Pocket-sized paintings: Elizabethans in miniature

A collection of pocket-sized paintings – most no bigger than the lid of a jam jar – form a major new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Art historians Elizabeth Goldring and Catharine MacLeod tell us what five of these works reveal about 16th-century tastes and the artists who popularised a unique form | Words by Charlotte Hodgman

Unknown Woman Wearing a Hat by Isaac Oliver, c.1590-5. Features in Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver, at the National Portrait Gallery from 21 February 2019 to 19 May 2019. (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II 2019)


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Emerging confidence

Self-portrait, aged 30 by Nicholas Hilliard, 1577

One of the most prominent artists of the 16th century, Nicholas Hilliard trained as a goldsmith before turning to miniature painting. His talent was clear and by around 1571, aged about 24, he had become miniature painter to Elizabeth I, creating exquisitely detailed portraits of the queen and well-known courtiers such as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

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