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Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban

5 of 34 portraits by Nicholas Hilliard

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban

by Nicholas Hilliard
watercolour and bodycolour on vellum laid on card, 1578
2 3/8 in. x 1 7/8 in. (60 mm x 47 mm) image size (sight)
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 2006
Primary Collection
NPG 6761


Small dots of blue have been applied to the p…
The vibrant red mouth has diagonal stripes on…
The highlights and edges of the ruff have bee…
The highlights and edges of the ruff have bee…
Detail of the skilfully painted inscription.

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), Miniature painter. Artist associated with 34 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This miniature depicts Francis Bacon at seventeen, a student of law and humanist scholar. It is an early example of the work of Nicholas Hilliard who, along with Bacon, joined the English ambassador to France, Sir Amyas Paulet, on a visit to France from 1576-78.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 147 Read entry

    Francis Bacon was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. A lawyer, philosopher, essayist and scientist, Bacon became one of the great intellectual figures of Jacobean England, fulfilling the promise of the Latin inscription that surrounds this portrait of him as a teenager, which states that 'it would be preferable if a picture deserving of his mind could be brought about'. Bacon was appointed Lord Chancellor in 1618 but was impeached for bribery three years later and confessed to 'corruption' and 'neglect', ending his political career. This is one of the best preserved of Hilliard's miniatures and was made in France, where he had travelled with Bacon in the entourage of the English ambassador Sir Amias Paulet. It is likely that Hilliard had been sent to France in order to take the portrait of Hercule-François, duc d'Alençon, with whom negotiations were under way for marriage to Elizabeth I; he made his way into the duke's service, who appointed him a valet de chambre. It was probably Hilliard's encounter with the oval format portrait miniatures of the French artist François Clouet that influenced his adoption of the format.

  • Cooper, Tarnya, Elizabeth I & Her People, 2013 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014), p. 182
  • 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. 60

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Subject/Themeback to top

Events of 1578back to top

Current affairs

The heir to the French crown, François, Duke of Anjou visits England to court Queen Elizabeth I. Public opinion is against a marriage due to his nationality and Catholic faith.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert receives letters patent that entitle him to explore and colonise 'remote heathen and barbarous landes' on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I.
King James VI of Scotland assumes personal control of the realm, without the aid of a regent, aged eleven.

Art and science

The writer and playwright John Lyly publishes Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit: Very Pleasant for All Gentlemen to Read, one of the most popular books of the period.


Death of Don John of Austria, Governor of the Netherlands. He is succeeded by Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Palma.
The Battle of Wenden - Sweden defeats Russia, marking a turning point in the Livonian War.
Sebastian I of Portugal leads a disastrous crusade against the Moors in northern Africa. He is defeated and killed at the Battle of Alcácazarquivir.

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Katharine Ridler

14 June 2018, 16:05

The inscription says 'Aetatis Suae 18', not seventeen as in your description above. Also, how do you translate the rest of the Latin?

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