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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Bonhams Auction Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and her Favourite Robert Dudley

Bonhams are delighted to announce the sale of a remarkable pair of portraits, painted by Hilliard, depicting Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester at Bonhams Knightsbridge on 25th November.

Elizabeth IWith each portrait measuring only 18mm high, the valuable lot, dating from circa 1575, is expected to fetch between £60,000 and £80,000 as part of the Merchiston Collection of Fine Portrait Miniatures.

Nicholas Hilliard (c. 1547–1619), was an English goldsmith, best known for his portrait miniatures of members of the courts of Elizabeth I and James I of England. His paintings are extraordinary records of the day and typify the image of Elizabethan England.

The relationship between Elizabeth I and the 1st Earl of Leicester characterised the reign of the Queen. Never had a nobleman been bestowed with so much patronage and power. Leicester, himself, possessed one of the largest and finest collections of paintings in Elizabethan England and was a principal patron of Nicholas Hilliard.

This pair of tiny portraits, almost certainly painted from life, would have originally formed part of a jewel or jewels of incredible significance, commissioned by either Elizabeth or Dudley for personal use or for exchange. They are a remarkable survivor from the Tudor period.

These miniatures form part of a 69-lot collection put together by Mrs Eleanor Hamilton, which spans the history of miniature painting from these examples through to works by Sir William Charles Ross, miniature painter to Queen Victoria. She purchased this pair after they appeared at Christie’s, 28 October 1970, as separate lots from the Collection of Mr R H Spurway, Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Camilla Lombardi, Head of the Portrait Miniature department comments that: “To hold in the palm of your hand a pair of portraits that would have undoubtedly rested in the palm of the hand of the Queen of England five centuries ago is an extraordinary feeling. The intense personal nature of these miniatures, gives you a clear sense of the passionate woman behind the carefully cultivated public image.”.