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About NICHOLAS HILLIARD
Nicholas Hilliard (c. 1547 – 7 January 1619) was an English goldsmith and limner best known for his portrait miniatures of members of the courts of Elizabeth I and James I of England. He mostly painted small oval miniatures, but also some larger cabinet miniatures, up to about ten inches tall, and at least two famous half-length panel portraits of Elizabeth. He enjoyed continuing success as an artist, and continuing financial troubles, for forty-five years. His paintings still exemplify the visual image of Elizabethan England, very different from that of most of Europe in the late sixteenth century. Technically he was very conservative by European standards, but his paintings are superbly executed and have a freshness and charm that has ensured his continuing reputation as "the central artistic figure of the Elizabethan age, the only English painter whose work reflects, in its delicate microcosm, the world of Shakespeare's earlier plays.
After his return from France he lived and worked in a house in Gutter Lane, off Cheapside, from 1579 to 1613, when his son and pupil Laurence took it over, carrying on in business for many decades. Hilliard had moved to an unknown address in the parish of St Martins-in-the-Fields, out of the City and nearer the Court. Strong describes the opening of the shop as "a revolution" which soon broadened the clientele for miniatures from the Court to the gentry, and by the end of the century to well-off city merchants.
Apart from Laurence, who continued in a "feeble" version of his father's style, his pupils included Isaac Oliver, by far the most important, and Rowland Lockey. He appears to have given lessons to amateurs also; a letter from a young lady being "finished" in London in 1595 says: "For my drawing, I take an hour in the afternoon ... My Lady.. telleth me, when she is well, that she will see if Hilliard will come and teach me, if she can by any means, she will"..
He continued to work as a goldsmith, and produced some spectacular "picture boxes" or jewelled lockets for miniatures, worn round the neck, such as the Lyte Jewel, which, typically, was given by James I (more generous in this respect than Elizabeth) to a courtier, Thomas Lyte, in 1610. The Armada Jewel, given by Elizabeth to Sir Thomas Heneage and the Drake Pendant given to Sir Francis Drake are the best known examples. As part of the cult of the Virgin Queen, courtiers were rather expected to wear the Queen's likeness, at least at Court. Elizabeth had her own collection of miniatures, kept locked in a cabinet in her bedroom, wrapped in paper and labelled, with the one labelled "My Lord's picture" containing a portrait of Leicester.
His appointment as miniaturist to the Crown included the old sense of a painter of illuminated manuscripts and he was commissioned to decorate important documents, such as the founding charter of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1584), which has an enthroned Elizabeth within an elaborate framework of Flemish-style Renaissance ornament. He also seems to have designed woodcut title-page frames and borders for books, some of which bear his initials.