Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Levina Teerlinc, Painter at the Tudor Court

 Levina Teerlinc, Artist (died 23 June 1576)


Like her somewhat older contemporary, Susannah Hornebolt, Levina Teerlinc was a Flemish artist, specializing in miniature painting, who lived and work at the court of the Tudor kings and queens. And also like Hornebolt, unfortunately, little is known about Teerlinc's life or work.* 

This 1565 miniature of Queen Elizabeth
is one of those most frequently
attributed to Levina Teerlinc
(it's used to illustrate the entry in
Wikipedia, so I've reproduced it here)

Born Levina Bening, Teerlinc was the oldest of five daughters born to Catherine Stroo and Simon Bening (or Binnink). 

Simon Bening was an accomplished and successful miniaturist and illuminator who had been trained in the family workshop in Ghent by his father, Alexander Bening. Simon Bening's mother was Kathelijn van der Goes, a woman who seems to have been either a sister or niece of another noted Flemish painter, Hugo van der Goes. 

Simon Bening left Ghent about the year 1510, establishing himself in Bruges as a producer of elaborate and expensive books of hours for wealthy patrons. This year--1510--is at times given as the date for Levina's birth, although there is no evidence to support that date, and some sources suggest her date of birth was as late as 1520. 

Aside from the names of her parents, nothing at all is known about the young Levina's life. Given her own father's background, most historians assume that Levina was trained in her father's workshop so that she could continue the family business. 

Her mother, Catherine Stroo, died in 1542, and Teerlinc's father, Simon, would remarry, his second wife adding another daughter to his family. At some point Levina herself married, but there is no evidence as to when exactly the marriage took place. Indeed, the first documented reference to Levina is on 4 February 1545, when her appearance, along with that of her husband, George Teerlinc, is noted in official records of the mayor of Bruges as they close accounts related to the death of George Teerlinc's father. Given the range of dates suggested for her birth, Levina might have been as old as thirty-five or as young as twenty-five when the first real fact of her existence emerges.

At some point after this date in early 1545, Levina Teerlinc arrived in England. By November of the next year, 1546, she had entered into royal service at the Tudor court, where documents note that she was awarded an annuity by Henry VIII, to be paid "during the King's pleasure." (For his part, George Teerlinc seems to have been given something of an honorary position at court, becoming a Gentleman Pensioner.) Levina Teerlinc's tenure at the royal court was to outlast Henry's reign--her service continued for thirty years.

In 1547, after Henry VIII's death, "Maistris Levyn Teerling paintrix" was recognized by Edward VI, who continued her annuity of £40 a year, paid quarterly. Teerlinc remained as a court painter during the reigns of both Mary and Elizabeth (through all these years of service, the amount she was paid did not change). Based on surviving documentary evidence, Edward Towne concludes, "It would appear that her position at court only required her to produce one miniature annually."**

Records indicate that, in 1551, Teerlnc was asked to "drawe owt" a picture of Princess Elizabeth. As a New Year's gift in 1553, Teerlinc presented Queen Mary with "a small picture of the trynitie." In 1559, during the first year of Elizabeth's reign, she completed "the Quenis picture finely painted upon a card" ("card," in this context, refers to vellum). Records of New Year's gifts in subsequent years show Teerlinc's regular presents to the queen: in 1562, she presents a miniature described as depicting "the Queen's personne and other personages in a box fynely painted"; in 1563, a "card . . . with the Queene & many other personages"; in 1564, "a certayne Journey of the Quenis Ma[ges]tie and the Trayne, fynely wrought"; in 1565, "a howse paynted and theraboute certayne personages in a case of walnuttree"; in 1567, "the picture of the queene," this one, notably, a full-length painting--"her whole stature drawne upon a Card"; in 1568, "a paper paynted" with the queen and "the knyghtes of the order"; in 1575, "a carte paynted upon a card" depicting the queen and "other personages"; and, in 1576, another painting of "the Quenis picture upon a Card" (Town 172).

Meanwhile, in 1566, Teerlinc and her husband applied for denization, a grant of citizenship for themselves and their son--so Levina gave birth to at least one child. The couple also built a house on leased land in Stepney.

By this point, in the mid-1560s, Levina Teerlinc's reputation as an artist was so well established that in his 1567 description of the history and art of the Low Countries, Lodovico Guicciardini includes her among his account of only four "living female artists." The first of these, he says, is Levina, "who, like her father, is excellent in miniature." According to Guicciardini, her skill in miniature painting is why Henry VIII "invited her to his court," where she was "highly rewarded." He notes that royal favor continued under Queen Mary and that Teerlinc enjoys "equal esteem" under Queen Elizabeth. 

