Levina Teerlinc – Tudor artist

PrincessElizabethMiniaturec1550attributedtoLevinaTeerlinc.jpgWhen we think of Elizabethan miniatures we tend to think of the wonderfully Hilliard portraits with their stunning  azure backgrounds.  However before Hilliard there was a professional female artist who created some equally evocative images.  The image at the start of this post shows a young Elizabeth Tudor and is the work of Levina Teerlinc.

Levina started work for Henry VIII and in the twenty-first century in an era when we are still talking about the “pay gap” it’s worth noting that such was her repute as an artist was such that her pay was more than that of Holbein who had recently died and vacated the position of court artist.  Levina was born in Flanders, the eldest of five daughters to Simon Benninck, a renowned illustrator of manuscripts.   Simon must have seen talent in his daughter just as Holbein’s father saw talent in him because Levina trained to be an artist under her father’s tuition in their home town of Bruges.

In 1545 she is seen in the official record with her husband dealing with  her father’s accounts suggesting that Simon may have died at this time.  This in its turn might suggest why the daughter rather than the father arrived in London.  In any event, even if Simon was still alive he may not have been of a mind or in sufficient health to make the journey.

In November 1546 Levina and her husband, George Teerlinc, arrived in London where Levina was paid forty pounds year to be Henry VIII’s court artist.  Levina’s salary would go up every year and she would work for every one of the Tudors from Henry VIII onwards. She received £150 after the death of Mary Tudor suggesting that although she was much loved by the queen that her salary hadn’t always been paid.  The only problem for art historians is that she did not sign her work.


Teerlinc in her turn was followed by Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac  Oliver.  Hilliard thought that creating miniatures was the work of a gentleman rather than a woman not that it seems to have stopped some of the leading women of the period for sitting for Levina. Indeed, it may be that as a woman in Mary and then Elizabeth Tudor’s household that women were more able to sit for their portraits.  It was Levina who painted the miniature of Lady Katherine Grey and her son (above).  It should be noticed that she is wearing a ribbon round her neck from which a glimpse of another miniature can be seen – of her husband Edward Seymour.  It should also be noted, I think, that this image is the first well-known secular image of a mother and child in the brave new Protestant world of Tudor England.

mary dudley.jpgThis image of Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney is painted in water-colour in vellum but rather than being mounted on ivory or precious metal the image is stiffened by playing cards.

The miniatures themselves are a bit different from Holbein’s portraits.  They were designed to be given as gifts that could be worn, often tucked out of sight.  Several of Levina’s appear to have been commissioned as New year gifts.  They are painted on vellum in the style of a manuscript artist.  In addition to being exchanged by lovers and friends Teerlinc’s works formed the basis for other jewellery as well as for the Great Seal.  She may have even written a text on how to make a limning as these miniatures were known and trained Hilliard who gained prominence in the 1570s.

She did not only paint miniatures in 1556 her New year’s gift to Queen Mary was a picture of the Trinity and in 1561 she gave Queen Elizabeth a “finely painted” box.  It is possible that the majority of her work was destroyed in the Whitehall fire.  There is also the possibility that since she did not sign her works some of the earlier ones have been ascribed to Holbein whilst the later ones may now be viewed as the work of Hilliard.

Levina died on 26 June 1576 when she was about sixty-six. I love the fact that her father as an illuminator of manuscripts was working in an artistic tradition that went back to the seventh century and that in training Levina, her miniatures which became so popular during the Tudor period, are a clearly route-marked bridge between traditions and art forms.  I also love the fact that she was paid more than Holbein.  It seems a shame though that although we have heard of Hans Holbein and Nicholas Hilliard that Levina is not so well remembered in popular memory.

James, Susan E. (2009)  The Feminine Dynamic in English Art 1485-1603, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Bergmans, Simone. “The Miniatures of Levina Teerling.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, vol. 64, no. 374, 1934, pp. 232–236. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/865738.


Is this Levina Teerlinc?


6 thoughts on “Levina Teerlinc – Tudor artist

  1. Dear History Jar, many thanks for the pingback for my article “Is this Levina Teerlinc”. My MA dissertation was on her life and works and my research has continued for the past 12 years. Levina had a completely different way of painting than the first miniature you have featured in this article and I believe this was more probably by another woman artist, Susannah Horenbout. I had email traffic with Dr Starkey in 2007 (Daily Telegraph article) when he suggested it was by Teerlinc and he was happy to defer to me. At the time he thought it might be a portrait of Lady Jane Grey, but I believe the dress and jewel demonstrates it is of someone of lesser rank. I make my case in an article suggesting it may well be of Amy Robsart. It is one of the earlier articles on my website. If it is Jane Grey, then Yale will be very happy because the have the only portrait of the 9 days queen in their collection; if it is of Amy, then they have a portrait of equally important, yet tragic figure in the history of Elizabeth & Robert.

    For those of us who have “lived” with the miniatures created between Holbein’s death in 1543 and Hilliard’s appearance on the scene in 1572, it becomes apparent that Teerlinc’s style is very different to both these artists, but the surviving examples are in private collections and they are few in number. I had not thought that some of her work may well have been destroyed in the Whitehall fire of 1698. Thanks for that – it is a great theory.

    Thank you for your great articles and keep ’em coming.

    • Melanie, what can I say – other than how much I appreciate your comment and how informative it is. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

      It would be wonderful if the image was that of Amy Robsart and I shall certainly be using the image and referencing your article when I next teach on the topic of Amy. Having a visual memory (I’m forever buying books with different jackets because they look “new” and then discover that I have read them before) I do find it frustrating that there are so many women that I talk about who lack a portrait.
      Sadly, as much as I would like to, I cannot claim responsibility for the Whitehall fire theory as that is referenced in the Bergmans article.

      best wishes


      • Julia, I had forgotten that Bergman had first thought of the Whitehall fire – possibly because I haven’t read it recently!

        I need to spend some time cataloguing my books so I know whether or not I’ve got a copy before jumping on to the Abebooks.co.uk website to buy yet another copy. My love is the pioneering women artists of the 16th and 17th centuries (and earlier). Like you I also teach, but I don’t have the patience to teach children, preferring adult audiences because they always know much more than they think they do, and just need a little encouragement to join in the discussion.

        Best wishes,

  2. It never ceases to amaze me that USA want to study English history.we have no interest outside our own ancestors. I have seen that first lady portrait years ago as Lady Jane Grey but still think it is of Jane Seymour. Too sheepish to be anyone else. Amy Robsart Dudley it is not. Or the portrait that exits is not of her as both pictures hardly match. thank you for this article it was nice to know a woman made more than dead Holbien

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