A Parisian atelier for Nicholas Hilliard

Foreword : this article is part of the MA dissertation I discussed in September 2017 and that couldn’t be included in the Burlington Magazine’s article, published with W. Aslet, L. Burgio, A. Derbyshire and E. Rutherford back in February 2019. It is enhanced with new discoveries and thoughts. I thank Guillaume Coatalen for his insight in this matter.

While reading Elizabeth Goldring’s new monography about Nicholas Hilliard, published last February by the Yale University Press, I was most anxious to discover what she had written about my all time favourite artist in Paris and what she may have discovered while I was researching the same topic at the same time. One note struck me, about Hilliard’s whereabouts in Saint-Germain des Prés, back in 1578 where he is supposed to hold a studio. So let’s dive back into Renaissance Paris to get a better sense of what life was for Hilliard as a painter, a goldsmith and an Englishman. 

Elizabeth Goldring’s new publication : Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an artist. © Yale University Press

Saint-Germain des Prés in the late 16th century

Back in the 16th century, Paris was surrounded with walls, built by Philippe-Auguste in the end of the 12th century [in blue on the map below]. Within these walls, people were subject to a great amount of rules directing their work ethics, as being part of a corporation, and daily life. These were thought to be almost non-existent out of the city walls, allowing strangers, and for the 16th century Huguenots, to settle down in the boroughs surrounding Paris, including its most important one : Saint-Germain des Prés. However, archivial records of the borough, kept in the Archives nationales (Paris) has shown that like Paris, Saint-Germain des Prés was presided over by quite a number of corporations with their own organization, although they must have been less picky in order to allow several artists who couldn’t be accepted in the city. As such, Jules Guiffrey wrote that in the 16th century, there were at least sixty corporations regulating almost all workers in Saint-Germain des Prés, with, like in Paris, statutes, guards, hence control. 

Sebastian Münster, Map of Paris and its surroundings, 1572, Source : Wikimedia Commons. In the lower right corner, Saint-Germain des Prés

As painting miniatures, Nicholas Hilliard would have been considered as a painter, and it is as such that he appears in most of the French archivial records that are kept about him. He is named « painctre anglois » in the accounts of his patron, François d’Alençon [Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève (Paris), MS 848, copy] or « painctre de la Royne d’Angleterre » in Jooris van der Straeten’s will in April 1577 [Archives nationales (Paris), MC/ET/CXXII/1463, f. 60r]. As a stranger, and a protestant, there was no way that he could have set up a studio on his own. Indeed, in order to settle down in Paris, a stranger had to become a journeyman for a master for several years, and upon producing an « œuvre » and paying the corporation’s fees, he would have become a freeman of the corporation and set up his own workshop. For instance, this is what Herman Mezebrinck, a Flemish goldsmith, did in 1567. Hilliard would know him ten years later and it can be suggested that Hilliard worked on his goldsmithing orders in partnership with him where, according to the sources, he would have stayed regularly. Indeed, he is the « Herman » mentioned in Sir Amyas Paulet’s letter mentioning Hilliard being hidden for 10 days in February 1578. The ambassador thought he was with the goldsmith when he was actually hiding at « Maistre George », Jooris van der Straeten’s house in Saint-Germain des Prés. As becoming a freeman, Mezebrinck set up his workshop within the city walls, rue Neuve Saint-Merry [today, rue Saint-Merri, in the goldsmiths’ borough], a fifteen minutes walk from the Louvre palace. 

“Nicolas Beliart, painctre anglois en 1577” Accounts of François d’Alençon (later copy and sum up), Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, MS 848 © Céline Cachaud Mars 2019

By working for the court, and as such, being included in the royal accounts, Hilliard did enjoy some privileges that almost all foreign artists called by the royal family did, and carried on working in Paris, almost unobserved. Which is why most of the works that are kept from this period are court or English embassy related; these miniatures being painted in a « private » circle and with the protection of the King’s brother or the ambassador. However, this protection seemed to end in March 1578 when, preparing for his war in Flanders, the duke of Alençon had no need for a painter and released him with a great other number of « valets » in order to surround himself with warlords and soldiers. It has been put forward that Hilliard would have worked for Louise de Lorraine (then likely to be in 1578) but no archivial records have been found so far that can confirm this hypothesis. We must then suppose that, from March 1578, Hilliard was on his own in Paris and, as he explained to the English ambassador Sir Amyas Paulet, willing « to increase his knowledge by this voyage and upon hope to get a piece of money of the Lords and Ladies here… » [Public Record Office (London), S.P. (France) 78/2/16]. As such, he decided to set up a studio in Saint-Germain des Prés, where the presence of foreign and/or protestant artist, but also wealthy commissioners, was already important.

