HILLIARD, Nicholas

(c. 1547-1619)
Nicholas Hilliard, the son of an Exeter goldsmith, was the first native-born English painter to achieve prominence in the field of portraiture, and in particular the portrait miniature. Hilliard became painter and goldsmith to Queen Elizabeth I* in 1572, immortalizing the queen and her courtiers in exquisite, delicately painted portrait miniatures, usually in a jewelled setting of his own making.
Hilliard s father Richard had supported the Protestant cause in a Catholic uprising against the Reformed prayer book during the reign of Edward VI. In 1553, when the Catholic sovereign Mary I* came to the throne, and fearing retribution for his Protestant sympathies, Richard Hilliard sent his son out of England in the household of staunch Protestant supporter John Bodley, whose eldest son Thomas founded the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Bodley and a group of reformers went first to Wesel in Germany and then for two years to Frankfurt, where they joined John Knox* and other Protestant refugees. Bodley's group moved on to Geneva in 1557 and finally returned to England in 1559. In Calvinist Geneva, Nicholas Hilliard not only met members of the English aristoc­racy who had fled Mary I's tyranny, contacts that would benefit him later in life, but also Huguenot refugees from Paris and Rouen, among whom was the goldsmith Pierre Oliver, whose son Isaac Oliver* would become Hilliard s most gifted pupil.
Hilliard's art, known to his contemporaries as "limning," first developed in the Netherlands, growing out of religious-manuscript illumination. The first min­iature painters at the English court, Levina Teerlinc* and Luke Hornebolte,* were from Flanders. Hans Holbein,* who had learned the craft from Hornebolte, was from Augsburg, and it was his work especially that was to be the main source of inspiration to Hilliard, who wrote in his Arte of Limning that Holbein s "manner of limning I have ever imitated."
The small size of portrait miniatures, seldom more than two inches in diameter and often oval in shape, made them highly desirable as gifts, particularly in a jewelled setting. Their expensive nature restricted their possession initially to the royal court and nobility. Hilliard may also have painted life-size portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, but his fame rests on his miniatures and on his book Treatise Concerning the Arte of Limning' (1600). Among his miniatures, the elegant and courtly Young Man among Roses (c. 1598) evokes the Shakespearean sonnets of his time, expressing a lover s devotion: in this case, the lover may have been the earl of Essex, and the lady the queen herself.
Unlike his pupil Isaac Oliver, Hilliard did not use any chiaroscuro, relying instead on a purity of line. His backgrounds are usually of ultramarine blue, and skin colors are of great delicacy. He was highly inventive with his techniques, incorporating the use of gold and silver and often including inscriptions. Trained as a goldsmith, he made his own jewelled settings. Nicholas Hilliard brought the portrait miniature to its highest point in English art, a visual counterpart to the poetry of his contemporary, William Shakespeare.*
M. Edmond, Hilliard and Oliver, 1983.
N. Hilliard, "Treatise Concerning The Arte of Limning," intro. and notes by P. Norman, Volume ofthe Walpole Society 1 (1912): 1-54.
Rosemary Poole

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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  • Hilliard, Nicholas — born 1547, Exeter, Eng. died Jan. 7, 1619, London British painter. The son of a goldsmith, he trained as a jeweler and began painting miniatures in his youth. In 1570 he was appointed miniature painter to Elizabeth I. He produced many portraits… …   Universalium

  • Hilliard, Nicholas — (1547 1619)    English goldsmith and painter of miniatures. As a client of the wealthy Protestant merchant John Bodley, he fled to Geneva during the Catholic restoration under Queen Mary I (1553 1558). Under her Protestant successor, Elizabeth I …   Historical Dictionary of Renaissance

  • Hilliard,Nicholas — Hil·liard (hĭlʹyərd), Nicholas. 1547 1619. English painter who founded a school of miniature painting under the patronage of Elizabeth I and James I. * * * …   Universalium

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  • Nicholas — /nik euh leuhs, nik leuhs/, n. 1. of Cusa /kyooh zeuh/, 1401 1464, German cardinal, mathematician, and philosopher. German, Nikolaus von Cusa. 2. Grand Duke, 1856 1929, Russian general in World War I. 3. Saint, fl. 4th century A.D., bishop in… …   Universalium

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