Portrait Minitatures

Portrait miniatures developed from the techniques used to decorate illuminated manuscripts and books.  The word 'miniature' itself derives from this technique. Although today we know the word miniature as meaning small, it comes from the Latin root 'miniare', meaning 'to colour with minium (red lead)'. Due to the relatively small scale of medieval miniatures, the word came to be associated with diminutive objects.  


Portrait miniatures first appeared in the 1520s at the French and English courts, and reached their peak of popularity in 18th century London, continuing into the 19th century. Miniatures were used a lot by the monarchy as they were given as a sign of the monarch's favour, and worn to display loyalty.


In the 18th century, the growing economy encouraged the market and popularity of portrait miniatures as they became a way for people to have keepsakes of their loved ones. Due to their portability, they could then be set into jewellery or tied to clothing with ribbon.


However, as well as having a commercial market, painting miniatures was also a popular pastime. More often than not, painters had no professional training, and had varying levels of success in their output.


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