Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:Portrait of a Woman
Artist:Nicholas Hilliard (British, Exeter ca. 1547–1619 London)
Dimensions:Oval, 1 7/8 x 1 1/2 in. (47 x 39 mm)
Credit Line:Fletcher Fund, 1935
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: According to Williamson, this miniature was once thought to be a portrait of Elizabeth I, although the sitter bears no resemblance to the queen. In his catalogue of the J. Pierpont Morgan collection (1906) he described it, on the basis of works in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Fonds Ste.-Geneviève, no. 89), and the Musée Condé, Chantilly, as a portrait of Charlotte Catherine de la Trémoïlle (born about 1565, died 1629), who in 1586 married Henry I de Bourbon (1552–1588), prince of Condé. In his article in Connoisseur of the same year (1906) Williamson reproduced it as a portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées (born about 1571, died 1599), who from 1591 until her death was the favorite of Henry IV.
These hypothetical identifications are based on the belief that the sitter's features are French in type. However, the only visit that Hilliard paid to France was from 1576 until 1578/79 (Mary Edmond, Hilliard and Oliver, [London, 1983], pp. 59–69), and there is every reason to suppose that he was in England in 1597, the date inscribed in his characteristic calligraphy on this miniature. Although no acceptable identification has so far been proposed, this is evidently a portrait of a lady at the Elizabethan court, comparable in style with Mrs. Holland, Aged 26 in 1593 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (no. P.134-1910).
[2015; adapted from Reynolds and Baetjer 1996]
The miniature is in an unblemished state.
[2015; adapted from Reynolds and Baetjer 1996]
Inscription: Dated (left edge, in gold): .:1597:.
J. Pierpont Morgan, London (by 1906–d. 1913; cat., vol. 1, 1906, no. 25); his son, J. P. Morgan, New York (1913–35; his sale, Christie's, London, June 24, 1935, no. 102, as "Portrait of a Lady (said to be Catherine Charlotte de la Tremoille, Princesse de Condé)," to Knoedler for The Met)
London. Victoria and Albert Museum. "Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver," May 27–July 31, 1947, no. 65 (as "An Unknown Lady").
Edinburgh. Scottish Arts Council Gallery. "A Kind of Gentle Painting," August 16–September 14, 1975, no. 22 (as "Portrait of a Lady").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 5, 1996–January 5, 1997, no. 9.
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, p. 33, no. 25, pl. XVI, no. 1, attributes it to Hilliard; rejects the identification of the sitter as Queen Elizabeth; calls her French and states that Hilliard probably painted her during his residence in France; tentatively identifies her as Catherine Charlotte de La Trémoille, princesse de Condé, relating the work to three drawings depicting that sitter.
G[eorge]. C. Williamson. "Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan's Pictures: The Early Miniatures, I." Connoisseur 16 (December 1906), p. 207, no. XII, ill. p. 205, identifies the sitter as Gabrielle d'Estrées.
Harry B. Wehle. "Four Famous Miniatures." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 30 (October 1935), pp. 187–88, ill. on cover, supports the identification of the sitter as the princesse de Condé.
Graham Reynolds. Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver. Exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1947, p. 32, no. 65, doubts the identification of the sitter as the princesse de Condé.
Erna Auerbach. Nicholas Hilliard. London, 1961, pp. 133, 305, no. 103, pl. 103, states that the sitter's identity cannot be established.
Graham Reynolds. Nicholas Hilliard & Isaac Oliver. 2nd ed. London, 1971, unpaginated, no. 65, ill.
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, 72–73, no. 9, colorpl. 9 and ill. p. 73, call it a portrait of an unidentified lady of the Elizabethan court.
Katharine Baetjer. "British Portraits in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Summer 1999), p. 8, ill. (color).
The frame set with thirty-one diamonds is a later addition.
Victoria Button, senior paper conservator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, discusses a selection of European miniature portraits in The Met collection that she worked with during a one-month exchange program between the two institutions this spring.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.