Nicholas Hilliard, a 16th Century son of Devon, England, made it big in art with his tiny miniature limner portraits of Elizabethan London.
Hilliard painted many of Queen Elizabeth I. The pair above were painted in 1575. The Pelican (left) and the Phoenix (right), 787 x 610mm. Both well-known symbols with deep roots into antiquity holding esoteric meaning to Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and Romanism.
The above closeups show the brilliance of mastery that Hilliard exhibited with a brush and oil.
The miniature I want to focus on, features in chapter 7 in my Son of Spain novel. A novel about the adult life of Diego Velázquez; with all the twists and turns of politics and social ups and downs of King Phelipe’s 17th Century Spanish Court.
Poetic licence allowed me to use this miniature Man Clasping a hand from a Cloud Right), 1588, 603 x 381mm for political gain to the story plot. Let me share the exert from it. This chapter takes place in the Count-Duke Olivares office. The young Diego Velázquez (below left) has been summoned and is nervous. The formidable Count-Duke (below Right) interests him in art to relax him, before revealing the purpose of this meeting…
‘…“Come, come.” His hand waved, beckoning and gaining obedience.
Diego walked over to a glass cabinet full of books, seals, and ornaments not usually seen in Spain. The top shelf contained many small relics: bones, probably of apostles or men elevated to sainthood, pieces of wood proven genuine from Christ’s cross, and what looked like small vial of congealed blood, no doubt from some martyr.
Olivares’s well-manicured hand produced a short, narrow, cylindrical brass key with a scrollwork top. He placed it into the lock with ease. One half turn saw the door released and swung back, revealing the Venetian glass ornaments, antique Greek icons, and Olivares’s piéce de resistance, a large, eighteen-carat gold display locket. Placing the key back in his pocket with a tap to secure it, he removed the locket from the shelf, giving it to Diego.
“Go ahead. Take a look.” Exhilaration crossed his face.
His parentage perhaps, thought Diego.
“Open it. Open it,” Olivares urged.
Hesitantly, he pushed the tiny clasp on the side with his thumb. Diego, anticipating something of worth, delicately opened it. The inside of the opening face was empty. On the other side lay a framed oval painting approximately two and a half inches tall by two inches wide. Minutely hand painted with a squirrel-hair brush was an image of an unknown man of Gaelic decent. His skin was extremely pale made handsome with red, curly hair and a styled red beard and moustache. Diego thought him Scottish. He was dressed in costly black jacket worn by nobility and accented with grey woven thread. The white, intricate Walsh lace cuffs and collar sat flat over the jacket for a crisp, conservative look.
He wore upon his head a tall, rounded fawn felt hat with discreet brim that started over his right eye, broadening as it jutted out, swinging around his cranium before reducing back in size, out of sight. The hat was sporting a speckled furlike band ornamented with a white plume encrusted with a precious stone, an amethyst Diego surmised.
He wondered to what significance the viewing alluded to and further wondered if there was something of note concerning the way the hazeleyed man’s right hand was raised level with his face, where it gently held a feminine hand that appeared to be descending from a bubblelike cloud.
Diego returned his gaze to Olivares. “Holbein? No. Later perhaps. Hilliard.”
“Ah ha,” Olivares voiced delight “Nicholas Hilliard, and you’ll note the date.”
To the left side of the gentleman’s head, Diego softly read the date. “Fifteen eighty-eight.”
“Fifteen eighty-eight, Señor Velázquez. This was sent to my uncle, Don Baltasar de Zúñiga, who lead groups of men sent to contact those loyal to Rome in traitorous countries. This one”—his finger tapped the edge of the locket, still in a quiet state of elation—“this one, Señor Velázquez, was sent from our then contact in London, England, in February that year, on the strength of this small portrait the first and biggest of endeavours was launched. Our wonderfully planned yet ill-fated armada left Tagus Estuary at Lisbon.”
“And the inscription to the left?” Diego enquired.
“‘Attici amoris ergo,’ Latin, read in conjunction with the joined hands, was a cryptic signal alerting Spain to strike. England was outnumbered on the water, and the ships they had ready were under gunned. England was ripe for invasion, and those who were of us in that land were standing at the ready. We would defeat that troublesome adversary, that bastard queen.” Olivares stopped and grimaced, losing his jubilance. His face became incensed. “That heretic Protestant!”
Diego held the locket with renewed zeal and awe on historical and artist grounds. He was inspired, never dreaming that he would ever see, let alone be holding, such a work, a past master painter and court artist who undoubtedly would not have known the reason for the commission nor the traitorously secretive message it carried. Olivares, with the little he had spoken, had unlocked the key to the secret held; the woman’s hand was none other than the hand of Spain, for she was one with the Mother Church. Symbolism was not lost on Diego, for he had used a woman to represent Spain in his epic painting The Expulsion of the Moriscos…’
Son of Spain can be purchased on AMAZON, and if you are looking for a good read over the Christmas break, this large novel might just be the one. Each chapter has a pencil sketch of Velázquez’s art at the beginning of each chapter.