The survival of such a work is remarkable in itself...
This fascinating portrait is something of an enigma. Although the sitter wears clothing datable to the middle of the seventeenth century, her depiction is archaic, recalling the earlier miniatures of Nicholas Hilliard (1547?-1619). The blue background, usually painted in the pigment azurite, was a feature in early miniatures and derived from the portraits in illuminated manuscripts. The silver paint (now oxidized to almost black) on the sitter’s pearl necklace was also employed by early miniaturists to add texture and luminosity to these early jewel-like paintings.
By the time this miniature was painted, techniques had evolved and the careful stippling shown here in the present portrait had been replaced by broader, lively brushstrokes. Backgrounds evolved from the flat blue azurite and became more sombre in colour. It is possible, given the long apprenticeship for artists learning to paint portrait miniatures (then known as limnings
) that this is a work by an artist in training, aware of the tradition in which he or she was following. The hesitancy in the description of the sitter’s features also suggests a young or evolving hand. The survival of such a work is remarkable in itself, as many practice pieces would have been destroyed as the artist’s mature hand emerged.