Monday, 27 June 2011

Eye Spy A Miniature

Portrait miniatures (such as the one of the notorious Count Fersen below) abounded in the eighteenth century, having been fashionable since the sixteenth century. They were often exchanged between lovers, and even served as advertisements for eligible women - an aristocratic gentleman would invariably commission a series of portrait miniature of his daughter to send to suitors who resided a long distance away.
For the most part, the convention of the portrait miniature remained unaltered up until their decline in popularity during Edwardian times (with the advent of photography), however the late eighteenth century saw the emergence of a peculiar trend of eye miniatures which continued to be produced throughout the nineteenth century. Their design preserved the anonymity of the subject and were therefore considered to be more intimate tokens of one's affection. The following is an excellent example of such an object, dating from around the 1790s
The popular miniaturist Richard Cosway charged a mere five guineas per eye, and even received commissions from the Prince Regent. Horace Walpole was recorded as remarking upon the fashion to Lady Ossory in the following way:
"Do you know Madam, that the fashion now, is not to have portraits but of an eye? They say,
'Lord! Don't you know it.'"
While Lady Eleanor Bultler noted that young men returning from their Grand Tour of Europe brought back with them "an Eye, done in Paris & set in a ring - a true French idea." suggesting that the fashion may have originated on the Continent.

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