This article focuses on those who created the portrait miniatures from the mid 1520s until 1603 and how, thanks to the talents of the artists employed at the Tudor court, we are able to identify some aristocratic sitters of the 16th century. Links to images and articles are in bold italics.
Portraits of the aspiring merchant classes are more difficult to identify than the aristocrats and nobles of the realm and remain teasingly with the title “Unknown Lady” or “Unknown Man”. Like some of these sitters, many of these artists are unknown to the general reader, but if it were not these ‘anonymous’ artists then how would we know what the Tudor royals looked like? However, we do have documentary evidence in the royal accounts of who was employed as artists at court from the payments they received.
Limner is the correct name for a painter of illuminated manuscripts. The art of producing these images is called limning. So who were the artists who were employed by the Tudor kings and queens to paint their portraits ‘in little’ and illuminate documents?
The Horenbout family & Hans Holbein.
The first names of artists specialising as illuminators that appear in the accounts are the Horenbout family who arrived in England in the mid 1520s. Gerard Horenbout had been appointed as limner to the Regent of the Netherlands, Margaret of Austria in 1515 and returned to Flanders after the death of his wife Margaret in 1529, never to return. His two children Susannah and Lucas remained in England and we see Lucas’s name in the royal accounts as receiving the sum of £33 6s per annum and described as king’s pictor in 1534. In addition to illuminating various documents such as the Valor Ecclesiasticus and the Book of The Order of the Garter in the 1530s, we know that he probably also painted portraits in charters and letters patent for ordinary people. This link will take you to the some letters patent granted to Thomas Forster in 1524 and held in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Letters Patent (1524) of Henry VIII for Thomas Forster (d1528) This is the type of non- religious document that the Horenbouts might have illuminated to supplement any income deriving from the royal purse. (Image © Victoria & Albert Museum).
While it is often stated that Lucas taught Hans Holbein how to paint these portraits, I take issue with this statement. First, Holbein was a skilled and accurate draughtsman who not only painted portraits, but designed jewellery, plate such as Jane Seymour’s Cup, fireplaces such as the one taken from one of Henry’s hunting lodges and is now instaled at Reigate Grammar School, and also many of the settings and costumes for the various masques and banquets held at court. We have watercolour sketches in the British Museum showing many of these sketches by this great artist. Clearly Holbein was capable of creating images of a very small size and did not require any ‘teaching’ in this department.
What I think is more likely is that a Horenbout taught Holbein the intracies of mixing the various pigments that would stand the test of time. Anyone who has studied the book, Il Libre dell’arte written by Cennino Cennini (1360-before 1427) written around 1400, or the later 1573 Treatise on Limning by that prolific artist, Anonymous, will realise just how involved and complicated it was to mix certain pigments. Some, such as vermillion, are highly poisonous to make, and some greens are extremely corrosive and if made incorrectly would burn a hole in the parchment. The myth that Holbein required to be taught how to create miniature portraits appears to stem from the Dutch art critic Karl van Mander writing in his Schilder-Boek of 1604. Van Mander wrote in Dutch, therefore considering the skills of Holbein, the statement that Horenbout taught Hans Holbein the Younger to paint miniature portraits requires a re-evaluation of the translation of the original Dutch to English and Lucas Horenbout’s ‘teaching’ is probably more to do with the alchemical skills of the illuminator in mixing pigments.
The latest non-invasive scientific examinations of illuminated manuscripts and these early miniature portraits are producing evidence that demonstrates how these artists were highly skilled chemists as well as great painters. I have had the pleasure of being in contact with some of those chemists working in this field of pigment analysis and their results are proving some theories and blowing apart others. I confess I am a geek about all this scientific analysis. Since we know both Holbein and Lucas Horenbout held an official positions at court, it is logical to conclude that he and Holbein were friendly rivals.
