(b. 1547, Exeter, d. 1619, London)
Portrait of George Clifford, Earl of Cumberlandc. 1590
Mixed media on parchment, 26 x 18 cm
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Nicholas Hilliard, a goldsmith and miniaturist, is one of the lesser known yet highly important artists of early Baroque. His unique achievement lies in his creation of a type of courtly portraiture unparalleled in European painting at the time. By his own admission, he was influenced by Hans Holbein, that peerless master of the portrait miniature, for whom Hilliard expressed his unreserved admiration in his writings.
However, Hilliard's sophisticated and finely executed miniatures have little in common with the work of his German forerunner, apart from their mastery of fine technique and certain aesthetic principles such as the avoidance of chiaroscuro and strong modelling. These are features of an absolutely aristocratic stance in keeping with the attitudes displayed by the very people he painted.
Hilliard's portrait of George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, from c. 1590, is a full-figure portrait, which is quite rare, and it is one of this artist's most complex works. This successful naval leader was a favourite of Elizabeth I and his feathered hat also bears the Queen's glove as a mark of distinction which adds the finishing touch to his courtly apparel in the guise of a knight.