Nicholas Hilliard is arguably one of the greatest portrait artists this country has ever produced. That his name is not a household word is largely down to the fact that he was primarily a miniaturist. His works don’t hang in all their glory on gallery walls, but rather are tucked away in glass cases, requiring close examination to appreciate properly.
What is surprising when you do get close is that, apart from the costume of the sitters, Hilliard could easily be working two or even three hundred years later than he was. These are not the formal portraits of the Sixteenth Century court, often severe and forbidding, but something altogether more relaxed and intimate. Well, of course they are, because, just as exhibition is difficult, these were not for public show; they were for family, friends and lovers and for remembrance while the subject was away, or had died. They carry the essence of personality intentionally in a way that had never really been done before.
To achieve not just a physical likeness but also character and personality takes skill at any level, but to do so in something only an inch or two high is truly remarkable. There are some enlargements in this magnificent book that are up to ten times the original size and show the beautiful detail and frankly unbelievable skill Hilliard brought to his work. Few paintings will stand this level of magnification, but it takes a moment to realise that these are not simply full-size.
This is set to be the definitive study of Nicholas Hilliard. It includes a full biography and includes a wealth of illustrations, many of the images appearing in colour for the first time. New archival research adds to the authoritative nature of the text and the quality of production is everything you could wish for – a book like this can easily be let down in that department, but this shines.
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