The present portrait of a young woman by the miniaturist Peter Cross presents the sitter as alluring, much in the same vein as his portraits of queen consorts and mistresses alike at the courts of Charles II and James II. Closest to this particular work is Cross’s portrait of Mary Beatrice d’Este, Mary of Modena, when Duchess of York (1658–1718), currently displayed at Ham House, Surrey (NT 1140205). Cross used a very similar palette for many of his sitter’s, the white chemise and blue gown drawing attention to the luminescent pale skin of the sitter, a quality much admired in this period. Despite the sitter’s apparent youth, she is shown in the same loose gown as the famous mistresses painted by Cross, who took his cue from the renowned oil portraitist, Sir Peter Lely. On the intimate scale (and purpose) of the portrait miniature, Cross’s female sitters often exude temptation, their hair loose over their bare shoulders; their gowns draped...

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The present portrait of a young woman by the miniaturist Peter Cross presents the sitter as alluring, much in the same vein as his portraits of queen consorts and mistresses alike at the courts of Charles II and James II. Closest to this particular work is Cross’s portrait of Mary Beatrice d’Este, Mary of Modena, when Duchess of York (1658–1718), currently displayed at Ham House, Surrey (NT 1140205). Cross used a very similar palette for many of his sitter’s, the white chemise and blue gown drawing attention to the luminescent pale skin of the sitter, a quality much admired in this period. Despite the sitter’s apparent youth, she is shown in the same loose gown as the famous mistresses painted by Cross, who took his cue from the renowned oil portraitist, Sir Peter Lely. On the intimate scale (and purpose) of the portrait miniature, Cross’s female sitters often exude temptation, their hair loose over their bare shoulders; their gowns draped seductively low. This portrait may have originally been presented as a betrothal gift.

Cross’s life and origins have for a long time remained mysterious. Born around 1645, Cross has also been frequently linked to Samuel Cooper, miniaturist to the Restoration court of Charles II, who lived on the same street. However, this is confused by the fact that Cooper’s trademark stippling technique was not, overall, employed by Cross, who preferred to hatch in strokes of red and brown. As a result, it seems possible that Cross might have been tutored either by a retired artist – such as John Hoskins – or in France, where the stippling technique had a longer life than in England, where it had become outmoded. At the same time, however, from the confident and sophisticated compositions of Cross’s works on vellum – a support of which he was one of the last major proponents – it seems likely that the younger artist had at least paid careful study to the works of Cooper. Cross was also possessed of an individual genius, one that pushed traditional techniques of miniature painting to their limits. His talents were rewarded in 1678 when he succeeded to the title of Limner in Ordinary to the King.

Note: The miniature is signed in gold with Cross’s monogram at the right, just below centre. As a result of the antiquarian George Vertue’s misreading of Cross’s monogrammed signature, it was once thought that there had been two miniaturists – both a Peter and a Lawrence Cross – but this was dispelled upon the discovery of a miniature signed in Cross’s full name.

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500 Years of British Art