Holbein had worked for Sir Henry Guildford in 1527, when he was employed to decorate the temporary banqueting hall erected at Greenwich palace for the signing of the 1527 treaty with the French. He also painted large portraits of Sir Henry and Lady Mary Guildford at this time, but not of any member of the royal family (that we know of). Since we know that Susannah Horenbout was an able and talented artist, she too had the knowledge about mixing pigments, and equally was not bound by any oaths sworn by a member of a guild. At this period only men were able to join the various trade guilds, and it is probable that Lucas was a member of such a guild back in Flanders therefore bound by such oaths. Therefore, not bound by oaths, nor in competition, but of equal talent to her brother, it is just possible that Susannah Horenbout taught Holbein how to mix pigments that would last. There is a portrait of a married woman by Holbein in the Kunsthorisches Museum, in Vienna that may be of Susannah. It measure a generous 11.8cms across (4.6 inches). If this is Susannah, then it means she was born in 1505/6.
This is the link if you want to click on it and see it in greater detail. Possibly Susannah Horenbout by Hans Holbein the Younger
There is a similar sized portrait by Holbein of an unknown man wearing the livery of the Tudor court who it is argued may be of her first husband. These portraits are clearly a pair and if they are of Susannah (née Horenbout) and her husband, John Parker, it is evidence that they were known to Holbein and possibly even friends with the artist and his common law wife. Susannah was married first to John Parker (died 1537) and finding herself financially stressed she required a new husband. She then married a John Gilman, or Gylmyn, both men being minor members of the Tudor Court. It is she who may have been involved in painting the miniature portraits of Catharine of Aragon and Princess Mary since, unlike her brother, being a woman Susannah would not have required a chaperone when visiting the royal apartments.
Susannah had been praised to the rafters by the great Albrecht Dürer who had visited the Horenbout workshop in 1521. He had bought a devotional piece of a Man of Sorrows that Susannah had painted, and heaped praise on her ability despite the fact she was a woman! Feminists reading this are allowed to gnash their teeth, but remember that Dürer was a product of his time so do not condemn him too much. My argument for Susannah being the creator of the portraits of the royal women is to do with gender and knowledge of how portraits are created.
Queen Katharine, brought up in the Spanish tradition, would insist that no one of her ladies, nor herself or her daughter, be alone with a man, let alone a male artist. To create a miniature portrait, Hilliard tells us that it is necessary to be very close with the sitter and in the 1520s, this would be the same. Whether or not the miniature portraits of the queen and princess were painted ‘ad vivum’ (from life) is unknown. That is something that Hilliard does much later in the century. When the Horenbouts were at court it is more likely that there was one formal sitting where lots of sketches were made. In this case, then it is very likely that it was Susannah who made these sketches since she was able to be part of the intimate circle around the queen without the requirement of their having to be a chaperone present and could have sketched the queen and her daughter at any time.
In this portrait of the nine year old princess, Mary has what appears to be a gold brooch with pearls.
The inscription “The Emperor” demonstrates this was painted when she was betrothed to her cousin, Charles V(1500-1558) who had become the Holy Roman Emperor on the death of his grandfather, Maxiilian I in 1519. Charles was fifteen years her senior, only two years more than the age difference between her great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), and her husband Edmund Tudor (1430-1456). Mary went on to marry Charles V’s son, Philip II of Spain who was eleven years her junior, which some might consider odd, but we should remember theirs was a negotiated marriage for diplomatic and political gain, not for love. Princess Mary aged nine years old The portrait is part of the Tudor Collection at the National Portrait Gallery, London (ref. NPG6453) and is only 35mm in diameter, which is a mere 1⅜ inches across. The same applies to miniature portraits of Queen Katherine.
This one of Catherine of Aragon is similar to that of Princess Mary, but there are significant differences in the way other portraits of the king are painted to suggest they are by different artists, but that will have to be for another time. The likelihood of either Horenbout sibling being given a live sitting for each and every royal portrait they painted is unlikely. It is more probable that one of them was given one sitting, and created a workbook full of detailed sketches. Since they were also both members of the court they may have also taken any opportunity to make a quick sketch of a member of the royal family when they could. Workbooks still are a standard way of storing stock images and would have allowed either sibling to create portraits of any member of the royal family with requiring a sitting, especially the ladies.
If Susannah were the artist, then neither the queen nor princess would need to be chaperoned. Susannah may well have created workbooks of sketches of the royal ladies thus her brother would have access to these and possibly used these to create portraits of Queen Katharine without the necessity of disturbing the queen’s household by his presence. Surviving workbooks are rare and the Royal Collection is lucky to hold the original sketches by Hans Holbein the Younger of various members of the court, but there are no known surviving workbooks by the Horenbouts.
