This article examines a miniature listed as an “Unknown Lady” aged 52, painted in the year of 1572. The artist is Nicholas Hilliard. I propose that it is a portrait of the Flemish artist, Levina Teerlinc, who had been employed as limner and paintrix by the Tudor royal family since 1546.
Miniatures, limnings, portraits ‘in little’, they are all the same thing, were the rage at the Elizabethan Court and amongst members of the aristocracy. Therefore we have to consider that this lady was either a member of Court, the wife of a Court member, or perhaps both.
The format is circular and the portrait has been clipped on the right hand side, probably at a later date to fit a locket. Our lady is painted three quarter profile and her pose is more formal than the rectangular portraits Hilliard painted in the same year. She wears a white ruff and a head-dress, which covers the whole of her hair except for the very small area at the front. The light falls virtually square on to her face and Hilliard uintensifies her complexion colour to model her features, as opposed to using brown or black. Hilliard stresses that to use dark colours to produce shadows is not the proper way to limn and quotes Piero Lomazzo saying ‘what is shadow but the defect [i.e. absence] of light’.
Who was Levina Teerlinc?
Levina Teerlinc was the daughter of Simon Bening the foremost Flemish illuminator of the mid 16th century. Bening’s workshop was in Bruges and his client list numbered the European royal families and leading members of the Church. It is generally agreed that Levina trained and worked in her father’s workshop.
So why was a woman artist invited to become a member of the English Court? Both Lucas Horenbout and Hans Holbein had died in the winter of 1543-4 so Henry VIII was without both a Court limner or a painter. In 1546 we see the appointment of a painter in the person of William Scrots and Levina Teerlinc is appointed as a limner and paintrix at a salary of £40 per annum. It seems likely that Henry VIII may well have preferred to recruit her father and here we enter the realms of speculation. In 1546 Bening was approximately 62 years old and it is unlikely that he would have wanted to give up his thriving workshop to move to England.
The art critic Ludovico Guicciardini commented on Teerlinc’s abilities as follows:
Et di donne viue nomineremo quattro, a prima è Levina, figliuola di maestro Simone di Bruggia gia métionato, la quale nel miniarer come il patre e tanto felice & eccellente, che il prefato Henrico Re d’Inglaterra la volie e con ogni premio hauer a ogni modo all sua corte, oue su poi imritata noblilmente, su molto amata dalla Regina Maria, & hora è amatissima Regina Elizabetta . . .”
this loosely translates as”
As for the women and girls who are still living in this art, I will name you four: the first is Levina, the daughter of Simon of Bruges, who is so excellent at wielding the vermillion as her father that Henry VIII, the King of England wished to have her in his own country, no matter the cost, where she was married and well beloved by Queen Mary and at present is much beloved by Queen Elizabeth.
Since we know from Guicciardini that Bening’s daughter was considered to be as talented as her father then perhaps Henry VIII had to accept Bening’s daughter rather than her father as the replacement limner for his household. James and Franco have argued that it might have been Queen Catherine Parr who invited Teerlinc to England in 1545 because Queen Catherine was known to be an ardent collector of limnings and then, after a year, Henry offered Teerlinc a post in his household.
Teerlinc’s name first appears in the household accounts of Henry VIII in 1546 when she receives a salary of 40l per annum to be paid quarterly.  In other entries in the household accounts for the payment of Teerlinc’s quarterly fee there are differing spellings of Teerlinc, such as Terling, Terlinge and Teerling.
After Henry’s death in 1547, Teerlinc then served Edward VI (except for a period of approximately eighteenth months when she and her husband were granted leave to return to Bruges to visit her father) and then Mary I. As we have seen, Guicciardini also tells us that Teerlinc was a good friend to Mary I and is much loved by Queen Elizabeth.
In a Letter Patent dated 10th October, 1559 Elizabeth I converted Teerlinc’s original terms of employment into a lifetime appointment with an annuity of 40l. This document continues as follows:
‘And further from our gracious words and from total certainty and our true knowledge we give and concede and by these present for our heirs and our successors we give and concede to the said Levinia Terlinge as much sum or money as in this way by these present of the said annuity of £40 as being outstanding and due from our Treasury at our aforesaid Exchequer of Receipt due to the said Levinia from our gift without account of any other provided to our heirs or successors returning paying or making.”
