Friday, February 15, 2019

Beautiful Unknown Nicholas Hilliard Miniature Identified as Royalty

National Museum Stockholm

After a long break from blogging. I'm happy to announce I've got a couple books coming out, one of them concerning Shakespeare portraits (more on that later), but first let's talk about something important, the possible identification of the unknown sitter in one of Nicholas Hilliard's most beautiful portrait miniatures.

I love this miniature and have been trying to identify it for years. Recently I was visiting the pages of Bridgeman Images and came upon a copy of the portrait that seems to indicate the miniature depicts Spain's Philip II.
(left) the Stockholm Hilliard (right) portrait called Philip II from Bridgeman Images

It's very likely the Bridgeman Image portrait has been misidentified as Philip II. Yet there are reasons to suspect the Hilliard miniature does depict the Spanish king, although a greatly beautified version, which was Hilliard's trademark. "Leave out the shadows," Elizabeth had warned him.

In his essay "Faces of a Favorite," Sir Roy Strong stated that mass-producing portrait miniatures for gifts was a prerogative exclusive to royalty, "an act of a sovereign." With that in mind, this miniature might well present Philip II and not some "unknown nobleman" as it's now designated. The low quality of the studio copy does make it appear to be a product of mass production.

The inscription, or motto, is Italian. "Non poco da Chese medessimo dona" translates into the wittism, "He who makes a gift of himself gives not a little."

The quality of the Stockholm miniature indicates it was an important piece. The museum catalogue states: "On the reverse [of the miniature] is a representation of the Crucifixion, with a costly rock-crystal mount reminiscent of the reliquaries of earlier ages."  Such a miniature would make the perfect gift for a Catholic monarch to distribute abroad.
Philip II of Spain 1555 after Titian photo National Portrait Gallery London
So is it Philip? The incredible NPG portrait of Philip (above) certainly bears a strong resemblance to the miniature's sitter. I'll post some side-by-side comparisons soon.

Also excited to note that the National Portrait Gallery has an exhibit opening February 21 called Elizabethan Treasures that features miniatures by Hilliard and his excellent apprentice Isaac Oliver. Man, I wish I could see it. I don't think I can, but you never know.

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