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An Unknown Man

Nicholas Hilliardc.1600

English Heritage

English Heritage

Object TypeThe medium and techniques of miniature painting, or limning as it was traditionally called, developed from the art of illustrating sacred books (also called limning). Nicholas Hilliard first trained as a goldsmith and introduced to this watercolour art innovative techniques for painting gold and jewels. In this miniature we see his characteristic curling and scrolling calligraphy, painted in real gold and then burnished.Subjects DepictedThis work beautifully illustrates the role of the miniature in the chivalrous atmosphere of dalliance and intrigue at the court of Elizabeth I, where secret gestures of allegiance could become public display depending on the whim of the wearer. Here the young man turns a picture box, the image concealed, towards his heart. This was a gesture of devotion, presumably made to the wearer of his miniature.Ownership & UseUnlike large-scale oil paintings, which were painted to be displayed in public rooms, miniatures were usually painted to be worn, to be held, and to be owned by one specific owner. Although we do not know who this miniature was painted for, it is a very intimate image as the gentleman is depicted effectively in a state of undress.

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