The Easter accounts for that year reveal that Teerlinc received a lump sum of 150l. Mary’s Will Mary instructed Elizabeth as her Executor, to pay all Mary’s outstanding debts. Examination of the accounts during Mary’s reign revealed that Teerlinc’s annuity was not paid and the outstanding sum amounted to 150l. It appears that the Letters Patent acknowledge this outstanding sum and wish it to be noted that it has been paid, but without stating the actual amount.
Teerlinc served Elizabeth I until the artist’s death on 26th June 1576. It is probable that she taught the goldsmith and artist Nicholas Hilliard the art of illumination. I shall be publishing a revised version of my novel The Truth if the Line shortly, to celebrate Hilliard’s 470th birthday. Without Levina Teerlinc it is unlikely England’s first great home grown artist would have ever come to the queen’s notice.
The evidence for this being a portrait of Levina Teerlinc
In the absence of written documents stating the identity of the sitter, we have to draw on visual evidence, therefore do we have any images with which to compare this portrait and therefore draw a conclusion? The answer is yes.
Simon Bening’s father was Alexander Bening. In 1974 Eric Drigsdhal identified what appears to be Alexander Bening’s signature in the marginalia of the Grimani Breviary. He concluded that this defines the Benings as the lead illuminators for this work, which is considered to be a collaborative work between the Benings, the David and the Hornebout families, thus demonstrating the closeness of the illuminating profession and the fame of the Bening family. Independently, in 2002 and 2003 Drigsdhal and Ainsworth identified portraits of both Alexander and the young Simon Bening in the full page illumination of the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba in the same breviary. Arrival of the Queen of Sheba – Grimani Breviary Below is the detail of the double portrait.
Therefore we can compare the likenesses of father and son. Alexander appears very absorbed in his thoughts and is portrayed as an old man with a scraggy neck, dressed in his official robes as the head of the Guild of St Luke; his face is strongly contrasted against the softer, rounder features of his son. The family resemblance is very apparent. From the way Simon looks out of the picture suggests he is the painter of these two portraits images; certainly it has all the characteristics of a self portrait in the way his eyes could be looking into a mirror. Whether it be father or son who painted this delicate miniature, we have the first portraits of the Bening family.
Simon Bening painted a further self-portrait in 1558 when he was 75. There are two versions of this portrait and this image is in the V&A. Bening describes himself as the son of Alexander on the frame of the painting and assumes the viewer will know who Alexander is.
The artist is seated in front of a small easel at work on a religious illumination, thereby defining himself with the work for which he (and by reference on the frame, his father), were famous. The artist has painted himself next to a mullioned window, through which we see a garden, providing us with the visual narrative of an illuminator at work. Importantly, he is shown wearing his working clothes. In Hilliard’s draft treatise of 1598, he states that the artist should cover their head to prevent dandruff or hair falling on the work and spoiling it. Hilliard further describes the artist’s clothes must be of silk which will not shed any fluff or lint. Therefore, we can conclude that Bening is wearing a substantial cap over his hair to stop anything falling from his head onto his work and he is wearing a smock made out of suitable material to protect his clothes.
Auerbach identified Hilliard’s Unknown Lady as being a gentlewoman dressed in a Flemish fashion, which suggests the sitter may be foreign. The head-dress fulfils Hilliard’s description for protective head wear; however, the lady does not appear to be wearing a protective smock, but if she were sitting for her portrait then she would not need so to do.
Hilliard stresses the importance of proportion when capturing the facial likeness in the first lines of a commission. Although the overall result produces the likeness, he defines ‘… the eyes to showeth most life, the nose the most favour and the mouth the most likeness.’
Having seen the family likeness between father and son, we now need to compare these images to Hilliard’s Unknown Lady of 1572. There will be differences in the way that the individual artists ‘see’ the sitters but both Simon Bening and Nicholas Hilliard were famed for their ability to capture an accurate likeness. Comparing the two known portraits of Simon, we see that his visage has not changed dramatically, therefore we have to accept that his self-portrait of 1558 is an accurate likeness.
There is sufficient similarity in the overall shape of the faces, the way the nose and the eyes sit on the face, the width between the eyes and the depth of the space between the upper lip and nose in these images of Alexander and Simon Bening and the Unknown Lady to suggest they are related. In my opinion, the same way we see family traits between the generations in photographs, there appears to be sufficient similarities between these three generations to accept Hilliard’s ‘Unknown Lady’ as being a portrait of Levina Teerlinc.
Furthermore, the year and the age of the sitter provides us a year for her birth, 1520, which means that Teerlinc came to England in her mid twenties.