Signatories & Attributions
When it comes to signatures, illuminators rarely signed their commissioned work, but they did have a registered mark for works created for the open market. This is why it is so difficult to attribute a name to these little images as well as the larger portraits. It was even more difficult for women artists and a prime example of mis-attributions comes from the 17th century. It had long been thought that the artist Judith Leyster had given up painting when she married and like every married woman, she changed her surname to that of her husband. Before marriage, Leyster had signed her paintings with her initials JL together with a star. The star was a visual pun on the Dutch meaning of Leyster being ‘lead star’. It was not until 1893 that seven paintings were identified as being by her because someone spotted the initials JM and a star. It was the star and further investigation provided clear provenance that lead to these paintings being identified as being by the married Judith Leyster when previously these same painting had been attributed to either her husband, John Molenaer or in some cases, Frans Hals. This is just one example of the difficulties of recognition that women artists had and have continued to suffer until very recently.
Another art historian has identified the initials JH hidden in a cap badge of a miniature portrait of Henry VIII and has argued that this portrait of the king is not by Lucas, but by Susannah. The portrait may well have been created from a workbook containing sketches of the king and either Susannah or Lucas could have created these templates since they were both at court. However, these initials do not make sense. Lucas Horenbout died in March 1544, only six months after his rival, Holbein who had died in the November of the previous year. As far as I am aware, no other signature has been found to identify an artist of any of these miniature portraits from the early 16th century except on this one. This suggests that this particular artist was making sure they were not forgotten. Lucas had a daughter, Jacquemine, and we know from records that in 1547 Lucas’s widow Margaret was paid sixty shillings, three years after her husband’s death. This time is was Queen Katherine Parr who had paid the bill.
Henry’s last queen was very much a fan of these small portraits, which leads us to ask the question, did the queen commission a portrait of her husband from the Horenbout workshop that continued to produce miniature portraits from the workbooks? And was that artist Lucas’s daughter Jacquemine? This would explain the intials JH hidden in Henry’s cap badge. It could be argued that the J is not a J, but a medieval S which looks like an ‘f’ without the horizontal bar. However, Susannah Horenbout was now married to Mr Gwylym and like Judith Leyster in the 17th century, she would have changed her name on marriage to that of her husband, therefore her initials would have been SG.
To return to the subject of workbooks, it is probable that Lucas’s widow had inherited these, which enabled either Jacquemine, or her mother, to create portraits for Queen Katherine Parr after 1544.
After 1547, the name Horenbout fades from view in any of the royal accounts. Susannah and her husband continued to live in Sheen and raised three children. I am sure, like Chris Skidmore and others, that a portrait miniature now in Yale, which has been identified as either Princess Mary, Princess Elizabeth and Jane Seymour is none of these, but actually a portrait of Amy Robsart. If you wish to read my article about who painted this miniature, this is the link. https://melanievtaylor.co.uk/2017/09/17/amy-robsart-1532-1560-possibly/
Levina Teerlinc (née Bening) (1520 – 1576): King’s paintrix 1546 – 1576 & William Scrots : King’s painter 1554 – 1553.
After the death of Lucas Horenbout, the search for his replacement was on and the name Teerlinc first appears in the royal accounts of March,1546 with the entry “£10 to be paid unto her husband George Terling”, and is the first of many such sums to be paid to the Teerlincs ‘at the king’s pleasure’, in arrears, for her artistic services. Therefore they must have arrived in England at the latest by late December 1545, and taken up her position as king’s paintrix in the January; it is possible the Teerlincs arrived earlier in 1545. Levina Teerlinc, daughter of Simon Bening, is the first woman ever to be appointed as an artist in her own right at a European court. Like Susannah Horenbout, Teerlinc was trained by her father and came to England as a married woman. Levina remained as the official court limner to Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. She and husband George did return to Flanders for a period of eighteen months from late 1549 to 1551 and their son Marcus was born in Calais during their return jorney to England.
