Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Levina Teerlinc: Female Miniature Portrait Artist to the Tudors

Most would name the great Tudor and Elizabethan portrait artists as follows: Holbein, Hilliard,, Eworth, Gower, van der Meulen, Oliver, Scrots, and Peake. Yet, there is an oft-forgotten personage that should be included among the pantheon of 16th century artists working in the English royal court; that person is female court painter Levina Teerlinc (c.1520-1576).

Teerlinc, who worked exclusively in miniature portraiture, was employed by four out of the five Tudor monarchs. She received a higher starting salary than Hans Holbein the Younger for her services to King Henry VIII (Harris, Nochlin, 102).

King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein, circa 1540. Image public domain through Creative Commons licensing, NPG, London.

Levina was the eldest of five daughters born to a Flemish illuminator and miniature painter in Bruges, named Simon Benninck. In the absence of a son, and as the eldest daughter, Levina was trained as an artist, presumably by her father. By 1545, Levina was married to George Teerlinc and still living in Bruges; just one year later, in November of 1546, Levina and her husband left for England. Levina had been hired by King Henry VIII as a court artist, being granted an annuity income of 40 pounds, to last "from the annunciation of our Lady during your Majesty's pleasure".

A self-portrait of Simon Benninck from 1558, aged 75. He died three years after painting this miniature. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

To have been scouted by Henry VIII, and to have acquired a starting salary more substantial than Holbein's, Levina Teerlinc must have finished her training several years prior, and had to have been working steadily in order to build up a reputation to recommend her (Harris, Nochlin, 102). As the records show, Teerlinc's annuity would continue almost every year until her death. After working for Henry VIII, Levina worked for his three children in succession: Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

Levina Teerlinc's Tudor patrons: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of Inor19.

It is difficult to give Levina Teerlinc the attribution of works with any certainty, due to the fact that she did not sign her paintings. But, we do have copious references to her works and somewhat vague descriptions of her miniatures in court records. In 1556, Teerlinc gifted Queen Mary "as a New yaer gift a small picture of the 'trynitie'." In 1551, Teerlinc first painted Elizabeth Tudor, and upon her accession in 1558, she gave the newly crowned queen a miniature portrait of herself.

A portrait miniature of Princess Elizabeth Tudor circa 1550-51, attributed to Levina Teerlinc. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Erna Auerbach, in her study of Nicholas Hilliard, concluded that the painting that is most likely the work of Teerlinc is the oval miniature known as "an Elizabethan maundy". The miniature, now in the collection of the Earl of Beauchamp, may in fact be the portrait recorded as Teerlinc's New Year's gift to Queen Elizabeth in 1563. The miniature in question is described as, "a Carde with the Queen's Matie [Majesty] and many other personages".

An Elizabethan maundy, a portrait miniature likely by Levina Teerlinc. In the collection of the Earl of Beauchamp. Image public domain.

Teerlinc's talents were appreciated by her royal patrons, and in addition to her annuity she often received expensive presents, such as a pair of gilded spoons and a gilded salt-cellar. In 1566, Levina, her husband, and her son Marcus officially became English subjects. A decade later, after a consistent and lucrative career, Levina died in her house at Stepney (Harris, Nochlin, 102).

Teerlinc was the only Flemish miniature painter to be employed at the English court between 1546 and her death, and the only miniaturist of prominence recorded in England between the death of Hans Holbein the Younger in 1543, and the rise of Nicholas Hilliard in the 1570's (Harris, Nochlin, 102).

In addition to "an Elizabethan maundy" and the other aforementioned paintings described in court records, there are a few existing miniatures of which Teerlinc is the likely artist; however, Simone Bergman's attributions given to Teerlinc in 1934 have since been proven to be the works of Hilliard and Issac Oliver. The period between when Teerlinc moved to England (1546) and Hilliard signed his first miniature portrait (1560) is a critical time to study, in order to identify Teerlinc's works, as she was the only significant miniature artist active in the court during this time (Harris, Nochlin, 103).

This miniature of Queen Elizabeth I receiving foreign ambassadors could also be the work of Teerlinc. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

The miniature portrait of Katherine Grey, Countess of Hertford was likely painted by Levina Teerlinc, as well as a miniature portrait of Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney; there is also another portrait, one of an unknown woman, that could have also been painted by her. A miniature in Welbeck Abbey of Elizabeth I in her state robes could also be by Teerlinc. The Welbeck miniature includes a stunning detail: Queen Elizabeth's scepter in the portrait is encrusted with a real diamond!

A portrait miniature of Katherine Grey, Countess of Hertford that is attributed to Levina Teerlinc. Painted between 1555-60. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Like Hans Eworth and William Scrots before her, Levina Teerlinc is a prominent but somewhat mysterious 16th century figure, only recently being researched and understood. Until we make more definitive attributions of portraiture to Teerlinc, and until we fill in the missing information about events in her life, we can at least appreciate this woman as "the most important miniature artist active in England between Holbein and Hilliard" (Harris, Nochlin, 102). Though Hilliard asserted his opinion that "none should medle with limning but gentleman alone", this female artist at the Tudor court had a longer career than most of her colleagues, and she was often paid better, too!


Sutherland-Harris, Ann, and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists: 1550-1950. Los Angeles: Museum 
     Associates of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976. Print. 

Simon, Benninck. Self-portrait. 1558. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England. Web. 
     6 November 2012.

Teerlinc, Levina. Katherine Grey, Countess of Hertford. 1555-60. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England. 
     Web. 6 November 2012.