Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Young Boy, c.1620 

Peter Oliver (1594-1648)

Portrait miniature of a Young Boy, c.1620, Peter Oliver
Watercolour and bodycolour on vellum
17th Century
Oval, 1 15/16 ins. (37mm) high
Possibly Elizabeth Egerton, née Butterfield (b. 1710); Arthur Claydon Butterfield (b. 1887); By family descent.
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The present work by Peter Oliver was painted c.1620 when Oliver’s career as limner was beginning to take significant form.

Peter Oliver was the eldest son of the miniaturist Isaac Oliver by his first wife, Elizabeth. Evidence that he was trained by his father is in the bequest of Isaac’s unfinished miniatures to his son that he could ‘exercise that art or science which he and I now do’. When father and son worked together, their work is virtually indistinguishable. Eventually, Peter became consumed with making copies of oil paintings, largely ‘histories’ and during the 1620s and 1630s, John Hoskins became the dominant court portraitist.

Peter Oliver died at Isleworth and was buried beside his father at the church of St Anne Blackfriars. He died childless and left everything to his widow Anne. Vertue records a rather tragic family story relating to this legacy which recalls a visit from Charles II to Mrs. Oliver after the Restoration. In viewing the miniatures left by her husband he offered her either £1000 in cash or an annuity of £300 a year. She chose the latter but when she later heard that he had given some of the miniatures to his court ladies she let it be known that she would never have sold them had she known that they would be given to ‘whores, bastards and strumpets’. The annuity was promptly cancelled by the king.

It is very unusual to see children depicted in portrait miniatures of this period, and when they were, their age was often exaggerated through rich clothing and other attributes of adulthood – see for example Isaac Oliver’s portraits of two young girls aged four and five in the Victoria and Albert Museum [P.145-1910].

The sitter is at present unknown, although taking into consideration the traditional identification of a young boy from the Egerton family, it is possible that the sitter was Sir Philip Egerton who was born c.1610 and was the fifth but second surviving son of Sir Roland Egerton, 1st Baronet of Egerton and Oulton. Philip inherited the estate at Oulton and married Catherine Conway (d.1707), a wealthy heiress from Flintshire. Philip was knighted at the Restoration, probably at the instigation of Sir George Booth, a fellow Cheshire Royalist whose uprising in 1659 was supported by Philip.
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