It is important to note that Guicciardini speaks about Teerlinc only in general terms, so that he is unlikely to have seen any of her work, and he can be mistaken--he claims that Teerlinc was "splendidly married" after she arrived at the Tudor court. In their groundbreaking Women Artists: 1550-1950, Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin note that Teerlinc's "fame was still part of the tradition when Guicciardini wrote" (26).

A document dated 11 August 1576, "given by the queen under her privy seal," notes that Levina Teerlinc died "the xxxiii of June last past." The queen made the quarterly payment of Levina's annuity to her husband "as our gift." She was buried at St. Dunstan and All Saints, in Stepney.

Unfortunately, as with her countrywoman and near contemporary, Susannah Hornebolt, and so many other women artists (like Marietta Robusti, about whom I wrote a month ago), no surviving work has been firmly attributed to Levina Teerlinc. A great deal of effort has gone into identifying surviving miniatures with those described in the New Year's gift lists, but there are no certainties. Of course, if you Google, you'll find lots of miniatures attributed to Levina Teerlinc, but none of these attributions is supported by evidence. One exasperated art historian bemoans "the current epidemic of unsustainable attributions to Levina Teerlinc"!

In addition to her work as a miniature painter, Teerlinc may have produced designs for coins, documents, seals, woodcut illustrations, and, perhaps, needlework, as part of her duties at court--all of these have been suggested by a variety of different art historians, searching for Levina Teerlinc. It has even been suggested that Teerlinc produced a written "discourse on painting, . . . A Very Proper Treatise." Some of these claims are more plausible than others--none is supported by much, if any, evidence.

It has also been suggested--and subsequently accepted by some--that Teerlinc was responsible for instructing and training the well-known Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard in the art of the miniature, but again, there is no evidence to support such a claim and much to disprove it. 

An even more tenuous (and romantic) connection has been made between Teerlinc and Giulio Clovio, an illuminator and miniaturist who was born in the Kingdom of Croatia but who worked principally in Rome. In the mid-1550s, Clovio's portrait was painted by the extraordinary Sofonisba Anguissola. In Anguissola's portrait of the artist, he is holding a miniature, one which, it is said, he so valued that he kept with him until his death. The art historian Federico Zeri, who owned the portrait of Clovio painted by Anguissola, came to believe earlier claims about this picture--that the miniature in the portrait of Clovio represented Levina Teerlinc, and that the Flemish painter had, early in her career, traveled to Rome to be trained by Clovio. However, as Mary Garrard writes, these "conclusions" seem to rest on misidentification and conflation. Zeri had accepted an earlier identification of Teerlinc as a female miniaturist who was said to have written to Clovio in Rome. And, noting that Clovio may have owned a miniature by Teerlinc, he concluded that the miniature Clovio was holding in Anguissola's painting was of Levina Teerlinc. From this came the notion that Levina Teerlinc had, at some point early in her career, traveled to Rome to train with Clovio. As for the evidence of all this--there is none. In the 1540s, Clovio is said to have addressed a letter to a nameless female miniature painter, a young German woman, though this letter survives only in late copies (and Teerlinc was Flemish, not German). Clovio may have had a female painter training in his workshop, but there is no evidence to support the claim that Levina Teerlinc left Bruges and trained with anyone anywhere at any time before she arrived in England. And an inventory of Clovio's property at the time of his death refers to a portrait by (again, not of) "Livinia meniatrice"--this may or may not refer to Levina Teerlinc.***




*In her blog post on Levina Teerlinc, art historian Louisa Woodville writes that Gerard Hornebolt, Susannah Hornebolt's father, is Levina Teerlinc's uncle, thus making the two women cousins. There is no documentation provided, and I have been unable to find this information in other sources. Gerard Hornebolt was married to a woman named Margaret Saunders (or Svanders), so the two, Levina Teerlinc and Susannah Hornebolt, were surely countrywomen, but I cannot confirm a family relationship. In Pens and Needles: Women's Textualities in Early Modern England, Susan Frye notes that Simon Bening and Gerard Hornebolt collaborated on the production of illuminated manuscripts, which may (?) account for the confusion.

**Town, "A Biographical Dictionary of London Painters, 1547-1625," The Volume of the Walpole Society 76 (2014): 172. 

***Mary D. Garrard, "Here's Looking at Me: Sofonisba Anguissola and the Problem of the Woman Artist," Renaissance Quarterly  47, no. 3 (1994): 575. And here is an example of how undocumented claims about Teerlinc become fact: by the time Susan Frye is writing about Levina Teerlinc, she says that Teerlinc "apprenticed" with Clovio in Rome and that she was "trained . . . within the Italian Mannerist movement"--no footnote in sight.