Lot 10
  • 10

Isaac Oliver Rouen 1556/65 - 1617 London

15,000 - 20,000 GBP
96,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Isaac Oliver
  • the madonna and child, seated on a throne in the shape of a savonarola chair, a draped curtain behind them

  • pen and brown ink and blue and brown wash over black chalk, heightened with white, on blue paper


General Dormer, of Rousham House, Oxfordshire, circa 1720;
by descent to Thomas Cottrell-Dormer, Esq.;
sale, London, Sotheby's, Highly Important Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century English Drawings and Watercolours, 24 November 1977, lot 34, (purchased by the present owner); advertised and reproduced in The Burlington Magazine, November 1977, p. LXIII


J. Finsten, Isaac Oliver, Art at the Courts of Elizabeth I and James I, London 1981, vol. I, p. 155, vol. II, p. 234, cat. no. 194, reproduced fig. 170.

Catalogue Note

This handsome and rare drawing was first attributed to Isaac Oliver by Jill Finsten and dated by her to around 1605-10.  The use of pen and brown ink is quite typical of the drawings made after his first continental journey in the 1590s, although the use of wash seems to be more frequent on drawings of a later date.  In 1596, Oliver is recorded in Venice, and during his stay in Italy he studied Venetian and Lombard paintings as well as the work of Parmigianino who had a clear impact on his development.  After this first trip, Italian influences in part supplanted his prior more Northern training based on knowledge of the Netherlandish masters and the School of Fontainebleau.  He developed a higher degree of naturalism and maturity, while still preserving the international appeal of the Northern mannerists, which he never lost.

In analysing the present drawing, which she describes as:  'one of Oliver's suavest, most sophisticated maniera works', Jill Finsten traces a classical quotation in the representation of the Madonna and Child 'all' antica'  as Venus and Amor which she believes may have been derived from Goltzius' engraving of the Holy Family after Spranger.  She also closely associates the style of the present drawing with the signed drawing of Antiope in the British Museum (inv. no. 1869-6-12-295) which she dates to the same moment.1

Little is known of Oliver's life.  His father was a Huguenot goldsmith and pewterer from Rouen who fled to England with his family in 1568.  Isaac learned the art of portrait miniatures, for which he is better known, from Nicholas Hilliard and his first dated miniature is of 1587.  He must also have painted in oil but nothing seems to have survived in that medium.  The few drawings which are known2 reveal a very accomplished, sensitive and handsome draughtsman, attentive to the pictorial developments of his time and reflecting the international and cultivated milieu of the Huguenot artists and artisans who brought invaluable skills to England. 

1. Finsten, op. cit., vol. II, fig. 158, reproduced.

2. See Literature, and L. Stainton and C. White, Drawing in England, from Hilliard to Hogarth, exhibition catalogue, London 1987, pp. 48-52.