Power & Portraiture

Portrait of Elizabeth I attributed to Hilliard on display at Waddesdon Manor, a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire

From 7 June to 29 October in the House see this special display of Elizabethan portraits that reveal an exciting attribution.

'Power & Portraiture: painting at the court of Elizabeth I' is a display centred on two portraits newly attributed to Nicholas Hilliard. These two spectacular panel paintings will be on public view for the first time and will be accompanied by loans from the Royal Collection and the National Portrait Gallery.

Learn how Elizabeth I and her courtiers used portraits to promote themselves in a glamorous, dangerous world.

A portrait of Sir Amias Paulet attributed to Nicholas Hilliard
A display of Elizabethan portraits at Waddesdon Manor, a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire
A portrait of Sir Amias Paulet attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

Visitors will learn about the scientific and scholarly detective work that has led to this important discovery and will be able to compare it with the famous 'Phoenix' portrait of Elizabeth I, generously lent by the National Portrait Gallery. Exploring themes from romance to international relations, her ambassador to France Sir Amias Paulet and the doomed nobleman, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk.

Attributing to Hilliard

Nicholas Hilliard is famous for his miniatures, painted in watercolour on vellum. Archival documents suggest that he also made paintings 'in greate' - full-scale portraits in oil paint. Scholars have suggested various oil paintings that might have been painted by, or under the direction of Hilliard (including the 'Pelican' and 'Phoenix' portraits, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and National Portrait Gallery, London) but these attributions rely heavily on stylistic comparison with his miniatures and it is hard to make conclusive comparisons between works of such different scale, type and medium.

Detail of portrait of Elizabeth I attributed to Nicholas Hilliard
A special display of Elizabethan portraits at Waddesdon Manor, a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire
Detail of portrait of Elizabeth I attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

The Rothschild portraits also share similarities of style and technique with Hilliard's miniatures, particularly the treatment of the faces, lace and jewels. However, what makes these two portraits so exciting is that scientific analysis carried out at the Hamilton Kerr Institute shows that they are painted on panels constructed of French oak rather than Baltic oak the English painters usually used.

Find out more about curator-led tours of this display