Sunday, 13 April 2014

POLITICS AND THE ART OF INTIMACY: Levina Teerlinc, a sixteenth century miniaturist – Elizabeth Fremantle

The mid-sixteenth century saw the rise of a new art form: the portrait miniature. Designed to be hidden, rather than displayed in public, miniatures were worn on ribbons tucked away from prying eyes amongst layers of clothing, in pockets and pouches, or in boxes – like Elizabeth I's collection of tiny likenesses. They often signified love and were exchanged as betrothal gifts, keepsakes or between clandestine lovers, but were also worn as covert symbols of political affiliation. It is one such portrait, an image of a woman, who many championed as Elizabeth I's successor, with her son, potentially a future King of England, that is a central symbol in my novel Sisters of Treason.

This portrait of Lady Katherine Grey and her son Lord Beauchamp is the first known English secular image of a mother and child. It is also, if you look very closely at the object Katherine wears round her neck, the first instance in painting of a miniature being worn. It is her husband's likeness and so this forms a kind of family group. When this was painted Katherine was imprisoned in the Tower of London for her unsanctioned marriage to Edward Seymour – indeed that is where she gave birth to little Lord Beauchamp.

The artist was Levina Teerlinc, the daughter of an illuminator of some renown, who came to England from Bruges, joining the household of Katherine Parr when she was queen. Teerlinc was remarkable as a sixteenth century woman earning her living as a painter, but more so in that she served as a court artist to four Tudor monarchs: Henry; Edward VI; Mary I and Elizabeth I, and would have worked on designs for jewellery, seals and documents as well as portraits. It is a great shame that more of her work has not survived but from the few images we have it is clear that she was instrumental in the spread in popularity of the limning or miniature. Specialist in portraiture of the period, Susan E James, makes a strong argument that Teerlinc was the author of A Very Proper Treatise Wherein is Briefly Set for the Arte in Limning that demonstrated the main tenets of the form. James is also of the mind, as is art historian Roy Strong, that Teerlinc may have taught Nicholas Hilliard who was to become one of the world's greatest practitioners of the art.

Teerlinc painted a number of images of the Grey family: the portrait of Lady Katherine with her son and another of her as a girl and also a much disputed miniature by Teerlinc that some, including David Starkey, believe to be a likeness of Katherine's older sister, the tragic Lady Jane Grey. This is hotly disputed and there is no definite image of Jane Grey but there is in these little portraits a clear suggestion of a relationship between Teerlinc and the Grey family.  I have built on this in my novel, weaving the painter's life with that of the two younger Grey sisters Katherine and Mary, two girls whose lives were played out at the heart of the struggle for the Tudor succession, only to be forgotten when their Stuart cousins came to power.

This brings me back to the portrait of Katherine and her son and the political significance of such an image. It was widely copied (I know of at least three similar images in existence) and would have been a covert demonstration of allegiance to the Greys and their claim to the throne. Elizabeth I, ever fearful of usurpers, had Lord Beauchamp deemed illegitimate and Katherine was to end her days in incarceration, but thanks to the intimate art of Levina Teerlinc we have an insight into a forgotten fragment of history.

Ref: Susan E James The Feminine Dynamic in English Art 1485-1603, Ashgate.

Sisters of Treason will be published by Michael Joseph on 22nd May 2014


Sue Purkiss said...

Poor Katherine! But Levina Teerlinc - what an interesting story!

Unknown said...

Teerlinc was the subject of my Master's dissertation. Much of this is very interesting, but it is improbable that she would have painted the portraits of Katherine Grey, or the one of Lady Jane Grey (Yale). Yates and Strong suggested these were by her, but they bear no resemblance to the Coronation miniature that is generally accepted to be by her. It is possible these images were by her cousin, Susannah Horenbout, who was NOT paid an annuity by the monarch for some 40 years.

In my discussion with Dr Starkey back in September 2007, he accepted my argument that the Yale miniature was more probably by Horenbout because of the lettering.

Ask yourself why Teerlinc would jeopardise her career at the Court by painting known dissenters. Why would Elizabeth reward her loyalty with a lifetime annuity of £40 pa if her court limner was painting those who had threatened, or threatened the throne? (the document is in the English National Archives and is in Latin).

I have my own photos of all of The Crampe Ring Manuscript. It looks hurried, and bears no resemblance to any of these miniatures in the way it is painted.

Perhaps she didn't paint any of them - the miniatures, the Crampe Ring manuscript, the Indenture of the Poor Knights of Windsor! Since she, like Horenbout, didn't sign her work, it is possible!

From the miniatures I have examined (private collection), which are probably by the same hand as the Coronation miniature this particular argument should not be ruled out.

However, we may know what she looked like as It MAY be that this Unknown Lady, by Hilliard, is she. so cut and paste the link to see more.

Thank heavens Teerlinc is slowly emerging from the mists of time.

Well done Elizabeth Fremantle for writing about this woman artist and particularly about Penelope Devereux! Now that was a woman with attitude if ever there was!

DLM said...

I was fascinated enough by the post about a woman painter who served four Tudor monarchs and I'd never heard of her (there goes my Tudor-nerd cred!), but Melanie V. Taylor's comment was just as fascinating as the post itself! Thank you Elizabeth Fremantle *and* Ms. Taylor, for sharing such an intriguing piece of history.

Sisters of Treason may be fiction indeed, but it certainly has the sound of a fascinating take on history.

Unknown said...

To write historical fiction takes a lot of research into some of the more arcane and little known characters. As an art historian AND a writer of historical fiction I know how subjective the interpretation of images is.

This promises to be a fabulous novel and Fremantle is a consummate author. I just happen to be one of a growing band of art historians who are questioning Strong's original assertion regarding these images. This too is not mainstream published debate! Yet!!

I can't wait to read the Sisters of Treason.