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19th Century Gallery

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Miniature Portrait Pair (Gentleman) with plaited hair on reverse

18th Century-19th Century
18th Century-19th Century
2 5/16 x 2 1/8 in. (5.9 x 5.4 cm)

Unknown, Unknown

Object Type: PAINTINGS
Creation Place: Europe
Medium and Support: Watercolor on Ivory
Credit Line: Purchased with funds provided by William G. Scarborough
Accession Number: 14-P-566
Gallery Label:

Portraits are artistic renderings which capture the face and personality of the sitters. The practice of portraiture has existed for thousands of years but became popular during the Renaissance as the emerging middle class commissioned portraits in all kinds of media, both large and small, including painting, sculpture, and metalwork.

Miniature portraits were essentially personal items that were kept close to the heart. They were often worn or displayed as intimate mementos of loved ones, particularly when individuals travelled or went to war. Such tokens of affection, especially mourning portraits, often contained braided strands of the sitters’ hair on the reverse.

The earliest miniature painted portraits date from the 15th century and were originally painted on vellum. In the 17th century many portraits were made using enamel on copper; and in the 18th century watercolor on ivory became the standard artistic medium.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, miniature painters in America largely followed the British tradition of painting, using thin applications of water-based pigments to let the luminosity of the ivory shine through. In contrast, French and Italian artists preferred working in opaque watercolor (gouache) pigments which lent a precise enamel-like quality to the images. In general, the styles and techniques of miniature portraits paralleled those of large-scale portraits.

The production of miniature paintings peaked from about 1790 to 1840 then declined with the development of the Daguerreotype. Artists simply could not compete with the low prices and the detailed accuracy of early photographic images.
Current Location: Art Museum : 19 C Gallery : Case

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