Nicholas Hilliard By Abby Tjie


Nicholas Hilliard was a renaissance artist born in 1537 in Exeter in the United Kingdom and died in 1619 in London. He spent most of his life in London with patrons, mainly Elizabeth I and James I.

Nicholas had been painting ever since he was very young. As a child for a short period of time, he was sent into Geneva, France and was exposed to the French language, French art, and a humanist education. Then when Nicholas was 14 years old and back in England, he became an apprentice to a goldsmith named Robert Brandon for seven years which might have benefited his art skills.

He married Alice Brandon, the daughter of his goldsmith teacher and bared seven children. He lived a life with lots and lot of financial difficulties until he was payed with annuity in 1599.

Throughout his life, he created miniature portraits known as the unique art of limning for Queen Elizabeth I and her successor, King James I. For Elizabeth I, he created The 'Phoenix' Portrait and The 'Pelican' Portrait. He also created many miniature portraits for Elizabeth's court and advisers such as Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh. He painted the two inch portraits straight from real life instead of creating a large portrait first and then scaling it down like other limners.

The Phoenix Portrait of Queen Elizabeth
Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh

Hilliard was the first person to challenge the plain blue background in a miniature portrait as well. Besides being the limner for the thrown, he was also a goldsmith and a jeweler. He invented new ways of using fabric, jewels and metals. He created the Second Great Seal of Elizabeth I as well as other art.

Young Man Among Roses

Young Man Among Roses is one of Nicholas Hilliard's most famous works. Created in 1588 and can now be found in Victoria and Albert Museum in London, it depicts a man standing in an area filled with roses while leaning his shoulder on a tree beside him while placing a hand on his heart.

Young Man Among Roses

This piece was painted with watercolor unlike many of Hilliard's oil paintings. Although it is miniature, it is one of Hilliard's larger ones at ten inches tall (regular size was two inches) and it is shaped as a stretched oval shape. Symbolism of Queen Elizabeth is hidden in the meaning of the roses and the color of the young man's clothes. The picture represents the love throughout Queen Elizabeth's reign.

Modern day people have also speculated that the painting has to do with some private situations during the time between the Queen Elizabeth, a young man (one of the Queen's favorites), and the young man's secret wife.

I find this piece so interesting because Nicholas Hilliard is able to paint fine details in paintings that are so small. This one in particular is not as small as other ones, but Hilliard uses watercolors which, in my opinion, are extremely hard to use for fine detail. The specific painting is very gentle, soothing, and pleasant to the eye. Somehow the painting is realistic, yet not very.

This painting can represent humanism, naturalism, and idealism. Although naturalism and idealism are opposites, the painter manages to mix both ideas together in this painting. Humanism is represented because the man is showing some loving emotion with a hand on his heart and a slight smile to his face while he is surrounded by roses. The emotion represents humanism. The idealism is represented because the image looks like everything is perfect. The sky is perfectly blue and the young man is portrayed perfectly and such. The naturalism comes in with the nature background and the plants that surround him.

Hilliard, I would say, paints portraits with mainly idealism and humanism. His artwork really reflects the personalities and emotions of each person he paints. He also paints the pictures with less realness and with more finesse that creates a painting that looks unreal, but elegant. It creates an image that is perfect for whoever he is painting.

More information about Young Man Among Roses by Nicholas Hilliard can be found here


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