Nicholas Hilliard’s studio : methodology

In November 1578, Nicholas Hilliard is busted doing goldsmithery in Saint-Germain des Prés. Indeed, as considered a painter, he couldn’t do goldsmith work in Paris, as in Saint-Germain des Prés, as they were both sworn professions. However, as working as a miniaturist, using limners’ technics, it is likely that Hilliard’s statute was quite complicated, as limners where not subject to swear an oath as other painters did; limners and illuminators were a free profession, linked to the Paris university [See Leproux in bibliography]. Yet, the recent discovery of two panel portraits, likely to have been painted by Hilliard in France, support the idea that he was working under the statutes of the painters, hence a « métier-juré ». Here is what is said in the visit’s report : 

« 18 novembre 1578. Veu par la cour le rappors et procés des jurez et garde de l’orfaverie de ceste ville de Paris contenant les rébellions et empeschements a eulx faicts le xviie jour du présent moys de novembre par Nicolas Héliars compaignon anglois orfévre demeurant aux faulx bourgs sainct Germain des prez prés le jeu de paulme des Canettes. Autre rappors et procés verbal de Baptiste le marchans sergeant a verge au chateller de Paris contenans les dictes rébellions et empeschemens faicts par ledict Héliars auxdicts jurez et que au moyen diceulx ils n’auroiens peu fer leur visitation en ladicte maison n’y saisir aucune besongne d’orfaverie sinon ung petis morceau d’or poisans trois fellins que ledict Héliars leur auroit baillé a sa dévotion. Conclusions du procureur général du roy tout considéré.
La court a ordonné que ledict Héliars sera adjourné a estre et comparoir en […] personne en icelle pour estre oy et interrogé sur lesdicts rappors et respondre a telles fins et conclusions que ledict procureur général du roi et […] lesdicts jurés vouldront contre luy prendre et eslire et en oultre procédder comme de raison. Faict en la cours des monnaies le xviiie jour de novembre l’an mil Vc LXXVIII. »

Archives nationales (Paris), Z/1b/492

To sum it up, Hilliard refused that the guards enter his house and that in exchange he gave three « fellins » of gold, which is a small measuring unit for gold, equivalent to around 1/24th of an ounce, that is to say 0,38g. This is the only time when Hilliard is considered as a goldsmith, but not as a freeman, but as a journeyman. The visit’s address is quite precise « aux faulx bourgs sainct Germain des prez prés le jeu de paulme des Canettes ». The rest of the affair is not known; Hilliard was supposed to appear and be judged but there has no more information on the matter. It is likely then that Hilliard fled the city or asked for Royal protection and then quickly came back to London. A boat, bringing Simiers, the Wardrobe master of Alençon, arrived in London on January 3rd 1579 to set up his master’s visit next year. Hilliard possibly arrived with him or around the same period. It is not possible that he arrived after February 1579, his child being born eight to nine months later. He appears again in the London archives in April of the same month.

Where would this address be ? One street today is called « rue des Canettes » in Saint-Germain des Prés and it is where the research started. Several topographical books were very helpful when researching a historical address in Paris, including the massive collection that is the Topographie historique du Vieux Paris, in six volumes. The method I used was first of all check out every « jeu de paulme », a racket’s court but more generally a place where people would play (and gamble). None have been found with the name « Canettes », even less around the current address « rue des Canettes » in it. It was then decided to draw up a chart with every known racket courts in the borough and in the period Hilliard was in Paris : 

Chart of the racket courts in Saint-Germain des Prés in the 16th century according to Berty’s Topographie historique du Vieux Paris © Céline Cachaud Septembre 2017

As there was no indication of a « Canettes » place whatsoever in the 16th century Saint-Germain des Prés, I decided to go back to the sources and maps. In the map I used, I checked that the main street in Saint-Germain des Prés was called « Faulx bourgs Saint-Germain », like the visit’s report said, and then suggested that it might be in this street he may have lived where several racket courts are nearby [orange line in map below]. The position is quite strategic for it is in front of the city gate, allowing the Parisian guards [and not those from Saint-Germain des Prés] to extend their jurisdiction and visit the said Hilliard in his house. Also, it was one street away from where his friend and first « landlord » so to speak, lived. Indeed, in his will in April 1577 mentioned earlier, Jooris van der Straeten, painter to Queen Louise de Lorraine lived in the « rue des Fossés », in front of the city walls and a bridge away from the Louvre. If Hilliard would have become painter to the Queen, it is likely to be also through his friendship with Straeten, and his employment to Alençon, that it would have happened.

