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Isaac Oliver

1 of 5 portraits of Isaac Oliver

Isaac Oliver, by Isaac Oliver, circa 1590 - NPG 4852 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Isaac Oliver

by Isaac Oliver
watercolour on vellum, circa 1590
2 1/2 in. x 2 in. (64 mm x 51 mm) oval
Purchased with help from H.M. Government, 1971
Primary Collection
NPG 4852

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Detail of the face showing the stippling and…
Detail of the left eye showing the stippling…
The carnation ground layer has been left unpa…
A thin scumble of paint has been used to show…
The doublet is slashed with single strokes of…

Sitterback to top

  • Isaac Oliver (circa 1565-1617), Miniature painter. Sitter in 5 portraits, Artist associated with 71 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Isaac Oliver (circa 1565-1617), Miniature painter. Artist associated with 71 portraits, Sitter in 5 portraits.

This portraitback to top

A Huguenot refugee from France, Isaac Oliver came to England with his family when he was a child. His miniature painting is distinguished from that of Nicholas Hilliard by softer modelling and a much greater use of shadows. Oliver was not, it seems, favoured by Elizabeth I but after her death he was appointed miniaturist to Anne of Denmark, and later to Henry, Prince of Wales, James I's elder son. This magnificent miniature is one of two self-portraits by Oliver and once belonged to Horace Walpole, who said of it, 'The art of the master and the imitation of nature are so great in it that the largest magnifying-glass only calls out new beauties'.

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Events of 1590back to top

Current affairs

King James VI of Scotland brings his wife Anne of Denmark to Edinburgh for her coronation at Holyrood Abbey. Death of Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I's Principal Secretary and spymaster. The colonial governor John White returns to Roanoke Island (in present day North Carolina, USA) to find the settlement deserted. The lost colonists include his granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in America.

Art and science

The courtier, poet and soldier Sir Philip Sidney's pastoral romance Arcadia is published posthumously. It is one of the first English vernacular works to achieve a European readership, with translations into French, German, Dutch and Italian. The poet and administrator Edmund Spenser publishes the first three books of The Faerie Queene, an epic allegorical poem in praise of Queen Elizabeth I.


Henry IV of France defeats the Catholic League under Charles, Duke of Mayenne at the Battle of Ivry. The King marches on Paris before being driven back by Catholic forces sent by Philip II of Spain. Abbas I, Shah of Persia makes peace with the Ottoman Empire, allowing him to campaign agaist the Uzbeks. Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeats the Hojo clan at the Siege of Odawara, Japan. The victory completes Hideyoshi's military reunification of Japan.

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