Levina Teerlinc – A Master 16th Century Miniaturist


Portrait of Elizabeth circa 1565

Have you ever come across an exhibit of miniature portraits? I remember seeing a small collection at a museum in Boston. I can't remember if it was the MFA or the Gardner museum but I was immediately intrigued. It was as if the artist had miraculously created a masterpiece with all the detail of a larger work into an area that was smaller than the palm of my hand.  

Attributed to Levina Teerlinc
Elizabeth I as Princess 1559

In coming across Levina Teerlinc I became reacquainted with these little gems and a bit of their history. One of the defining marks of portrait miniature was the level of detail the artist achieved. Miniatures were different than small paintings because they included the same level of technique and brushwork as larger portraits. This is hard to believe when the canvas might be smaller than a 3" square. Miniatures began as illustrations in handwritten books during the late 15th century. Wealthy patrons later became interested in acquiring miniatures outside the context of a book, using them for more personal enjoyment or worship. Among the royalty they became a kind of currency. One of the prominent miniaturists at this time was Simon Bening, Levina Teerlinc's father. Initially miniatures were done in watercolor on velum or some other substantial surface. Later one would find these being done in oil on copper an influence that came about by artists from the Netherlands. Levina Teerlinc is important because she is recorded in history as a key miniaturist for the courts during the 16th century. This was uncommon for a woman. She served as a painter to the English Court of Henry VIII and others between 1543 - 1570 and received an annual salary in this position. Interestingly, her work has been very hard to identify because her pieces were rarely signed. I'm not sure why that is or if it had to do with her being a woman. However, historians have accredited some work to her given the record of time she did spend in the courts painting miniatures.



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