Goldring leaves no doubt about the breadth and importance of Hilliard’s achievement and his ability to convey psychological depth. But alas that genius does not guarantee fortune. This superb book vividly conjures a costly dresser and spendthrift, terrible with money, litigious, and sometimes slippery with creditors. He made a disastrous early investments in gold mining, demolishing a £100 gift from Elizabeth I, and never quite clawed his advantage back. Patrons bailed him out of debt more than once, and his penultimate year was spent in Ludgate jail for debt. What humiliation for one who painted everyone who counted.
As Elizabeth Goldring shows in her richly detailed and illuminating biography, Hilliard may not have been a great painter — his continental peers numbered Veronese, Tintoretto and El Greco — but he was great at what he did... But for those sittings he would stare at the royal visage for hours from mere feet away. Perhaps no one else ever looked at her so intently. Goldring’s fascinating and beautifully produced book allows us to do something similar with the limner himself.
...read Elizabeth Goldring’s sumptuous survey Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist... a fine, incisive eye. This is a scholarly book, not a rollicker... but full of insight and courtly intrigue... Goldring gives the bones of Hilliard’s biography (there’s much we still don’t know) and his turbulent times — the Protestant Reformation, the Marian persecutions, Good Queen Bess, the Armada, the spendthrift James I — but more than that she encourages you to really look.
Even within his lifetime, Hilliard became an emblem of national pride, as various English writers compared him to Michelangelo or Raphael. John Donne enthused that ‘a hand or eye/By Hilliard drawn, is worth an history,/By a worse painter made’, and Goldring herself convincingly proposes that Hilliard was the greatest English artist of his age. Her engaging account of his life, character and artistic methods, supported by gorgeous illustrations and illuminating new archival discoveries, makes for a wonderful book, at once authoritative and full of pleasures.