In a 1995 Tate Gallery exhibition of Tudor and Jacobean art a Hilliard portrait miniature of an unkown man was said to bear “some resemblance to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester”.1 The picture inscribed “Ano Dni 1574” was formerly believed to have been a self-portrait of the artist, but this is no longer the case. To give credence to this claim the inscription showing the sitter’s age had even been painted over, to say “Aetatis Sue 37”; this was done in an era when Nicholas Hilliard was believed to have been born in 1537 instead of 1547. Indeed, a superficial resemblance to a known self-portrait by Hilliard, a miniature from 1577, seems obvious, while the proposed resemblance of the unknown sitter to Robert Dudley appears rather farfetched.
The sitter’s full and curly locks are in sharp contrast to the pronounced disposition for baldness in Dudley men, be it Robert, Ambrose, or their father, John. The greatest problem for an identification of this 1574 miniature as Robert Dudley, however, is the existence of three other Hilliard pieces from these years which clearly show how the earl looked like in the 1570s.
In 1571 Hilliard presented Robert Dudley with a “book of portraitures”, the earl being among the painter’s earliest patrons. At least four miniatures by Hilliard of Leicester exist, and a fifth one is mentioned in a 1640 will: “the Earl of Leicester’s picture in a jet box drawn in his cloak with a cap and feather” had survived in the possession of Nicholas Hilliard’s son Laurence Hilliard.2 Here, apparently, originates the association of Robert Dudley with the miniature of the unknown man.
1 Hearn 1995 p. 123
2 Hearn 1995 p. 123
Adams, Simon (2008): ‟Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.
Hearn, Karen (ed.) (1995): Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630. Rizzoli.