Miniature of Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1590 (NPG 5994)

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)

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. 

Francis Bacon by Nicholas Hilliard, 1578

Francis Bacon by Nicholas Hilliard, 1578 showing details of the lip

Francis Bacon by Nicholas Hilliard, 1578 showing details of right eye

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.

Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, 1572

Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, 1572 a detail of the rose pinned to the queen’s left shoulder

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

Comments

Got something to say?

admin

27 March 2013, 16:41

Thank you for your comment and yes, the detail is stunning isn’t it? The miniatures were examined with a Leica MZ16 stereomicroscope and the images were captured with the Leica DFC 500 digital camera. The level of magnification from the actual size varies. For example the eye of Francis Bacon is magnified 25 times and the lips 32, whereas the rose on the dress of Elizabeth I is 20 times larger than the actual size. How each detail photographed best is what informed the various levels.

Peter

27 March 2013, 13:28

The details shown here on portraits that are so small are stunning. How were they taken?

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