Monday, April 15, 2013

Portrait Comparison: Shakespeare's Fellow Actor Nathan Field & Nicholas Hilliard's Unknown Man on Fire

above: Hilliard's Unknown Man (left, V&A) and Nathan Field (right, Dulwich Picture Gallery)

The first portrait miniature I ever tried to identify was Nicholas Hilliard's Unknown Man Standing Before Wall of Fire.  I had just read Dr. Williamson's 1904 guidebook How To Identify Portrait Miniatures, and I thought the Hilliard miniature might depict the Elizabethan general Sir Charles Blount.  Now, a decade later, I'm not so sure.

The above portrait on the right is said to be by William Larken and depicts Nathan Field, a Blackfriar actor born in 1587.  The similarities between the two portraits include facial features, hands, skin tone, and style of dress.  These are the only two portraits I know of (with the possible exception of the one below) where a man poses in his nightshirt.

I gave Nathan Field a glance at Wikipedia and read:  
Field had a contemporary reputation as a ladies' man; gossip reported by William Trumbull charges him with a child of the Countess of Argyll. A portrait believed to be of Field can be seen at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, UK. Where he is depicted as a melancholy figure with hand on heart . . .
Now compare that description with Hilliard scholar Erna Auerbach's description of the man on fire miniature.
As if it were a symbol of burning love, the card on which the parchment is pasted is the ace of hearts.  The “burning” lover wears a fine linen shirt, wide open in front, a locket hangs on a long chain and he presses it with his left hand against his heart, as if it contained the picture of his beloved mistress, and, in strong contrast to the white of the garment, the noble and ecstatic face with dark hair and beard, turn to the right, looks at us with fanatical eyes.
Hilliard's miniature is kept at the Victoria&Albert Museum, the Mecca of the English miniatures.

Nathan Field is listed in the First Folio (1623) as one of the principal actors in performing Shakespeare's plays.  He was a man who knew Shakespeare intimately.

Also, just for fun, here's another portrait ripe for comparison

Above: Nathan Field (left) & an unknown courtier painted by Nicholas Hilliard's son Laurence (owner unknown)


  1. Is that Edward De Vere on the right at the bottom?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Replies
    1. He was your ancestor? If so, that's awesome. He's listed in the First Folio among the original Shakespearian actors, a legend.

    2. Also Field was a playwright and his surviving plays are available on amazon.