It started as a sneaking suspicion that a 16th-century female artist was not being treated fairly by modern scholars, and it's ending with a Hopkins undergraduate getting a paper published on the subject and at least one invitation to lecture on the matter.
Levina Teerlinc had grown up the daughter of a famous Flemish painter, learned her craft in his workshop and was recruited to work as a portrait miniaturist for the Tudor Court in 16th-century England, where her work was highly regarded and she was handsomely paid.
So it made little sense to Jamie Franco, now a senior, that this talented painter, who worked for four different monarchs, would be so lightly regarded by modern scholars. Franco felt that some of Teerlinc's fine work had been falsely attributed to male painters, and weak, inferior paintings unfairly attributed to her.
"I think the main point of what I was trying to do was to just say, look, the previous research that's been done has not been substantially evaluated," Franco said. "Not only has it not been evaluated, but the points themselves haven't been supported enough to lead me to agree with them. And because of that, I just couldn't sit back and accept some of this information."
Franco, a political science major with a love of art history, decided to dig into the matter, reading all she could and eventually traveling to Europe to do intensive research, which was funded in part by a 1999 Provost's Undergraduate Research Award.
She made several trips to London, where she pored over original portrait miniatures and paged through royal court payroll records, gift inventories and other records. With the advice and help of an aunt, Susan James, who has a doctorate in British history, Franco built a case that supports her theory.
She believes strongly that works previously attributed to a painter named Nicholas Hilliard were in fact painted by Teerlinc.
Four of the paintings in question were done between 1547 and 1549, right after Henry VIII died, leaving his widow, Katherine Parr, to remarry. Parr had earlier hired Teerlinc to be her court painter.
The four miniatures are all of people who had close connections to Katherine Parr, so it would make sense that her painter, Teerlinc, would have done them, said Franco. But until now, these paintings have been attributed to Nicholas Hilliard as copies of "lost Teerlincs."
The implication, Franco said, is that Hilliard's work is superior to the original work of Teerlinc. Obviously, Hilliard couldn't have painted the originals because at the time they were done, he was only 13 years old.
But why years later, Franco asks, "would Hilliard at the height of his fame go back and copy Teerlinc's work?"
If they truly are Teerlinc paintings, then why have they been attributed to Hilliard?
"Chauvinism and misogyny have played their parts," wrote Franco and James in an article that this August will appear in Jaarboek, an art history journal published by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. "Teerlinc has been confidently identified as the creator of all second-rate art deemed unfit for Hilliard whether there is any evidence to support these attributions or not. Her contemporaries, based on a knowledge of her actual work, had a far higher opinion of Teerlinc's abilities."
Part of the paper also lays out a case for why several inferior works, previously attributed to Teerlinc, could not be her work.
"It's groundbreaking research," said James, who has written several articles on art history. "I think it will change how we look at 16th-century English art."
In addition, James predicts there will be quite a reaction from the scholars who have staked their careers on the presumption that Hilliard was the portrait miniaturist of that century.
"This isn't just a minor thing," James said. "The idea that Levina Teerlinc was a much finer artist, had much more influence and was much more important to the development of the art of the miniature in England really shakes up a lot of foundations."
For more details about this project, listen to an interview with Jamie Franco at www.jhu.edu/news_info/news/audio-video/franco.html.