One of Teerlinc’s first commissions for Henry VIII was the front folio of the Peace of Ardres 1546 This document is in in the French archives. There is a small circular portrait of the ageing Henry VIII in the cross bar of the H which is approximately 10mm across, which is just under half an inch. The front sheet of this 1546 treaty shows how Teerlinc used a Renaissance architectural framework to surround the writing on the front page of this treaty. Female Caryatids, hold up a decorated lintel where the goddess Concordia stands on a small cartouche set between the coats of arms of France and England. The goddess holds an olive branch symbolising peace, in her hands and is looking towards the English coat of arms.
In 1527 a similar treaty had been signed at the palace of Westminster and while the English treaty was created by the Horenbouts (also in the French archives, but extremely damaged) and full of Tudor symbolism, the French version was innovative and decorative. It contained a miniature portrait of Francis I, which derived from a template of a larger portrait by Jean Clouet painted c1525-30. Click to view the earlier French Version of 1527 Treaty
Clearly outdone by the French artists in 1527, the English king required his new limner to come up with something new for the English version of the 1546 treaty. The same year Teerlinc officially arrived at court, William Scrots arrived as the replacement for the late Hans Holbein who had died in November 1543. Scrots had been court artist to Mary of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands since 1537 and one of the first portraits he painted on his arrival at the Tudor court, was of Prince Edward. This is one of several and is in our Royal Collection. Edward VI 1546 – William Scrots
Scrots was paid the massive sum of £62 10s and was the highest paid artist of the period, being paid over double the annual amount paid to Hans Holbein. With the arrival of both Scrots and Teerlinc the English court now had two highly skilled and innovative artists well versed in Renaissance emblems and how to use them. Like Scrots, Teerlinc used the latest fashionable form of decoration, but she would have also learnt all the symbolism used in late medieval manuscripts. She was the third generation of illuminators of the Bening family. The Bening workshop, in collaboration with the Horenbouts and the David family, were responsible for some of the most magnificent illuminated manuscripts of the late medieval and early modern period.
After the death of Lucas Horenbout in March 1544 it is thought that Queen Katherine Parr sent representatives to approach Simon Bening. Perhaps she hoped to lure Simon to England, but his clientele were spread across the whole of Europe. Unlike Gerard Horenbout, Simon did not hold an official post at the court of the Regent of the Netherlands. Among his clients were cardinals, princes, dukes and very wealthy merchants, which means it was unlikely Bening gave any thought of giving up a thriving workshop to come to England. However, writing in 1562, the Florentine historian Ludovico Guicciardini described Teerlinc as being as great as her father, Simon Bening. Simon had died the year before and this is clearly Guicciardini’s tribute both to Bening and his daughter.
It is possible Teerlinc came to England because her father had refused the position, but it is also possible that her abilities were already known in the illuminating world. It has been argued that Queen Katherine employed Teerlinc before Henry VIII. Unfortunately, there is no evidence (yet) to prove this theory, but it would be logical. If the Teerlincs had arrived in 1545, the king would have been able to see her work without committing himself and so make his own mind up as to whether or not Teerlinc was up to the standard of his late limner, Lucas, before deciding whether or not to offer her the position of king’s paintrix at the colossal annual salary of 40l. In economic terms, as opposed to straight inflation, this equates to approximately £60,000 per year according to www.measuringworth.com.
Being paid a retainer also meant that any surviving work that might come from Teerlinc’s brush has to be judged on style because there are no signed pieces. Westminster Abbey’s Muniment Room holds the Crampe Ring Manuscript which details the religious ceremony of the curing of the ‘Kinge’s Evil’. Allegedly, the only person able to cure this disease was the monarch of England (and also the king of France). This disease was scrofula, a form of tuberculosis that affected the lymph nodes of the neck. This manuscript was very probaby illuminated by Teerlinc and has many Renaissance motifs in the margins as well as three full page illuminations. It is just the sort of document that a limner would be required to design and illuminate.
In the late 19th century one of the very few art historians who championed Teerlinc was W H Weale. The idea that women cannot paint, promoted by the 19th century art critic John Ruskin, held sway and continued to do so through much of the 20th century. Even in the second half of the 20th century certain influential art historians continued to peddle this misogynist twaddle. Thank heavens attitudes are changing and talent is the focus, not gender, but do not be fooled into thinking that women now have a level playing field; there is still a long way to go.
