Portrait of a Young Man, Probably Robert Devereux (1566–1601), Second Earl of Essex
Nicholas Hilliard (British, Exeter ca. 1547–1619 London)
Vellum laid on card
Oval, 1 5/8 x 1 3/8 in. (40 x 33 mm)
Fletcher Fund, 1935
Not on view
The Artist: Nicholas Hilliard, the son of Richard Hilliard, an Exeter goldsmith, made his earliest known miniatures in 1560. He served his apprenticeship as a goldsmith, beginning in 1562 with Robert Brandon, whose daughter Alice he was to marry in 1576. He became free of the Goldsmiths' Company in 1569. According to his treatise, The Arte of Limning, he had trained himself in miniature painting by following Holbein's technique and by copying engravings by Dürer and other masters. Hilliard enjoyed high favor with Elizabeth I (1533–1603) from 1572, but her slowness in making payments led him to work in France from 1576 to 1578/79. On his return he was much employed at the English court in miniature painting and remained the dominant figure in the art until the emergence of his pupil Isaac Oliver (1565?–1617) in the 1590s. Hilliard was court limner to James I (1566–1625) from his accession in 1603; however, the queen, Anne of Denmark, and their son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, preferred Oliver's more Continental style. Hilliard, who seems to have been notably improvident, died in poverty in January 1619.
The Miniature: When this miniature was first the subject of discussion, it was regarded as a portrait of Fulke Greville (1554–1628), first baron Brooke, by Isaac Oliver; it is described in those terms by Williamson in his catalogue of the Pierpont Morgan collection (1906) and in his article of 1907. In the Pierpont Morgan sale, 1935, it was listed as a portrait of a nobleman, "said to be the 1st Lord Brooke," by Oliver. This identification may have arisen from its provenance at Warwick Castle, the home of Lord Brooke. But he was born in 1554 and was thirty-four in 1588, dates that do not tally with those inscribed on this miniature.
Winter (1943) appears to have been the first to recognize in this portrait a major work by Nicholas Hilliard. He also pointed out that the youth is represented in Hilliard's full-length Portrait ofa Young Man Among Roses in the Victoria and Albert Museum (no. P.163-1910 and see Auerbach 1961, no. 78, pl. 80). The sitter is also probably seen in a miniature by Hilliard in the collection of the duke of Rutland (Auerbach 1961, no. 80, pl. 82).
In 1957 Piper, who believed that the Metropolitan, Victoria and Albert, and Rutland miniatures represent the same sitter, identified him as Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, by comparison with a painting by Sir William Segar (active late sixteenth century) in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, which is dated 1590. The present miniature plays an important role in this identification, since it is the only one which bears a date and the sitter's age; these are consistent with the view that it portrays Essex, who was born in 1566. Auerbach doubted whether the three miniatures represent the same person and was cautious about the identification of the sitter as Essex. In his extensive discussion of A Young Man Among Roses, Strong (1977) concludes that it does represent Essex and that this work also portrays him.
To summarize, the sitter in the present miniature is almost certainly depicted in the full-length portrait in the Victoria and Albert Museum and may also be represented in the duke of Rutland's miniature. Comparison with the earliest known portraits of Essex, before he grew a beard on the expedition to Cadiz in 1596, suggests that the same man is represented in the Metropolitan miniature, and the fact that the age and date on the work agree with those of Essex supports this identification.
The Sitter: Robert Devereux (1566–1601), second earl of Essex, soldier and statesman, was a favorite of Elizabeth I (1533–1603), who was more than thirty years his senior. He appeared at court in 1587 and she soon grew seriously infatuated. Devereux was created master of the horse in that year. In 1590, risking the queen's ire, he secretly married Frances Walsingham. He led a successful attack on Cadiz in 1596 and was created earl marshal in 1597 and chancellor of Cambridge University in 1598. He was appointed governor general of Ireland in 1599. On his return from this unsuccessful mission he attempted to raise a rebellion against the queen and was executed as a traitor in 1601.
[2015; adapted from Reynolds and Baetjer 1996]
The miniature is sealed to the convex cover glass with goldbeater's skin. There is water damage around the perimeter, where the paint layer may have adhered slightly to the glass, but otherwise the portrait head and costume are in very good state. There is some flaking and discoloration at the right edge in the background, the latter probably in the retouching of old damage, particularly in the lowest flourish of the Æ and the bottom of the S in the inscription; there is slight flaking at the left edge. The case in which the miniature had been framed shortly after it came to the Museum was supplied with a new and narrower gilded copper front bezel so that the edges of the paint surface are more fully revealed.
