Nicholas Hilliard Life of an Artist Elizabeth Goldring

Publication date:
12 Feb 2019
Paul Mellon Centre
352 pages: 279 x 197mm
250 color illus.
Sales territories:

This illustrated biography follows Nicholas Hilliard’s long and remarkable life (c. 1547–1619) from the West Country to the heart of the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts. It showcases new archival research and stunning images, many reproduced in color for the first time. Hilliard’s portraits—some no larger than a watch-face—have decisively shaped perceptions of the appearances and personalities of many key figures in one of the most exciting, if volatile, periods in British history. His sitters included Elizabeth I, James I, and Mary, Queen of Scots; explorers Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh; and members of the emerging middle class from which he himself hailed. Hilliard counted the Medici, the Valois, the Habsburgs, and the Bourbons among his Continental European patrons and admirers. Published to mark the 400th anniversary of Hilliard’s death, this is the definitive biography of one of Britain’s most notable artists.

More about this title

Winner of the Apollo Book of the Year award

Shortlisted for the 2020 William M. B. Berger Prize for British Art History

Short-listed for the 2019 Richard Schlagman Art Book Award for Best Contribution to Art History

Shortlisted for the 2019 Best First Biography Prize, sponsored by Slightly Foxed Magazine

To hear the author discuss Hilliard with Andrew Marr on Radio 4's 'Start the Week', click here

For a Spectator article on this book please click here 

For a Telegraph article on this book, please click here

Elizabeth Goldring is an honorary associate professor at the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

“Elizabeth Goldring’s illustrated biography Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist, published to coincide with a major centenary exhibition, tells his story with all the flair of her last book, an examination of the flamboyant and (for his day) selfie-loving Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” —Suzi Feay, Financial Times

“Goldring’s engaging account of his life, character and artistic methods, supported by gorgeous illustrations and illuminating new archival discoveries, makes for a wonderful book, at once authoritative and full of pleasures.” —Helen Hackett, Literary Review

“Before you book your tickets [to the National Portrait Gallery’s Hilliard retrospective], read Elizabeth Goldring’s sumptuous survey Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist. Goldring, whose previous book Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and the World of Elizabethan Art, considered portraiture and patronage, has a fine, incisive eye. This is a scholarly book … but full of insight and courtly intrigue. [. . .] Goldring gives the bones of Hilliard’s biography [. . .] and his turbulent times [. . .] but more than that she encourages you to really look. [. . .]The close-up photographs of jewels and lace are a revelation.” – Laura Freeman, The Times

“Richly detailed and illuminating [. . .] If Hans Holbein fixed the appearance of Henry VIII’s court for the ages, it is Nicholas Hilliard who performed that service for Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth. His exquisite portrait miniatures captured not just her transition from youthful monarch to Virgin Queen to Gloriana but the constellation of her court. [. . .] for those sittings he would stare at the royal visage for hours from mere feet away. Perhaps no one else ever looked at her so intently. Goldring’s fascinating and beautifully produced book allows us to do something similar with the limner himself.” – Michael Prodger, The Sunday Times

"Elizabeth Goldring's engrossing, thickly illustrated biography shows that it was a rags-to-riches-and-back-again story. [. . .] This superb book vividly conjures a costly dresser and spendthrift, terrible with money, litigious, and sometimes slippery with creditors [. . .] Patrons bailed him out more than once, and his penultimate year was spent in Ludgate jail for debt. What humiliation for one who painted everyone who counted."—Philippa Stockley, Evening Standard

“A brilliant and definitive biography”—Jerry Brotton, Financial Times Weekend Magazine

“Scholarly”—Laura Gascoigne, The Spectator

“Superb”—Simon Wilson, RA Magazine

“A fascinating and beautifully produced life of the Elizabethan miniaturist”—The Sunday Times (‘Best Recent Books’)

An Apollo 'Off the Shelf' Selection (February 2019)

An Arts Society 'Good Reads' Selection (Spring 2019)

