The Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 30, 1999
August 30, 1999
VOL. 29, NO. 1


A Passion for Portrait Miniatures Provides Research Focus

Junior Jamie Franco will visit European museums in hopes of attributing works

By Glenn Small

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Jamie Franco is intensely focused on a career in international relations, perhaps diplomacy. That's why she'll be spending a year at the Bologna Center studying economics, history and politics. But Franco, a junior from San Diego, Calif., also has a passion for art history. And that's why, even while she's studying politics in Italy, she'll be pursuing fairly advanced research on an obscure 16th-century English portrait miniature painter named Levina Teerlinc, work funded by a Provost's Undergraduate Research Award.

"Art history has always been a passion of mine, and I couldn't let it fall by the wayside," she said recently. "I think culture is as important as politics and diplomacy."

Jamie Franco

Franco, who is double majoring in political science and art history, developed an interest in 16th-century English portrait miniature painting a year ago and began looking into the field. What she found fascinated her and spurred her last fall to do an independent study project. By the spring, she had hit upon a research focus: Levina Teerlinc.

Teerlinc was a gentlewoman of the Tudor Court, a talented painter whose portrait miniatures were prized by kings and queens. She was also one of the few female portrait miniature painters.

Portrait miniatures were very small, full-color illuminated paintings that were highly prized among royalty and the aristocracy as very personal items--sort of the wallet-size snapshots of that era.

Franco said it was rare for a woman to be included in the highly secretive world of portrait miniature painters, who guarded their techniques and would teach them only to selected proteges. But Teerlinc's father was a portrait miniaturist, and she got introduced to the art that way, said Franco.

Teerlinc painted portrait miniatures of children, friends and family for royals ranging from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I during a very long career, said Franco.

As she studied the scholarship on portrait miniaturists, Franco began to suspect that there were many miniatures that Teerlinc had painted but had not gotten credit for. She also started to believe that some miniatures attributed to Teerlinc were not, in fact, hers.

Some scholars were giving Teerlinc credit for inferior works and denying credit for works of superior quality, despite the fact that Teerlinc had painted for a succession of English monarchs.

"Just in the nature of patronage, [the monarchs] wouldn't patronize someone who was not a good draftsman," said Franco.

Complicating the question is the nature of portrait miniatures.

"The thing about the miniatures was [that] they really weren't signed. They weren't like paintings. They were very private things. A lot of the miniatures you're going to find are 'unknown sitter, unknown painter,' " said Franco.

To examine the question in closer detail, Franco decided she should travel to London and Amsterdam to look in person at specific miniatures and examine any records of scientific tests done on the miniatures. She would take a work she is fairly convinced Teerlinc painted and compare the others to it, looking at the nature of the brush strokes.

She wrote up her proposal and applied for a Provost's Undergraduate Research Award, writing, "This study is crucial to determine the accuracy of the current attributions and to assemble an accurate nucleus of her works."

Her research proposal was one of 40 accepted by the PURA committee for pursuit during this summer and fall.

Daniel Weiss, chair of the Art History Department, said Franco's research efforts are "highly unusual" for an undergraduate. "It's unusual for a student to have so clearly defined and, shall we say, inaccessible an interest as Jamie's is in this subject. It's not the kind of thing most undergraduates bump into. And it's unusual in that the work is intensively archival--that she has had to do a lot of primary research in libraries and museums, looking at these manuscripts and documents. Typically, undergraduates don't do that kind of European library work."

Franco said she intends to write an article about her findings and also write a research paper by spring semester. She is excited about getting to the source materials and beginning the next step in her research.

"What I have to do when I go to Europe is go to the different museums--one is in Amsterdam, and the rest are in London--that have the miniatures that I think are the ones that could be attributed to Levina and get prints of them and start comparing them to each other and to everything that's out there."

As she delved deeper and deeper into this fairly obscure area, Franco recalled that some people discouraged her from pursuing it, advising her to save such advanced research for graduate school.

But winning the Provost's Undergraduate Research Award affirmed her faith in herself, and in Hopkins, she said.

"I would say, to the credit of Hopkins and its undergraduate research focus, the provost grant is perfect," said Franco. "I mean, when I got that, I felt so supported ... and I thought, All right, someone recognizes."