[2015; adapted from Reynolds and Baetjer 1996]
Inscription: Dated and inscribed (edge, in gold): Anõ · Dni· 1588 · Ætatis Suæ · 22 ·
Earls of Warwick, Warwick Castle; J. Pierpont Morgan, London (by 1906–d. 1913; cat., vol. 1, 1906, no. 48); his son, J. P. Morgan, New York (1913–35; his sale, Christie's, London, June 24, 1935, no. 173, as "Portrait of a Nobleman (said to be the 1st Lord Brooke)," by Isaac Oliver, to Knoedler for MMA)
London. Victoria and Albert Museum. "Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver," May 27–July 31, 1947, no. 36 (as "A Man").
Edinburgh. Scottish Arts Council Gallery. "A Kind of Gentle Painting," August 16–September 14, 1975, no. 11 (as "Portrait of a Gentleman").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 5, 1996–January 5, 1997, no. 8.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "In Miniature," August 29–December 28, 2014, no catalogue.
G[eorge]. C. Williamson. Catalogue of the Collection of Miniatures, the Property of J. Pierpont Morgan. Vol. 1, [deluxe edition]. London, 1906, pp. xiv, 54–55, no. 48, pl. XXVII, no. 1, as Attributed to Isaac Oliver, a portrait of Sir Fulke Greville, later 1st Lord Brooke.
G[eorge]. C. Williamson. "Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan's Pictures: The English Miniatures, II." Connoisseur 17 (January 1907), p. 5, no. XXVIII, ill. p. 6.
Harry B. Wehle. "Four Famous Miniatures." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 30 (October 1935), pp. 187–88, ill. on cover, accepts the attribution to Oliver, but rejects the identification of the sitter as Lord Brooke, who was thirty-four in 1588, whereas the inscription on the miniature gives the sitter's age as twenty-two in 1588.
Carl Winter. Elizabethan Miniatures. London, 1943, p. 26, under no. VII, attributes it to Hilliard and notes that the same sitter is depicted in his "Young Man Among Roses" (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).
Graham Reynolds. Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver. Exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1947, p. 29, no. 36, states that the same sitter is depicted in the "Young Man Among Roses" and in a miniature in the collection of the Duke of Rutland.
David Piper. "The 1590 Lumley Inventory: Hilliard, Segar and the Earl of Essex-II." Burlington Magazine 99 (September 1957), pp. 300, 303, fig. 17, states that two scholars ("Miss Merion" and "Mr. C. B. Collins of Dublin") have independently suggested that the sitter of "Young Man Among Roses" is the Earl of Essex, adding that the MMA and Rutland miniatures are said to represent the same sitter; is unconvinced by the identification.
Erna Auerbach. Nicholas Hilliard. London, 1961, pp. 104, 106, 300–301, no. 79, pl. 81, expresses doubt that the MMA, London, and Rutland miniatures all represent the same sitter.
Graham Reynolds. Nicholas Hilliard & Isaac Oliver. 2nd ed. London, 1971, unpaginated, no. 36, ill., states that "the suggestion made by Mr. D. T. Piper that [the sitter] may be the youthful Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, has not yet been generally accepted".
Roy Strong. The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry. London, 1977, pp. 60–61, fig. 36, believes that the MMA and London miniatures probably depict the Earl of Essex, but is less certain about the Rutland miniature.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, p. 273, fig. 493 (color).
John Stanfield. Letter to Philippe de Montebello. November 23, 1981, encloses an unpublished manuscript arguing that the sitter for "Young Man Among Roses" is Christopher Marlowe, noting that Reynolds has stated that the same sitter is depicted in the MMA miniature.
Mary Edmond. Hilliard and Oliver: The Lives and Works of Two Great Miniaturists. London, 1983, pp. 87–88, agrees that the same sitter seems to be depicted in the MMA and London miniatures, but is not convinced that this individual is the Earl of Essex, and is also uncertain that the Rutland miniature shows the same person.
Graham Reynolds with the assistance of Katharine Baetjer. European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 10–12, 72, no. 8, colorpl. 8 and ill. p. 73, state that the sitter "is almost certainly" the same one in the London miniature, and "may also be" the one in the Rutland miniature; add that this sitter can probably be identified as the Earl of Essex.
Katharine Baetjer. "British Portraits in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Summer 1999), p. 8, ill. (color).
Karen Hearn. Nicholas Hilliard. London, 2005, pp. 60–61, no. 17, ill. (color).
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 273, no. 172, ill. pp. 177, 273 (color).