This portrait miniature by Peter Cross was once thought to show Queen Mary II, the wife of William III, as the Princess of Orange. However, research undertaken by Philip Mould & Co. gives us cause to question the identity of the sitter. Shown wearing a dress of red and blue, there are no attributes that allow us to identify the sitter with any degree of certainty as the Queen. She wears no jewellery and is not shown with any of the regalia that would be expected of a future monarch. Furthermore, the likeness does not conform exactly to any known portrait type of Mary.
However, the fact that the sitter may be yet unidentified does nothing to belie the fineness of this image. Painted by one of the most talented limners (miniaturists) of the seventeenth century, Peter Cross, it is an object of exquisite workmanship, as is visible both in Cross’s typical technique of minute, polychromatic stippling and also in the delicately observed details such as the gold brocade of the sitter’s red gown, which is picked out in gold leaf.
Cross’s life and origins have for a long time remained mysterious. As a result of George Vertue’s misreading of Cross’s monogrammed signature, it was once thought that there had been two miniaturists – both a Peter and a Lawrence Cross – but this was dispelled upon the discovery of a miniature signed in Cross’s full name. Born around 1645, Cross has also been frequently linked to Samuel Cooper, miniaturist to the Restoration court of Charles II, who lived on the same street. However, this is confused by the fact that Cooper’s trademark stippling technique was not, on the whole, employed by Cooper, who preferred to hatch in strokes of red and brown. As a result, it seems possible that Cross might have been tutored either by a retired artist – such as John Hoskins – or in France, where the stippling technique had a longer life than in England, where it had become outmoded. At the same time, however, the confident and sophisticated compositions of Cross’s works on vellum – a support of which he was one of the last major proponents – it seems likely that the younger artist had at least paid careful study to the works of Cooper. This being said, however, Cross was possessed of an individual genius, one that pushed traditional techniques of miniature painting to their limits. His talents were rewarded in 1678 when he succeeded Nicholas Dixon as Limner in Ordinary to the King.