Published 2nd January 2009
The portrait miniature was conceived as a pocket size memento, a love token, personal advertisement or propaganda. Roman and Grecian miniature portraits on jewellery were often expressions of love and fidelity. In the dark ages, the depiction of a ruler on the head of a coin was an overt and dramatic image for propaganda purposes. During the Italian renaissance numerous icons were spawned and as the ruling dynasties of the Italian courts grew, their portraits were made and circulated to gain favour and control. In the 18th century, The Enlightenment, and the perceived liberation of the individual, the newly empowered celebrated their own identities and this launched the heyday of the miniature portrait in England.
The antique miniature portrait is an image, a record, of a real person, long gone. Often undated with no clue to artist or sitter ... and herein lies a great adventure. We can look into the eyes of the subject, to invent and draw our own conclusions from our interpretations and our own experiences.
With experimental photography as early as the 1830s, by the mid-Victorian era photographic portraits were widely accessible and the painted miniature was in decline. The miniatures that remain give an opportunity to interpret and understand the past through the faces of our ancestors and those who shaped the world we live in.
At Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood, we regularly offer fine miniatures from the 18th & 19th Centuries and good examples can be bought for anything between £100-£1000 – there’s even one of a pet dog!
The Portrait Miniature was written on Friday, 2nd January 2009.