Nicholas Hilliard was famous as the first great English painter of the Renaissance era. His detailed work raised the art of miniature portraiture to its highest level.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact Sheet: Who was Nicholas Hilliard? The following short biography and fact sheet provides interesting facts about the life, times and history of Nicholas Hilliard, the famous Renaissance Artist.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact File: Lifespan: 1547 – 1619 *** Full Name: Nicholas Hilliard *** Place of Birth: Nicholas Hilliard was born in Exeter, England *** Family background: His father, Richard Hilliard was a goldsmith *** Education: Nicholas Hilliard began his artistic education working as a goldsmith with his father and was then apprenticed to Robert Brandon *** Nicholas Hilliard died on January 7, 1619
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 1: Date and Place of Birth – He was born in Exeter, Devon, England in 1547.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 2: Family – His father was Richard Hilliard, a prominent Protestant, the Sheriff of Exeter and a goldsmith. His mother was the daughter of a goldsmith.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 3: Following the death of the Protestant King Edward IV, his Catholic sister, who became known as Bloody Mary, ascended to the English throne in 1553. Mary was determined to re-impose Catholicism and prominent families of the Protestant religion were under serious threat. Young Nicholas found himself packed off into exile in Geneva, where he lived with the family of John Bodley.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 4: Living in Geneva Nicholas Hilliard learnt to speak the French language and became exposed to French art and received a humanist education.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 5: Queen Mary died on November 17, 1558 and her hopes for a Catholic England died with her. Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne and it was safe for Nicholas Hilliard to leave Geneva and return home to England
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 6: By this time he was showing talent as an artist and created a miniature painting of himself entitled Self Portrait Aged 13.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 7: He became apprenticed to Robert Brandon, the jeweller of Queen Elizabeth I. During his 7 year appenticeship he received training in the art of miniature painting and developed considerable skills of a goldsmith.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 8: In 1570 he is recorded as a member of the Goldsmiths' Company and his work was admired for its sensitive quality.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 9: In 1571 he created "a booke of portraitures" for Robert Dudley
the Earl of Leicester, the Queen's favourite, which is likely to be how he became known to the Court.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 10: Nicholas Hilliard was appointed miniaturist and goldsmith to Queen Elizabeth I from c. 1572 in the position Royal limner. A limner was the name of an illuminator of manuscripts or a painter of ornamental decoration such as miniature portraits.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 11: Nicholas Hilliard married Alice Brandon in 1576 and together they had seven children. Alice was Hilliard's first wife and the daughter of his former master, the Queen's Goldsmith, Robert Brandon. Their son Laurence also became a miniature painter
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 12: The newly married couple travelled to France and stayed there for three years as Nicholas worked in the service of the Duc d'Alencon. Francis Bacon was attached to the embassy, and Nicholas Hilliard painetd a miniature of him in Paris
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 13: Money was a persistent problem for Hilliard throughout his life. After his return from France he invested in a disastrous scheme for gold-mining in Scotland.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 14: He continued to create miniatures of the most illustrious people of the era including the famous explorers Sir Francis Drake (1581) and Sir Walter Raleigh (1585)
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 15: He worked in a house in Gutter Lane, off Cheapside in London from 1579 to 1613 in order to reduce his expenditures and took on various apprentices including Isaac Oliver.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 16: He continued to work as a goldsmith and painted not create miniatures but also full size portraits of the most famous people at the royal Tudor court including Sir Christopher Hatton, George Clifford, Mary Herbert (Countess of Pembroke), Robert Carr (Earl of Somerset) and the infamous Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 17: His post of Royal limner also included the repsnsibility for decorating important documents. An example of his work can be found on the founding charter of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1584),
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 18: Nicholas Hilliard was neither an astute financier nor a good judge of character and made some not very unwise choices when it came to money. He even spent a brief time in Ludgate Prison in 1584, not for his own debt, but as a result of standing surety for another.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 19: Despite his problems Nicholas Hilliard was held in the highest esteem by members of the royal court. In 1597 the noted poet John Donne praised the work of the artist in a poem called 'The Storm'.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 20: In 1599 Nicholas Hilliard eventually secured an annual allowance from the Queen of £40 which helped to ease his persistent financial problems
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 21: In 1600 he wrote an important treatise on miniature painting, now called The Art of Limning. The document is preserved in the magnificent Bodleian Library in Oxford along with a copy of The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare. Nicholas Hilliard's portrait of the 'Young Man Among Roses' has come to epitomise the romantic vision of the sonnet hero of Shakespeare's England.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 22: Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 and was succeeded by King James I of England and VI of Scotland. The new king greatly admired the work of Nicholas Hilliard who continued in his position of Royal limner and in 1617 managed to obtain a monopoly on producing miniatures and engravings of King James I
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 23: Nicholas Hilliard married his second wife, Susan Gysard at St. Mary at Hill in London on 3 Aug 1608.
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 24: The couple had a few short years together before Nicholas Hilliard died in London, England, on January 7th, 1619. He was buried on 7 January 1619 in the church of St Martins-in-the-Fields, Westminster
Nicholas Hilliard Fact 25: Nicholas Hilliard’s son Laurence (c.1582–1640) followed in his father's footsteps and became a miniaturist painter but a much more eminent pupil of Nicholas Hilliard’s was the French-born miniaturist Isaac Oliver.
List of Famous Works by Nicholas Hilliard: Queen Elizabeth I *** Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester *** Mary, Queen of Scots *** Francis Bacon *** Sir Francis Drake *** Sir Walter Ralegh *** George Clifford *** Young Man Among Roses *** Sir Christopher Hatton *** Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke *** Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset *** Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex *** King James I of England and VI of Scotland
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