“A landmark scholarly biography . . . Goldring excavates the connections that let an Exeter goldsmith become an artist renowned at the courts of Europe. She has rescued a Renaissance in miniature”—Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

Nicholas Hilliard not only allows us to study the artist and his gifts. It pulses too with the vivid conviction we find in JH Plumb's study of Walpole or Claire Tomalin's of Pepys. [. . .] Everyday lives in the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages are vividly rendered here. Goldring sharpens our ability to look beyond the glossy-magazine analogs of court painting and decipher, as with TS Eliot's vignette of the poet Webster, the skull beneath the skin. She is good, too, at placing Protestant Hilliard and his family in the context of the religious wars that threatened Britain for nearly a century and ravaged Europe for more than two. [. . .] At times Goldring's book reads like an Elizabethan version of a John le Carre novel [. . .] In spite of informed and scrupulous scholarship, with the author ever distinguishing what is known from what may reasonably be inferred, the narrative is unputdownable” —Grey Gowrie, The Financial Times

“Meticulous [. . .] lavishly illustrated [. . .] absorbing [. . .] a milestone in Hilliard studies” —James Hall, TLS

“Elizabeth Goldring’s absorbing and well-researched historical biography of Hilliard surveys the personal and professional life of the artist, and examines the personalities behind his portraits.” —Olenka Horbatsch, British Museum Magazine

“A fascinating and beautifully produced life of the Elizabethan miniaturist” —The Times (Best Books of the Year)

“An outstanding archivally-based biography [. . .] this essential hardback study of Protestant England's first native-born artist, with a brilliant European reputation across the Catholic Renaissance courts (magnificently and fully illustrated in colour), acts as a profound reminder of the diplomatic power of great art” —Stephen Lloyd, Art Quarterly

“The National Portrait Gallery's superb exhibition of Elizabethan miniatures closed last month but for those who missed it, Elizabeth Goldring's Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist is worth the cover price for its beautiful close-up photographs alone.” —William Moore, Evening Standard (Best summer holiday reads)

“[A] rich and compelling new biography”—Mathew Lyons, History Today

"Goldring has unearthed each and every fact known about Hilliard (surprisingly many) and woven them into a contextualised, informative and well paced text [. . .] a superior publication [. . .] timely and scholarly" —Mike von Joel, State

“This is set to be the definitive study of Nicholas Hilliard. It includes a full biography and includes a wealth of illustrations, many of the images appearing in colour for the first time. New archival research adds to the authoritative nature of the text and the quality of production is everything you could wish for – a book like this can easily be let down in that department, but this shines”—

“Crisp, elegant and engaging prose [. . .] A lavish abundance of full-colour illustrations [. . .] at last, the biography that the outstanding miniaturist truly deserves” —William Aslet, Country Life

“Sumptuous [. . .]  the first ever full investigation of [Hilliard's] life and art, illustrated with 250 beautiful colour images. [. . .] Elizabeth Goldring has tracked down a wealth of documentation and her eye for detail, deftness of touch and elegance of style perfectly matches the exquisite works of her fascinating subject.” —Roderick Conway Morris, The Lady

“This gorgeous book is a beautifully written and thoroughly researched account of Hilliard’s life and work and illustrated throughout with many images appearing in colour for the first time” —Henry Malt, The Artist

 “[A] rich and compelling new biography”—Mathew Lyons, History Today

Winner of the 2019 Apollo Book of the Year Award, sponsored by Apollo: The International Art Magazine

Shortlisted for the Richard Schlagman Art Book Award, sponsored by the Whitechapel Gallery

Shortlisted for the 2019 Best First Biography Prize, sponsored by Slightly Foxed Magazine

Shortlisted for the William M. B. Berger Prize for British Art History

"This is a book I have long been waiting for, the first fully documented biography of Nicholas Hilliard setting him within the political, social and cultural worlds of his age. It will long remain the definitive work."—Roy Strong

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