Oct. 22, 2020, 2:13 p.m.
She served as a court painter under four Tudor monarchs—Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I—and earned a notably higher salary than fellow court favorite Hans Holbein. But Flemish artist Levina Teerlinc remains little known today, and scholars cannot definitively attribute any works to her hand.
Like many women artists of centuries past, Teerlinc’s relative obscurity stems from the art world’s male-dominated bent. As historian Louisa Woodville writes for Art Herstory, 20th-century experts studying the Tudor period tended to focus on painters whose “attributions [were] less tenuous”: namely, Holbein, known for both his full-scale portraits and miniatures, and Nicholas Hilliard, a master of portrait miniatures of members of the court.
A new show at London art gallery Philip Mould & Company seeks to spotlight Teerlinc and other overlooked female artists, drawing attention to their unheralded contributions through a sweeping survey of British history. According to the gallery’s website, the 25-work exhibition—titled “Pioneers: 500 Years of Women in British Art”—celebrates women “who defied the status-quo,” from 16th-century portraitists to avant-garde 20th-century figures and contemporary artists.
“You now have a lot of museums and private collectors who are looking to fill gaps represented by female artists,” gallery director Lawrence Hendra tells Frances Allitt of Antiques Trade Gazette. “They are improving representation which means there is more demand and greater attention to works by female artists than there was before.”
Artists featured in the show—one of a series of events scheduled to mark London Art Week—include Mary Beale, whose Portrait of a Gentleman (1680s) exemplifies the sumptuous style that won her acclaim during the Stuart period; Sarah Biffin, a 19th-century portraitist who taught herself to sew, write and paint despite being born without arms or legs; and Clara Birnberg, a pacifist and suffragette who epitomized the “new woman” of the 20th century. Joan Carlile, a 17th-century artist who principally painted women, and Anne Mee, one of the “few professional female miniaturists” of the early 19th century, per the gallery, also appear.
Teerlinc, meanwhile, is represented by an intimate portrait miniature of Edward VI. Likely painted between 1550 and 1553, Philip Mould & Company notes that the work’s “evident quality” and “great attention to detail in the costume” support its attribution to Teerlinc but adds that “a more definite conclusion is not yet possible.”
Portrait miniatures were a popular fixture at Tudor court. Speaking with Natalie Grueninger of the “Talking Tudors” podcast, art historian and Philip Mould consultant Emma Rutherford says the medium evolved “from these very powerful, relatively formal portraits to something much more secretive.” Perfectly sized for concealment in a noblewoman’s bodice, brooch or locket, the pint-sized paintings played a key role in marriage negotiations and love affairs, which were, according to