- 21 Aug 2013
- The Guardian
- Maev Kennedy
Elizabethan art exhibition
The oldest guinea pig in English art, clutched by a solemn seven-year-old Tudor girl, will soon go on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The painting is believed to be by an anonymous Flemish or Dutch-trained artist, much in demand among the English gentry for high-status portraits depicting every pearl and gold button.
It dates from around 1580, and is believed to be the earliest depiction of the South American rodent in England. The identity of the three solemn children, magnificently and uncomfortably dressed at seven, six and five years old, is unknown.
The youngest is holding a goldfinch, popular pets with children, but often with religious overtones in portraits because the birds were also used in depictions of the infant Christ. The sturdy older brother was evidently judged too grown up at six for a pet.
The portrait has been borrowed from an anonymous private owner for the exhibition Elizabeth I and Her People, opening in October. The exhibition tracks changing fashion in portraiture, with images of merchants, lawyers, goldsmiths, butchers, and others. It includes likenesses of the poet and preacher John Donne and Bess of Hardwick, who built her own palatial house.
The show will feature a profusion of exotic and more humble animals, including an elephant on a family crest. There is also a ring in the shape of a grasshopper, and a purse fashioned as a frog. A recently discovered miniature of Elizabeth by Isaac Oliver shows her with a peacock.
Elizabeth I and Her People will be at the National Portrait Gallery in London, 10 October–5 January 2014. www.npg.org.uk