Self-portrait, aged 30 thumbnail 1
Self-portrait, aged 30 thumbnail 2
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images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery

Self-portrait, aged 30

Portrait Miniature
1577 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Nicholas Hilliard was born into the prosperous trading classes, the son of a goldsmith. By 1572 he had begun to work for Queen Elizabeth I.

This self-portrait marks Hilliard's first encounter with the Renaissance ideal of the artist as an individual of genius. Dating from Hilliard's visit to France in 1576-1578, its mood is very much that of the portraiture of the art-loving French court, where artists enjoyed a far higher status than their English counterparts. Its boldness and brilliance demand recognition of Hilliard’s genius, and express his aspirations to the status of a gentleman, not a tradesman. The reality on Hilliard's return to England was less ideal. A permanent position at court with all its attendant privileges eluded him, and he was compelled to set up as an artist in the City of London like any other craftsman.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour on vellum put down on card
Brief Description
Miniature self-portrait of Nicholas Hilliard, watercolour on vellum, 1577.
Physical Description
Portrait of a young man, head and shoulders, turned slightly to right and looking to front; the sitter is wearing a black cap and a ruff; inscriptions in gold on either side of the portrait on a blue background. The painting set in a gold circular frame with raised concentric circles.
Dimensions
  • Diameter: 41mm
Dimensions taken from: Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620.. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.
Content description
Portrait of a man, head and shoulders, wearing a ruff and a black cap.
Styles
Marks and Inscriptions
  • 'Ano Dmi. / 1577 ; AEtatis Suae / 30' (Inscribed on either side of the head)
  • 'NH' [damaged] (Signed in monogram above the left shoulder )
  • 'Hilliard the / son painted by himself – see the Father / These pictures were given to me by Mrs Clavering / who had them originally from Sir Robt Rich / 1843 C E Liddell.' (Inscribed on the back by the Hon. Mrs Thomas Liddell)
Gallery Label
Nicholas Hilliard 1547-1619 Self-Potrait Dated 1577 In England painters such as Hilliard were treated as mere tradespeople. But this confident self-portrait was painted during Hilliard's two years in France, where painters had a higher social status. Watercolour on vellum, stuck on a later piece of card Inscribed either side of the head in Latin 'Year of Our Lord 1577 / At the age of 30 / NH' Salting Bequest Museum no. P.155-1910
Credit line
Bequeathed by George Salting
Object history
This or both this and the one of Richard Hilliard [see P.154-1910] are referred to in the will of Nicholas Hilliard's son, Laurence Hilliard, dated February 21st 1640 bequeathing to his son, Thomas: “by way of Leagacey my gran Father(s) (pic) Hillyard his picture in an ivrey box with a Cristall vpponst” (Erna Auerbach, Hilliard , 1961, p. 227). This originally read “my Fathars pic” and was altered to “my gran Fathar”. Both Richard's and Nicholas's miniatures are next referred to by de Piles in 1706 when in the possession of Simon Fanshaw: “There are moreover, two wonderful pieces of his, now in the Possession of Simon Fanshaw , Esq; and by him valu’d, nor without reason, as ‘tis the opinion of some good Judges, at above 50 Guineas each, tho’ not much bigger than a Crown-Piece. One of these is the Picture of our Artist himself, with this / inscription in Gold Letters round it. / Nicolaus … / The other is the Picture of his Father…These two pictures in Miniature are so Masterly done, that not only the Faces are finely colour’d an naturally with a good Rilievo ; but that almost each single Hair is express’d.” (De Piles, The Art of Painting , London 1706, pp. 430-31 and Vertue. Notebooks , II, p. 129). Both were acquired by John Sidney, 6th Earl of Leicester (1680-1737) and passed on his death to his brother Jocelyn Sidney, 7th and last Earl of Leicester (d. 1743). These facts are recorded by George Vertue when he saw them at Leicester House in 1735 and in addition he records: “the writeing round these two pictures and the gilt mettal Frames first made for them was taken away and the two pictures sett in a gold Snuff box – by the present Earl of Leicester who had them from his Brother. But I wish them to be returned into their old Frames again” (Vertue, Notebooks , IV, p. 80). Horace Walpole records that the Earl of Leicester gave the snuff box to Field-Marshal Sir Robert Rich, Bt, (Anecdotes of Painting in England , London, 1782, ed, I, p. 257 note). Descended from Sir Robert Rich, 4th Bt, (1685-1768) to his son, Lt- General Sir Robt Rich, 5th Bt, (1714-85); they passed from him to a Mrs Clavering who gave them to her niece, Caroline Elizabeth (d. 1890), eldest daughter of George, 5th Viscount Barrington, in 1843 on her marriage to the Hon Thomas Liddell; she, in turn, gave them to her niece, Mary Frances (d. 1913), daughter of William, 6th Viscount Barrington, and wife of Alfred Sartoris; she sold them at Christie’s 27th June 1906 (lot 76); bt, Hodgkins; acquired by George Salting and bequeathed by him with his collection to the V&A, 1910.
Production
Painted when the artist was in France.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Nicholas Hilliard was born into the prosperous trading classes, the son of a goldsmith. By 1572 he had begun to work for Queen Elizabeth I.



