The first ever painting of a guinea pig may have been uncovered by the National Portrait Gallery.
The unseen portrait depicts three Elizabethan children with a beige, brown and white guinea pig, cradled by the girl at the centre of the group.
The painting of the unknown children aged six, seven and five was discovered during the making of the gallery’s forthcoming exhibition Elizabeth I and Her People.
It is possibly the earliest-known depiction of this animal in a portrait.
“We know that guinea pigs were introduced into Europe by traders and were kept as exotic pets”, said a gallery spokesperson.
“While archaeological finds for domestic guinea pigs in Europe are rare, a partial skeleton of one that dates from c.1575 was discovered at Hill Hall in Essex, an Elizabethan manor house.”
The unknown children in the painting “almost certainly belong to a wealthy family of the nobility or gentry, as they are expensively and fashionably dressed,” says the London gallery. “The skillful painting suggests that it is the work of an artist familiar with Netherlandish techniques.”
Portraits of children became popular among the nobility and gentry across Europe in the 16th century.
Elizabeth I and Her People is the first exhibition to look at the rise of new social classes in Elizabethan society.
Supported by The Weiss Gallery, the exhibition of more than 100 objects will run from 10 October 2013 to 5 January 2014.