What I love about portraiture, however artfully constructed an image might be, is the sense of encounter with another human being. This encounter has been heightened for me in working on new interpretation for our Tudor and Jacobean miniatures collection. Independent portrait miniatures are one of the most intimate forms of art, designed to be ‘viewed ... in hand near unto the eye’ (Nicholas Hilliard). Usually painted on the reverse of a playing card (above), they were often mounted within a jewelled case that could be worn, carried in a pocket or kept for private display within the home.
At the end of March a new digital interactive will be installed in Room 3. Miniatures were apparently painted using a magnifying lens. For the first time visitors will be able to see the portraits as the artist may have seen them by viewing magnified photographs such as those illustrated here. Looking so closely seems almost indecent as details such as the tiny brushstrokes and dots that form the beginnings of a moustache or the lower eyelashes (above), or the petals of a rose (below), comes into focus. Do come and enjoy seeing close-up.
Image Credit (top to bottom)
Reverse of a miniature of Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1590, showing a playing card from the suit of spades (NPG 5994)
Francis Bacon by Nicholas Hilliard, 1578 showing details of the lip and right eye
Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, 1572 and a detail of the rose pinned to the queen’s left shoulder