In 1559, nearly a year after Elizabeth came to the throne, Teerlinc was granted a lifetime annuity by the new queen for her loyalty to the royal family. By now Teerlinc had been in post for thirteen years. When Sir William Cecil drew up a draft proclamation regarding the regulation of the queen’s image in 1563 it would be bizarre to think that Teerlinc was not consulted. She was in receipt of a lifetime annuity to create work for the Crown, and it is very likely that she is the author of the Coronation miniature of Elizabeth now in the Portland collection. The Coronation Miniature When there is no signature, historians will always quibble. Hilliard is a better known artist than Teerlinc, which is why the curators of the Portland collection choose to attribute this image to him with the rider that it is after a lost original.
Some of us think this is the original because of the inclusion of a diamond within the crossing point of the cross on the orb. There is one argument that only a goldsmith would have included this feature and Hilliard was a master goldsmith, but it is more likely this miniature was created by someone who had known Princess Elizabeth through all her trials and tribulations on her road to the throne. Hilliard was only eleven years old when Elizabeth ascended the throne, therefore this miniature could not be by him. This portrait is clearly a celebration of Elizabeth finally gaining her birthright. However, the name of Hilliard is a bigger crowd puller than Teerlinc.
By 1572 Teerlinc was fifty two years of age and probably feeling her age, in Tudor times even persons of wealth were unlikely to make what we think of as very old bones. Coincidentally 1572 is the year when Nicholas Hilliard, painted his first portrait of Elizabeth I (now in the NPG). Elizabeth I 1572 This portrait is pasted on to the Queen of Hearts playing card and measures 2 x 1⅞ ins (51 x 48mm). In his draft treatise written in 1598 Hilliard talks about when he first painted the queen. It may be a romantic notion, but I like to think this is the portrait to which he is referring.
There is an Unknown Lady (by Hilliard) in the Buccleugh Collection at Bowhill House, also painted in 1572. I believe this portrait was created in order for Levina to introduce her successor to the queen. This link will take you to my article where I discuss why this Hilliard miniature is a portrait of Teerlinc. https://melanievtaylor.co.uk/2017/10/18/is-this-levina-teerlinc/ Teerlinc was the subject of my Master’s dissertation back in 2006 and my tutors were very excited about my theory concerning the identity of this Hilliard portrait. Teerlinc died in 1576, just a month before the wedding of her protégé Nicholas Hilliard to Alice, the daughter of the queen’s goldsmith Robert Brandon, to whom Hilliard had been apprenticed from 1562-69.
A Golden Age for English miniature portraiture – Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619)
Gloriana is another epithet for England’s Virgin Queen and this concept of the queen as a fabulous goddess rests squarely on the shoulders of master goldsmith, Nicholas Hilliard. Finally, England had an English born artist with sufficient talent to rival those foreigners who had previously been employed at court. This is a link my article on Hilliard, which will give you an outline of his life and works. https://melanievtaylor.co.uk/2017/09/21/nicholas-hilliard-1547-1619/
Hilliard was well educated in the classics and uses the emblems and symbols of the various incarnations of Diana, virgin goddess of the Hunt, also known in another guise as Cynthea, virgin goddess of the moon. One of his favourite comparisons of the queen to an immortal was with the eternally young goddess Astrea who, according to Ovid had ruled over a golden age on earth with justice. These miniatures of Elizabeth created in the 1580s focus on her incredible wardrobe and jewel collection and this restored Hilliard portrait of the queen will give you an idea of his genius.
In this portrait from the Royal Collection (RCIN 421029) burnished silver leaf covered with clear resin depicts diamonds – symbols of constancy. In other portraits there are colored jewels made by the same process representing rubies for sacrifice and emeralds – green for hope. There are always the ubiquitous pearls, with a minute dot of burnished silver leaf to add to the shimmering image, and these represent the queen’s purity. If you look closely at the jewels in the queen’s hair you will see a crescent, representing the crescent moon – an emblem of the virgin goddesses, Diana, Astrea and Cynthea.
This particular portrait dates from the 1590s and is one of sixteen we known as The Mask of Youth portraits. These were carefully considered images because now the queen’s complexion was beginning to wrinkle. Her notorious sweet tooth had caused tooth decay and she had many black teeth, plus she now wore a wig. Hardly a vision of beauty. This unfinished portrait of the queen dates from 1590-92 and is attributed to Hilliard’s protégé, Isaac Oliver (1558/60-1617).
