A Century of Giving

Nicholas Hilliard

Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland


watercolour on vellum stuck to a playing-card, 52 x 64 cm

The Fitzwilliam Museum: PD.3-1953

Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, (1564-1632) reclines in a sunlit garden, surrounded by flowers. A glove is carelessly tossed aside and a book lies open beside him. This delicately detailed miniature, by Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), is painted on vellum and mounted on a playing card.

Hilliard - 'a special cunning man who could take ye natural representation of her majesty' - is often credited with perfecting the art of miniature painting in England. He portrayed not just Elizabeth I, but also many of her favourites.

With his long hair, elaborate lace collar open at the neck, and abstracted air, Percy here assumes the fashionable Elizabethan pose of the melancholic lover. Also known as the 'Wizard Earl', Percy was 'naturally a kind of inward and reserved man' whose interests included alchemy, mysticism and the occult. He had many opportunities to pursue the life of a scholar. Having been accused of involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, Percy spent many years comfortably imprisoned in the Tower of London - one of a group of noblemen surrounding Sir Walter Raleigh.

This miniature was acquired by the Museum in 1953. The Director, Carl Winter, had recently published a book on Elizabethan miniatures - at the time a new area of study. 'Hilliard's miniatures,' he said, 'exercise a power of enchantment unique in our school of painting'.

You can see many other fine miniatures bought with the Friends' help in Gallery 32 and also in the drawers in the central cabinets in Gallery 27.

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The Fitzwilliam Museum : A Century of Giving Introduction

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