Nicholas Hilliard, 'Young Man Among Roses'

Nicholas Hilliard, 'Young Man Among Roses'

Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619)
'Young Man Among Roses'
Possibly Robert Deveraux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1566-1601)
1585-95
Museum no. P.163-1910

This exquisite, enigmatic Elizabethan fantasy is Nicholas Hilliard's masterpiece: a perfect evocation of a Golden Age of chivalry and literature. To the elegance of the sitter is added the mystery of his identity. Some say he may be the mysterious 'WH' of Shakespeare's sonnets, but the iconography less ambiguously suggests the Earl of Essex, a favourite of the Virgin Queen. The young man's beautiful arcadia is bittersweet: an inscription says 'My infatuation pains me'. Amidst the elegance and luxury is the suggestion of tortured love and the tragic vanity of desires...'Youth's a stuff will not endure', although Hilliard's image of it transcends time.

Stephen Bayley, Guest Curator