* 1547 Exeter
† 1619 London
The miniature painter Nicholas Hilliard, who is regarded one of the most important representatives of English Renaissance art, was born in Exeter in 1547. He was born son of a Protestant family and grew up in the days of confessionalization. Due to the religious turmoil, his father was forced to send the young Nicholas Hilliard to Geneva on his own, where he found accommodation with John Bodley and his family. Nicholas Hilliard returned to his home country presumably around 1559.
Soon after the young boy began to make miniature drawings, the early activities paid off: Around 1570 Nicholas Hilliard was appointed miniature painter of Queen Elizabeth I. He made numerous portraits of the queen and other members of the royal court these works laid the basis for Nicholas Hilliard's fame, a fame that lasts on up until today. During these days Nicholas Hilliard was also successful as goldsmith and seal maker. However, when Jacob I. ascended to the English throne in1603, Nicholas Hilliard did no longer feel as comfortable at court as he used to.
While active at court, Nicholas Hilliard traveled to France once, in order to work for the Duke d'Alençon. The sojourn was of short duration and he returned in early 1578, in order to be with his wife and their newborn child.
Nicholas Hilliard was also concerned with theoretic aspects of miniature portrait painting ("Limning"). Around the year 1600 he composed the writing "Treatise on the Art of Limning", which is a diverting introduction into the technique, additionally, the writing mentions Hans Holbein the Younger as his model. Nicholas Hilliard passed his art on to his son Lawrence Hilliard (around 1582 - 1640) and to Isaac Olivier.
Even though he was employed at court, Nicholas Hilliard had a heavy debt burden, which even led to his imprisonment in 1617. Just two years later Nicholas Hilliard died in London in 1619.