OLIVER, Isaac

(c. 1565-1617)
Isaac Oliver, French by birth, became well known as a "limner," a painter of miniature portraits, receiving his training from the greatest of the Tudor min­iaturists, Nicholas Hilliard.* He took the art of the miniature beyond its Eliza­bethan models, making use of such Italian Renaissance techniques as chiaroscuro, but also in the process losing some of the poetry of the miniatures of Hilliard.
Born in Rouen, Isaac Oliver was a member of a French Huguenot family that had fled France for Geneva in 1557 while he was still a child, arriving in that city at the same time as the young Nicholas Hilliard, who was to become his teacher. In 1568 his father, Pierre Olivier, transferred his family to England, anglicized their name to Oliver, and settled in London, joining the large expa­triate group of European artists there.
Oliver joined the workshop of Nicholas Hilliard at the age of fourteen on an informal basis to learn the art of "limning," but unlike Hilliard, he did not receive a goldsmith's training. His apprenticeship lasted some seven years, his first signed miniatures appearing in 1587-88. His style proved to be radically different from that of his teacher, sturdy and realistic, showing some European influence, and without the stylization and symbolism so loved by the Elizabethan courtiers.
Ushering in the new Stuart era, Oliver's first court appointment in 1605 was not to King James I,* but to his consort, Queen Anne of Denmark, a connoisseur of art, and to her son, Henry, Prince of Wales, then heir to the throne (Henry would die in 1612 before succeeding his father). This gave Oliver the sole right to paint their portraits, among them the well-known miniature of the queen dressed for a masque. Her son, Prince Henry, was also shown in a new rectan­gular form of the miniature, like a full-sized portrait but much reduced in scale. Nicholas Hilliard meanwhile continued as painter to the king until his own death in 1619; Oliver was never to succeed him in this coveted position, for he died before Hilliard in 1617.
Oliver never forgot his French Huguenot roots, living among and marrying into the French and Flemish expatriate communities in London. His second wife connected him with the prominent Flemish Gheeraerts and de Critz families, portraitists and serjeant-painters to both the Tudor and Stuart courts. Perhaps because of his closeness to the European community in London, Oliver's style showed a new realism, a European influence not present in the work of Hilliard. Together, Oliver and Hilliard brought the era of the great miniature painters of the Tudor and Stuart periods to its highest point and culmination.
Bibliography
M. Edmond, Hilliard and Oliver, 1983.
Rosemary Poole

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

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