This is the first major exhibition on Tudor and Jacobean portrait miniatures in the UK for over 35 years.
The exhibition brings together key works from the National Portrait Gallery and major loans from public and private collections, including miniatures that haven’t been seen in public in the UK since the early 1980s, to showcase the careers of the most skilled artists of the period, Nicholas Hilliard (1547? – 1619) and French born Isaac Oliver (c1565 – 1617).
In the 16th and 17th centuries, miniature painting was regarded as an art form at which the English excelled above all others, and Hilliard and Oliver gained international fame and admiration. The exhibition explores what these exquisite images reveal about identity, society and visual culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England.
Miniatures could be set into ornate jewelled cases and worn around the neck, pinned to clothing or secretly concealed as part of elaborate processes of friendship, love, patronage and diplomacy. These tiny portraits, many in exceptional condition, bring their sitters before us 400 years after they were painted, with astonishing freshness and vivacity.
A large section of the exhibition will be devoted to Hilliard and Oliver’s portraits of Elizabeth I. Miniatures of some of the most famous figures of the day, including Sir Walter Ralegh and Sir Francis Drake, are displayed along with some of the most evocative and well-known works of the period, including the beautiful Young Man among Roses and Unknown Man against a Background of Flames, both by Hilliard and on loan from the V&A.