Dr. Elizabeth Golding from the University of Warwick specialises in Renaissance history and her most recent book, Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist, sheds light on Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite portrait painter. Here she charts the influence of Nicholas Hilliard on other writers and offers some sage advice.
1. What are you in Hay to talk about?
My book, Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist, was published earlier this year to mark the 400th anniversary of Hilliard’s death and to coincide with the National Portrait Gallery’s Elizabethan Treasures exhibition. In addition to the Virgin Queen, Hilliard’s sitters included Royal favourites the Earls of Leicester and Essex, Shakespeare’s patron the Earl of Southampton, and the explorers Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh – the important figures in late 16th- and early 17th-century England.
2. What do you want the audience to take away?
I’d like the audience to take away a sense of the man as well as the artist: Hilliard’s rise to fame, his personal struggles and quest to become the social equal of his sitters, his role as teacher to the next generation of English painters, and his influence on writers such as Sir Philip Sidney, Pierre de Ronsard, and John Donne. Hilliard lived a long and eventful life, which was great fun to write about – and is, I hope, equally good fun to read and hear about. I’d also like the audience to take away a sense of the detective work – the thrill of the chase, so to speak – which goes into piecing together the life of someone who has been dead for 400 years.
3. What’s the best question you’ve been asked in an event and how did you answer?
The best question I’ve been asked is, ‘At what point, in the course of your research, did you feel the strongest sense of connection to Hilliard?’ Without doubt, this occurred when the original version of Hilliard’s will unexpectedly came to light at the National Archives, Kew, where it had been languishing, uncatalogued. Too weak to sign his own name, the dying Hilliard shakily provided an ‘N’ superimposed on an ‘H’. To hold this document – surely one of the last objects Hilliard touched – was extraordinarily moving.
4. Which events are you looking forward to seeing?
I would have loved to have taken my 11-year old daughter Isabel, to see Julia Donaldson and Emma Carroll, whose books we had great fun reading together when Isabel was younger. It would have been a wonderful trip down memory lane, but unfortunately we couldn’t manage the dates this year. Fingers crossed for next.
5. If you could sum up Hay Festival up in a sentence, what would it be?
'Civilised discussion in a shouty world gone mad.'
6. What is so special about Hay-on-Wye?
The beauty of the natural setting is a big part of what makes Hay special. But it’s also the people: the other writers and artists, who create such a collegiate atmosphere; the audience, whose enthusiasm makes all the hard work that goes into writing a book worthwhile; and the festival staff and local volunteers, who go out of their way to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
7. What was the last book you read and loved?
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.
8. What is the book you have most often given as a gift?
Karoo by Steve Tesich.
9. Which book has most inspired you?
Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, a prose romance written in the late 1570s/early 1580s. I wrote my PhD thesis on Sidney’s depiction of painting and painters in Arcadia. Everything I have written since is, in some way, indebted to the love of the Elizabethan aesthetic which Sidney’s work triggered in me more than 20 years ago.
10. Which piece of advice do you wish you could give your 16-year-old self?
‘Don’t be afraid to follow your own course.’Elizabeth Goldring was at Hay Festival on Friday 24 May 2019. Listen again on Hay Player here.