(Image © Victoria & Albert Museum, London). We can see the painting process in this image, but Oliver’s depiction of the queen’s face does not pander to the queen’s vanity. Perhaps his visual ‘honesty’ is why Oliver did not oust Hilliard from the position of queen’s favourite painter of miniature portraits. However, Oliver did become the favourite of the next queen, Anne of Denmark, wife of James VI of Scotland & I of England.
Clearly more savvy when it came to his artist legacy, he has signed many of his portraits with a his initials, being an entwined ‘I’ and ‘O’. The art historian and television presenter, Dr Andrew Graham-Dixon has identified Isaac Oliver as the creator of The Rainbow Portrait that hangs on the staircase at Hatfield House. This idealised large portrait of Elizabeth drips with symbols including the mouths, eyes and ears all over an orange (known as yellow-red in the 16th century) robe, with the queen holding a rainbow and the words, non sine sole iris that translates as ‘no rainbow without the sun’. If you want to know more about Graham-Dixon’s thoughts about this painting, then here’s the link http://www.andrewgrahamdixon.com/archive/itp-91-elizabeth-i-the-rainbow-portrait-attributed-to-isaac-oliver.html
Like his teacher Teerlinc before him, Hilliard also created illuminations on treaties, charters, letters patent. He also designed Elizabeth I’s second Great Seal, the first having been designed by Teerlinc. In addition to his skills as a portrait painter and illuminator of documents, as a master goldsmith he was also able to create lockets to house any portrait he created, for example the Drake Jewel and the later Lyte jewel that housed a portrait of James I of England and IV of Scotland, except we know he did not create the one for the Lyte jewel, but I have used it as an example as it shows how a royal portrait would be presented.
This locket and enclosed miniature of the king is part of the Waddesdon Bequest held by the British Museum. Despite the number of royal portrait miniatures Hilliard created from 1572 onwards, it was not until 1599 that he was awarded a regular annuity of £40 per annum.
In his draft treatise of 1598, in addition to technical information regarding the mixing of pigments and the creation of the faux jewels seen in the Mask of Youth portraits, Hilliard gives us an insight into his relationship with the queen and what he considers are the requisite attributes necessary for a painter. Clearly he had received a good education and had a sound knowledge of the works of the classical authors of ancient Greece and Rome. Many of his portraits include mottoes which appear to be nonsensical to a modern audience who no longer study the writings of Ovid, Cicero, Lucan, Homer, Herodutus et al. There are no mottoes more baffling than the one included in the portrait of the Unknown Young Man Holding a Hand Emerging from a Cloud. This portrait is in the the Victoria & Albert Museum and there are two versions. It has been suggested that Oliver copied the Hilliard original, but their styles are so close at this point in time it is impossible to tell who painted the second version.
An artistic legacy
Those artists who came from Europe in the early part of the 16th century seeking a position at court have left us an intriguing visual legacy of illuminated manuscripts, as well as both large and miniature portraits allowing us to come face to face with the great and the good, and the not so good. Later, as society changed, for those who could afford it portraiture became fashionable and secret messages were sometimes conveyed within these images. Some miniature portraits have mottoes, others have emblems and many of these messages remain incomprehensible. After 1558 there was no further need for highly decorated religious illuminated manuscripts, but there was a demand for illuminated legal documents, charters and treaties and we know that Hilliard illuminated some of these.
Recently Suzanna Lipscomb revealed the illuminated charter for a free grammar school at Ashbourne, Derbyshire and this charter is kept in the Derbyshire archives. Ashbourne Charter/ How much Humphery Strete paid for the engrossing and decorating of this exquisitely decorated document is also revealed showing just how expensive it was to have a document of this beauty produced by the Hilliard workshop.
Hilliard has intrigued me for decades and is the hero of my revised novel (republished this year), The Truth of the Line. For those of you either living near or visiting London between 21st February and 19th May 2019, the National Portrait Gallery is hosting a temporary exhibition titled Elizaethan Treasures: the work of Hilliard & Oliver to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Hilliard’s death. In March there will be a conference where academics will present their research into these two great artists.
©MVT 2018. This article first appeared on 19th December 2018 on Natalie Greuninger’s fabulous website On The Tudor Trail.