Map of Saint Germain des Prés in 1609 said “Vassalieu map” © Bibliothèque nationale de France et Céline Cachaud Septembre 2017

My research ended here and was discussed as such. Then, when I read Goldring’s book a few months ago, she wrote that it would have been near the racket courts called « Les Trois Cygnes », the three swans, which sign would have been misread by the guards as ducklings. I checked my research immediately in order to confirm with my findings and realized that I had not seen this one, although numbered – 11 in chart above – and indeed called the Three Swans between 1595 and 1623 and then the Three Ducklings from 1687 to 1728, opened on the oriental side of the « rue de Seine », just behind Jooris van der Straeten’s street. How did it happened that I missed this one ? Well, I read the date, this racket court being indicated as early as 1595 according to archivial research, I then gathered that, being known twenty years after Hilliard’s visit, this racket court may or may not have been opened in the 1570s. Consequently, Hilliard may have lived further north on the exact « faulx bourg » or in the rue de Seine. It is an information that, unfortunately, will be almost impossible to confirm.

Nicolas de Hoey, Saint Luke painting the Virgin and the Child, detail of the painter’s workshop, 1603, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon © François Jay – MBA Dijon

So where did Hilliard lived in 1578 ? The exact spot doesn’t really matter, especially as the entire borough has been rebuilt over and over again and the workshop is long gone. A great part of this area had been ravaged and regularly visited by the royal army in search of Protestants to kill, especially from 1572 until the end of the religious wars in 1594. According to Adolphe Berty, the borough was rebuilt in 1595, which is why very few records are kept from before this date. It is likely that the racket’s court was rebuilt at the same time. Meanwhile, Saint-Germain des Prés was also the fashionable place to be in the 16th century, where the Lords would settle down in the North of the borough, in order to be close to the city, and in the meantime, « enjoy the countryside ». For instance, the duke de Nevers, for whom Hilliard worked on an engraved portrait, bought the Hotel de Nesle which is on the city gate in front of the rue des Fossés. Living in Saint-Germain was also strategic as it was a few minutes walk from the Louvre, where the artists would take their position at court. They would then enjoy a freer environment, which is why a great number of painters lived there by the end of the 16th / early 17th century and beyond : Jooris van der Straeten has been mentioned, but also Hieronymus Francke, a Flemish artist, later also Louise de Lorraine’s painter, Jacob Bunel, painter to Henri IV, and his wife and limner Marguerite Bahuche, etc. Some of them were then limners. It would then be very interesting to carry on the research on how limners used to work within the Saint-Germain’s legal framework, compared to the Parisian agreements. But that’s for another tale. 

Bibliography : 
BERTY Adolphe et TISSERAND, Topographie historique du vieux Paris. T. III Région du bourg Saint-Germain, Paris, 1876
BIMBENET PRIVAT, Les orfèvres parisiens de la Renaissance 1506-1620, Paris, Commission des travaux historiques de la ville de Paris, 1992, p. 554
CACHAUD Céline, Le séjour en France de Nicholas Hilliard 1576-1579, une approche holistique, MA dissertation, Sabine Frommel (dir.), Paris, École Pratique des Hautes Études, 2017, p. 73-83
CHAUDONNERET Marie-Claude (ed.), Les artistes étrangers à Paris de la fin du Moyen Âge aux années 1920, Actes des journées d’études, Centre André Chastel (Paris), 15 et 16 décembre 2005, Bern, Peter Lang, 2007 
GOLDRING Elizabeth, Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist, London and New-Haven, Yale University Press, 2019, p. 132 and 294 (note 5)
GUIFFREY Jules, « La maîtrise des peintres de Saint-Germain des Prez. réceptions et visites 1548-1644 », Nouvelles archives de l’art français, t. IV, 1876, p. 93-123
JACOB Andrée et LÉRI Jean-Marc, Vie et histoire du VIe arrondissement : Monnaie – Odéon – Notre Dame des Champs – Saint-Germain des Prés, Paris, Éditions Hervas, 1986 
ZVEREVA Alexandra, « Catherine de Médicis et les portraitistes français », in K. Wilson-Chevalier (ed.), Patronnes et mécènes en France à la Renaissance, Paris, 2005, p. 527-543


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