The Truth of the Line

An Elizabethan Novel by Melanie V Taylor

Death of Court Artist Levina Teerlinc

Levina Teerling (?) by Nicholas HIlliard

Levina Teerling (?) by Nicholas HIlliard

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.

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About

Melanie Taylor was born in Pinner, England in 1953 and brought up on the Channel Island of Jersey. On leaving school she attended the local secretarial college. With secretarial skills learned, London beckoned and Melanie returned to England. After marriage, children and divorce, in 1999 she saw an advert for part-time degrees at Kingston University in her local newspaper and enrolled to study The History of Art, Architecture & Design, graduating in 2005. Redundancy and an inheritance gave her the luxury of being able to study full-time for her Master of Arts degree in Medieval & Tudor Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Melanie now lives in Surrey and lectures in art and social history.

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4 Responses

  1. Natasha Robinson says

    Hi Mel! Have you found in your study any evidence of what happened to Levina and George Teerlinc’s son?? Did he stay in England? Did he become an artist too?

    • Melanie V Taylor says

      So far, Marcus (born in 1551), has not turned up in anything except in Wills and other documents. He was no artist of merit that we are aware of, or an artist at all. It is more likely he went into commerce as his father was a merchant. This is ogoing research as I was focusing on Teerlinc’s work as an artist and the various portrayals within documents for my Master’s dissertation. It is only now I’m able to start doing the in-depth stuff for the prequel to The Truth of the Line so the world will have a much better idea of how she survived the Tudor Court and was, in fact, an integral part of the Tudor propaganda machine (especially Elizabeth).

      Natasha, I read your essay on the Somerley Portrait with great interest and, for others reading these comments, it is well worth a read as Natasha’s attribution for the sitter is very well argued. However, there were other artists in oil who were much better than Teerlinc so I don’t agree with the attribution of the artist, but I hope Natasha will be having that conversation with me later. I believe her attribution to the sitter deserves some better artist than my Levina who was a specialist in the minute portraits done in watercolour. You can get it through Smashwords and it is downloadable as a pdf.

      Natasha, thank you for your question and watch this space! Let’s have that conversation about who may have painted the Somerley.

      • Natasha Robinson says

        I think Levina Teerlinc must have had some unique skill at appearing impartial and yet her job certainly required no small need for diplomatic discretion. Frankly one cannot help but admire Teerlinc’s ability to survive the deadly political turbulence afforded by the rule of not one, but four Tudor Monarchs ( I do not so much consider poor Jane Grey, for there was no time really for any sort of relationship there). Somehow she managed to safely circumnavigate Henry the tyrant, Edward the engenue, Bloody Mary, and Gloriana with her head still attached!
        I liked to think that The Somerley Portrait was a flash of genius at the very beginning of her career, of which she never truly again replicated. And of course I believe that I over attributed her with such an ability, for in my own experience at art school, it is possible for a person to have one or two moments of genius in paint, and then never again find that magical motivation. I also dwelt upon the possibility that such work was not expected of her due to her individual talents as a miniaturist and a limner.
        Perhaps there is a more likely candidate within the slew of under appreciated and under attributed Tudor court portrait painters, but how difficult it makes things when portrait after portrait is stripped of its title simply because the paper provenance is no longer there.
        One thing is certain, the painting known as The Somerley Portrait is a beautifully executed painting, and deserves far more attention for its quality and age than it has had in the past.
        Thank you Melanie for your interest in my essay ‘The Somerley Portrait: A Portrait of Catherine Carey by Levina Teerlinc’. I am as much grateful as I am flattered :)

        • Melanie V Taylor says

          Natasha, Teerlinc would certainly had to have the ability to remain silent of the confidences told to her when painting a portrait. Hilliard states that discretion is a vital component of the limner’s skills in his treatise of 1598. However, Teerlinc was not as skilled as the artist who painted the Somerley. Emma Butterworth of the Philip Mould Gallery has suggested that a portrait of Mary Titchbourne, currently attributed to The Master of the Countess of Warwick, may be by Teerlinc’s hand. You will see that the rendition of this portrait is much flatter than the three dimensional portrayal of the Somerley sitter.

          As to flash of genius (lovely concept), as far as Teerlinc is concerned this can be seen in The Coronation Miniature (private collection) which is now generally considered to be by Teerlinc’s hand. I found an illuminated P in the National Archives which appears to be by the same hand even though the face of the Queen is badly abraded. If you compare this to the Titchbourne portrait you will see the similarities and note the stark differences to the Somerley. As I said before, Teerlinc did not have the ability to produce a large portrait in oil, of this quality.