On 23rd June, 1576, Levina Teerlinc (1520 – 1576) died. Levina was the daughter of the internationally famous Flemish illuminator (more correctly called a limner), Simon Bening, and grand-daughter of Alexander Bening. In 2002 Alexander & Simon Bening were identified by Eric Drighsdal as the lead painters, together with the Horenbout and David families, of the exquisite Grimani Breviary now in the Marciano library, Venice, which was probably commissioned c1510-1515. However, by the mid 16th century book production was cheap, thanks to Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type a hundred years before, which meant the days of the illuminator were numbered. In her recent BBC2 series The Story of Women & Art, Professor Vickery stated that Sofanisba Anguissola was the first woman to be appointed as a court artist to the Court of Philip II of Spain (1559). This is not the case since Teerlinc was appointed as a limner to the Court of Henry VIII in 1546.
Previously Lucas Horenbout had been limner (illuminator) to the Tudor Court, but he had died in March 1544. Clearly Henry VIII had a requirement for a replacement because these artists were required to produce the miniature portraits necessary for diplomatic purposes, not to mention the illumination of important international treaties such as the Peace of Ardres in 1546. According to the 16th century Italian art historian, Guicciardini, Teerlinc was ‘just as good as her father in the art of miniare‘. From this accolade one can understand why Henry was prepared to take the risk of employing a woman artist. For a man who seemed to treat women as disposable objects, this was quite amazing! James & Franco have argued that Teerlinc was first invited to Court by Queen Katharine Parr in 1545 and this seems a more likely scenario. Henry could then see for himself just how good an artist Teerlinc was before making her an official invitation to join his entourage.
Levina had married George Teerlinc of Blankenberg before arriving in England and she is first mentioned in the Royal Accounts of 1546. Her salary was that of £40 per annum, which was greater than that of either Lucas Horenbout or that other great artist, Hans Holbein, who had died in November 1543. Not only was she in post as an artist, she also became a Gentlewoman of the Queen. On the death of Henry VIII in January 1547, she continued in post (except for 2 years between 1549 – 51 when she returned home to visit her father) and remained in post to Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. On their return to England, the Teerlinc’s took out denization papers and so, to all intent and purposes, became English citizens.
On the accession of Elizabeth I the Royal Accounts show Teerlinc receiving the sum of £150. Teerlinc’s name appears close to that of Robert Brandon, Goldsmith, who is also shown as being paid a huge sum of £1500 at this time. My own deduction was that, as the executor of her sister’s Will, Elizabeth was discharging the debts incurred during Mary’s lifetime to these loyal servants of the Crown. While it is circumstantial that these two names appear together, it does suggest that it is likely they knew each other. Perhaps Brandon made lockets for the portraits created by Teerlinc, but I admit this is purely speculation. In November 1559, Teerlinc is granted a lifetime annuity (the document is in our National Archives, Kew) at £40 p.a. and the document translates that this is in recognition of her loyalty.
It is now generally accepted that Levina Teerlinc probably taught the artist Nicholas Hilliard the art of limning. In 1562, the young Nicholas Hilliard is apprenticed to Robert Brandon (who is still the Royal goldsmith). This has always puzzled me since his own uncle was a London goldsmith. Again, this is speculation, but perhaps this young man was seen to be of such artistic talent that perhaps it was deemed better Hilliard serve his apprenticeship with Brandon, than his own uncle. Was it through Teerlinc’s own acquaintance with Brandon that this came about? We will never know for sure, but since their names appear close together in the royal accounts this suggests they may have known each other.
In my article in this website, “The Identification of Levina Teerlinc (?)” I have argued that the miniature by Nicholas Hilliard at the beginning of this article is of her. In her book on Hilliard, Erna Auerbach recognized his until now ‘Unknown Lady’ was wearing a Flemish style head-dress and this lady is also wearing the colours of Elizabeth I’s livery. The portrait is dated 1572, which is coincidentally the same year we have the first miniature portrait of Hilliard’s many portraits of Elizabeth I. Perhaps it was painted in order to introduce the talented young Hilliard as Teerlinc’s replacement. Take a read of the article and see if you agree with my theory that we now have an image of the first woman Court artist who died four hundred and thirty eight years ago today.