Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of an unknown Gentleman, wearing a black doublet and white ruff, c.1620 

Peter Oliver (1594-1648)

Portrait miniature of an unknown Gentleman, wearing a black doublet and white ruff, c.1620, Peter Oliver
Watercolour on vellum
17th Century
Heart-shaped 1.6 in (40 mm) high
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Heart-shaped silver-gilt frame with pierced spiral cresting; beneath, a ring (a catch for a locket or a ring for a pendant, probably a pearl); bevelled glass.

This portrait of an unknown gentleman by Oliver can be dated to the early 1620s, the date after which the fashionable ‘falling’ ruff was worn. This miniature is distinguished by its rare heart shape, the proportions of the miniature indicating that Oliver was requested to paint in this format. In technique, the miniature is closest to the portrait of the unknown man, dated to circa 1620-2, in the Victoria and Albert museum.

The heart shape of this miniature epitomises the romantic role of the portrait miniature in the early Stuart period as an exchange of likenesses between betrothed couples or lovers. This format is, however, exceedingly rare. Hearts were found in many forms of jewellery in this period, including brooches and rings, but miniatures were largely housed in oval lockets, albeit often heavily jewelled or enamelled. The closest comparable example to the present miniature is the portrait of Ludovic Stuart, 1st Duke of Richmond and 2nd Duke of Lennox (1574-1624), painted by Peter Oliver’s father, Isaac (c.1565-1617). Set into a heart-shaped gold locket, the form of this portrait primarily refers to the badge of the Lennox family, although the sentimental connotations expressed in the shape were exploited by the Duchess of Lennox and Richmond, who wore the work as mourning jewellery in her portrait by Van Dyck.
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