The miniaturist and goldsmith Nicholas Hilliard is the first English painter of whose career we possess a certain amount of knowledge. He was born in Exeter, the son of a goldsmith, and by the age of 13 had taken up miniature painting. At an early date he became goldsmith and limner to Queen Elizabeth I, and by the 1580s was well established in Court circles. In 1583/4 he was granted the right to make portraits of the Queen, and in 1584 designed and executed her second Great Seal. He may have visited France about 1577, and was certainly familiar with the work of French painters such as the Clouets, although he stated that he modeled himself on Holbein.
By 1572 Hilliard had completed a series of works, including his first dated portrait of the Queen (National Portrait Gallery, London), which showed his full mastery of miniature painting. His style is characterized by a craftsman's knowledge of line in defining form, but details such as hair and costume are expressed in a broad, flowing calligraphic manner. His most striking works are portraits of young men—painted in the period when Shakespeare was composing his sonnets—which reflect the virtues of the Elizabethan age.
By the turn of the century his style had become tighter, but his last years marked a return to mastery with his portraits of young ladies. In his Treatise Concerning the Arte of Limning, composed c. 1600, Hilliard shows himself very much the Renaissance man, true to the precepts of the humanists. His greatest pupil was Isaac Oliver who, by the mid 1590s, was working in a similar style.
We're sorry this article wasn't helpful. Tell us how we can improve.