An Unknown Girl, aged four

Portrait Miniature
1590 (made)
An Unknown Girl, aged four thumbnail 1
An Unknown Girl, aged four thumbnail 2
+4
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 58
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 four, holding an apple (generic title)
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.
Brief Description
Portrait miniature of an unknown girl, aged four, holding an apple, watercolour on vellum, by Isaac Oliver, 1590.
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



Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 54mm
  • Estimate width: 43mm
Content description
Portrait of a young girl, half-length, facing to front and wearing a ruff and caul; the sitter is also holding an apple in her right hand.
Styles
Marks and Inscriptions
'Ano Dni. 1590 / AEtatis Suae. 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.)
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
Object history
COLLECTIONS: C. H. T. Hawkins sale, Christie’s 13th to 17th May 1904 (908); bt. E. M. Hodgkins; bequeathed to the V&A with the Salting collection, 1910.
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.146-1910 (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. 145, p. 102. Part Cittion: "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."
Collection
Accession Number
P.145-1910

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record createdMarch 27, 2003
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