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
Sitterback to top
- Isaac Oliver (circa 1565-1617), Miniature painter. Sitter in 5 portraits, Artist associated with 72 portraits.
Artistback to top
- Isaac Oliver (circa 1565-1617), Miniature painter. Artist associated with 72 portraits, Sitter in 5 portraits.
This portraitback to top
This magnificent miniature is one of two self-portraits by Oliver. It once belonged to Horace Walpole, the antiquarian, 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'.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 37
- Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 130
- Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 34
- MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 37
- MacLeod, Catharine; Rab, MacGibbon; Button, Victoria; Coombs, Katherine; Derbyshire, Alan, Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures from Hilliard and Oliver, 2019 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 21 February - 19 May 2019), p. 136
- Nicholl, Charles, Insights: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2005, p. 29
- Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 23
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 467
- Tarnya Cooper, Elizabeth I & Her People, 2013 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014), p. 176
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 55 Read entry
This striking self-portrait was painted when Isaac Oliver was around twenty-five years old. He was born in Rouen and appears to have trained as an artist before he arrived in England with his family as a Huguenot refugee. He joined the workshop of the renowned miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, later developing the techniques he learnt there by placing more emphasis on painted modelling and blending than on Hilliard’s graphic line, creating a softer, more illusionistic style. In 1605 he was appointed limner, or miniaturist, to Anne of Denmark, the wife of James I, and thereafter to her son Henry, Prince of Wales.
Although Oliver does not advertise his artistic profession in this image, it is interesting to note the lustre of his silk doublet, a fabric recommended by Nicholas Hilliard as suitable for painting as it ‘sheddeth least dust or hairs’. The miniature once belonged to the eighteenth-century antiquary 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’.
- Walker, Richard, Miniatures: 300 Years of the English Miniature, 1998, p. 22 Read entry
Oliver's self-portrait was once owned by Horace Walpole, who said in his Anecdotes of Painting in England, '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'.
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
- Elizabeth I and Her People (10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014)
Events of 1590back to top
Current affairsKing 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 scienceThe 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.
InternationalHenry 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.