This self-portrait marks Hilliard's first encounter with the Renaissance ideal of the artist as an individual of genius. Dating from Hilliard's visit to France in 1576-1578, its mood is very much that of the portraiture of the art-loving French court, where artists enjoyed a far higher status than their English counterparts. Its boldness and brilliance demand recognition of Hilliard’s genius, and express his aspirations to the status of a gentleman, not a tradesman. The reality on Hilliard's return to England was less ideal. A permanent position at court with all its attendant privileges eluded him, and he was compelled to set up as an artist in the City of London like any other craftsman.
Associated Object
Bibliographic References
  • Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620.. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983. Cat. 49, p. 59. Part Citation: "Hilliard painted his self-portrait while he was in France. [Despite some damage] ... the brilliance and boldness of the characterisation comes through with force so that we can understand the high esteem in which this miniature and the companion one of his father (see P.154-1910) were held from their first appearance at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Carl Winter, who fist discussed the stylistic sources, referred to the influence of portrait medals by Germain Pilon which often show the bonnet touching the rim of the circumference, a view endorsed by Erna Auerbach. This, however, was already a feature of miniature painted before the French visit. It is the mood rather than the formula which echoes portraiture of the late Valois court. Painters there enjoyed a higher social standing than their English counterparts who were regarded as artificers and tradespeople. That he chose to paint himself at this moment reflects a period when he moved in French humanist circles and exchanged conversation with the poet Ronsard. The status enjoyed by painters at the Valois court must have come as a revelation to Hilliard and it must have been there surely that he first came into contact with the Renaissance concept of the artist. Exposure to the highly sophisticated attitudes of the art-loving court of Henri III and Catherine de Medici prompted Hilliard to recognize his own genius. The miniature of his father (See P.154-1910) is also probably dated 1577 and shares the same descent from Nicholas’s son, Laurence, and both were once inset into later frames on the lines of that still surrounding Allice Hilliard (see P.2-1942). Possibly it was Laurence Hilliard who mounted the family portraits in this way. De Piles records the inscriptions on both. That on Hilliard's Self portrait ran: Nicholas Hilliardus Aurifaber, Sculptor, & celebris Illuminator Serenissimae Reginae Elisbethae, Anno 1577. Aetatis suae 30 (De Piles, Art of Painting, London, 1706, p. 431). Sometime before 1735 the frame and mount were discarded when they were set, as George Vertue records in a snuff box lid by the 7th Earl of Leicester.
  • PP. 62-3Catharine 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.155-1910

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record createdJanuary 6, 2003
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