Monday, November 14, 2011

The miniature portraits

The miniature painting is considered as painting on a very small scale, at the first time manuscript illumination, and later miniature portraits, sometimes set in jewelled cases, and Islamic paintings. Hans Holbein the Younger introduced miniature portrait painting into English art, the form reaching its height in the works of Hilliard in the 16th century, and continuing to evolve well into the 19th century. There was also a very strong tradition of miniature portrait painting in France. Miniatures by Islamic artists flourished in India and Persia, their subjects often bird and flowers, or scenes from history and legend, rather than portraits as it is in Western arts.

English miniatures

Hans Holbein worked on portrait miniatures while his duty on English court (1531 – 43), using gouache on playing cards. The form was later perfected by such artists as Nicholas Hilliard, who set the portraits, which were worn as medaillons, in exquisite frames of precious metal. Later English miniaturists include Hilliard's pupil Isaac Oliver and Isaac's son, Peter Oliver; Samuel Cooper, who was called a ‘van Dyck in little’; and Richard Cosway, whose miniatures for snuffbox lids were famous.

French miniatures

The earliest French miniaturists were Jean and François Clouet, and a number of specialists practised the art in France in the 17th and 18th centuries, while such well-known painters as Largillierre, Boucher, and Prud'hon produced some miniatures. Petitot (1607–1691) is noted for miniatures executed in enamel for Louis XIV.

Leading French miniaturists of the late 18th century were Jean Baptiste Jacques Augustin (1759–1832) and Jean Baptiste Isabey (1757–1855), a favourite of the Napoleonic court. Friedrich Fuger (1751–1818), a German artist who worked for the Austrian court, is sometimes known as ‘the Cosway of Vienna’.

Louis-Nicolas van Blarenberghe (1716–1794) was a noted exponent of a special type of 18th-century French miniature called the menu plaisir, picturing entertainments of the day.

American miniatures

The tradition of portrait miniature painting in America, like that of full-size portraiture, was adapted from European models, particularly from English painting of the Rococo period. The earliest known American miniatures, such as Mrs. Jacob Motte by Jeremiah Theus, were soberly painted, well-crafted portraits.
The tradition continued in the hands of America's most talented oil painters, who offered miniatures as reduced versions of their large portraits. In Philadelphia, the brothers Charles Willson Peale and James Peale executed delicate and subtle portraits for their clients, while the Charleston elite flocked to Henry Benbridge for his fine work.

At the end of the eighteenth century, it became usual for miniaturists from Great Britain, France, and Italy to came to America to paint the citizens of the new republic. British artists brought with them an enlarged, more luminous miniature, while those from the Continent imported their precise, decorative style. These artists left a lasting impression on the American marketplace for miniatures, which boomed in the coming century.

Most original miniatures, being say, one third of all miniatures on offer for sale at public or on-line auctions, are either unsigned or the sitter is unknown. However, the proportion identified will be higher at the dedicated portrait miniature auctions held by a few major auction houses and by specialist dealers in miniatures .

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