A blue plaque was unveiled in the Guildhall Shopping Centre yesterday to commemorate the death, four hundred years ago, of the great painter Nicholas Hilliard. Hilliard grew up in Exeter before moving to London as a youth to train as a goldsmith. He then mastered the art of portraiture and is best known for his exquisite portrait miniatures. He became Queen Elizabeth I’s most trusted portrait artist and scores of his paintings of her still survive.
Sadly RAMM does not have any of Hilliard’s miniatures in the collections but it does hold some beautiful work by his goldsmith father Richard. Richard ran a successful workshop in the area around St Pancras Church – the tiny church you can still see in the Guildhall Shopping Centre. This was where Nicholas spent the first few years of his life. Richard was renowned for creating beautiful communion cups for Exeter churches and you can see two of these, made around 1570, on permanent display.
The event in the Guildhall was arranged by the Exeter Civic Society and the Friends of the Museum and Art Gallery (FEMAG) with generous support from the London Goldsmiths Company and help from the Guildhall Shopping Centre.
Dr Elizabeth Goldring, a world expert on Hilliard, unveiled the plaque. She then came to RAMM to give two talks at the museum for members of the Friends and the Civic Society. Dr Goldring also signed copies of her book Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist which is on sale in the RAMM shop. Curator Sally Ayres took small groups behind the scenes in RAMM’s Collections Study Centre to see some of Richard Hilliard’s work at close quarters. There was an enthusiastic audience for all these events the day was a fitting celebration of Nicholas Hilliard in the town of his birth.