin luminare, meaning to give light. Portrait miniatures were very popular at the Stuart court; James I’s Queen, Anne, wore them often; in no.4 in this case she can be seen wearing a picture box, no doubt containing a miniature. Miniatures are often seen as an essentially private, intimate art form, but they could play a very public role at court; images of the monarch, especially miniatures, were given as diplomatic gifts, and miniatures often played a part in marriage negotiations. Interestingly, this miniature combines both private and public aspects of the art. It was probably intended primarily as a private token, perhaps for the unknown woman’s husband but the masque costume very publicly proclaims the sitter’s enviable intimacy with the queen.
Credit line
Presented by Art Fund
Object history
COLLECTIONS: Part of the collection formed by Walter Francis, 5th Duke of Buccleuch (1806-1884); purchased from that collection by the N.A.C.F. and presented, 1942.

Subjects depicted
Summary
Throughout her life, Queen Elizabeth I's cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, had threatened the English throne, to the point where Elizabeth was forced to execute her ambitious rival. But when Elizabeth died childless, it was Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, who inherited the English throne his mother had coveted. Thus the crowns of Scotland and England were united. The ageing Queen Elizabeth had communicated the splendour and power of her rule through public tournaments. James developed a very different, but equally dramatic, form of pageantry and propaganda to eulogise the new royal family: the court masque. This lady of the court, depicted in colourful theatrical costume, is ready to play her role in a masque, a sophisticated mix of verse, song, mime, dance and elaborate scenic and symbolic spectacle.
Bibliographic References
  • Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983. Cat. 227, pp. 140-141. Part Citation: "Painted from life and a striking image of a lady in allegorical masque costume. This has always been referred to as a lady wearing a masque costume, probably after a design by Inigo Jones. Her hair is looped with pearls and ultramarine bows with a scrolled coronet from which a veil falls. The dress is pink with blue sleeves, again adorned with gold scrolling, and over which a green mantle lined with orange has been looped. All the masques from this period, c. 1610, are heavily documented and there is no doubt that this particular dress relates closely to the series of costumes designed for the Masque of Queens danced on February 2nd 1609 (for text and designs see S. Orgel and R. Strong, Inigo Jones. The Theatre of the Stuart Court, University of California Press, 1973, I, pp. 130-53). The masquers, led by Anne of Denmark, came as twelve heroic queens who had triumphed in war: Penthesileia, Camilla, Thomyris, Artemisia, Berenice, Hypsicratea, Candace, Boadicea, Zenobria, Amalasunta, Valasca and Bel-Arma. Designs for only seven costumes survive and one for Atalanta who did not appear, although Lady Arundel danced another role. No description of the costume is included in the text or who danced which role. The costume design for each masquer was different, all vaguely, as in the miniature, military and all with differing, complicated head-dresses. From the annotations on the Jones designs we probably know who danced eight of the queens, although the rejected Atalanta design means that there were changes. The four queens for whom designs do not survive are Hypiscratea, Boadicea, Amalasunta and Valasca and four ladies left to play these parts, Lady Arundel, Lady Huntingdon, Lady Essex and Lady Cranborne. It is not, however, as simple as that since other designs connected with Queens survive including a head-dress for Lady Blanche Somerset who, at one stage, was probably one of the masquers. Thus we have no guarantee either that the designs that are identifiable were actually those used or even that they were not modified or altered by the participants and their tailors as we know did take place. Most of the participants can be eliminated on portrait evidence, but not all. A connection with Queens ought to be correct.
  • p. 196Catharine 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.3-1942

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record createdDecember 15, 1999
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