In his Treatise Hilliard states specifically that portraits might also be of ‘… foreign persons which are of interest to them.’ The Teerlincs were Flemish and it is possible that he is making an oblique reference to a portrait or portraits of both Levina Teerlinc and her husband George, that he has done for his own collection. Hilliard makes further oblique references when he describes artists at Henry’s Court and refers to ‘… cunning strangers resorted unto him and removed from other courts to his … Yet had the King in wages for limning divers others …” This last reference appears to be a deliberate reference to Henry VIII’s wider employment of foreigners as limners such as Lucas or Susannah Horenbout, Hans Holbein and Levina Teerlinc.
The work of Murrell and Strong, Edmond, Hearn and Coombs has shown how various members of the Elizabethan Court have been identified from the Hilliard miniatures. Therefore, by comparing such features such as shape of face, eyes, length and set of nose, depth of septum and the overall image, we can see these are family portraits of grandfather, father and daughter, I propose that this is no longer an ‘Unknown Lady’ and is a portrait of Levina Teerlinc.
I am currently working on a book that details the research behind the novel, The Truth of the Line. Anticipated publication date for this research is 2020.
©Melanie V Taylor 2006 (theory first proposed in my unpublished MA dissertation in the name of Melanie Fraser, Templeman Library, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK) & 2017
 p67 eds. R. K. R. Thornton and T. G. S. Cain, The Art of Limning; The Mid Northumberland Arts Group, Carcanet Press, 1992..
 P69 ibid
 Pp51 & 52; Auerbach, Erna; Tudor Artists; University of London; The Athlone Press, Senate House, London WC1; 1954.
 The original Italian can be seen on p100 Guicciardini, Lodovico: Descrittione di M. Lodovico Guicciardini patritio fiorentino di tutti i Paesi Bassi; 1567. http://amshistorica.unibo.it/185 accessed 18th October 2017.
 P51; Auerbach, Erna; Tudor Artists; University of London, The Athlone Press, Senate House, London WC1,; 1954
 James, Susan E and Jamie S Franco; Susanna Horenbout, Levina Teerlinc and the Mask of Royalty.
 P51Auerbach, Erna; Tudor Artists; University of London, The Athlone Press, Senate House, London WC1; 1954.
 National Archives C66/940 Letters Patent (1559). “40l to be paid quarterly from The Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the thirty-eighth regnal year of Henry VIII,” which suggests the date of 24th March 1546 for Teerlinc’s original appointment”.
 Drigsdhal, Eric; Summary of a paper ‘Manuscripts in Transition’ presented at the Royal Library of Belgium, Brussels 5-9th November 2002.
 p53 The Art of Limning eds. R. K. R. Thornton and T. G. S. Cain, The Mid Northumberland Arts Group, Carcanet Press, 1992.
, ,  &  p59 ibid
Guicciardini, Lodovico: Descrittione di M. Lodovico Guicciardini patritio fiorentino di tutti i Paesi Bassi; 1567. http://amshistorica.unibo.it/185 accessed 18th October 2017.
The Art of Limning; eds. R. K. R. Thornton and T. G. S. Cain, The Mid Northumberland Arts Group, Carcanet Press, 1992
E315 Court of Augmentations: Treasurer’s Accounts 1536-1834: National Archives, Kew, Surrey, England.
Auerbach, Erna Nicholas Hilliard; Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., Broadway House, 68-74 Carter Lane, London EC4; 1961.
Drigsdhal, Eric; Summary of a paper ‘Manuscripts in Transition’ presented at the Royal Library of Belgium, Brussels 5-9th November 2002.
Edmond, Mary; Hillliard & Oliver: The Lives & Works of Two Great Miniaturists; Robert Hale, London 1983.
James, Susan E and Jamie S Franco; Susanna Horenbout, Levina Teerlinc and the Mask of Royalty.
James, Susan E; The Feminine Dynamic in English Art 1485-1603: Women as Consumers, Patrons & Painters; Ashgate Publishing Limited, Wey Court East, Union Rd, Farnham, Surrey GU9 7PT, England; Ashgate Publishing Company, Suite 420 101 Cherry Street, Burlington VT 05401-4405 USA; 2009.
Murrell, Jim: The Way Howe to Lymne: Tudor Miniatures Observed: Victoria & Albert Museum; London 1983.
Strong Roy; Artists of the Tudor Court: The Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520; Victoria & Albert Museum, London 1983.
Weale, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol 9 No 40 (Jul 1906) p278.