views updated May 08 2018


MINIATURE. In Europe, about 1520, the independent miniature, or "limning," evolved from the illuminated manuscript. In eighteenth-century America, a portrait painting was sometimes referred to as a miniature or a limning. Both terms refer to a small painting on a waferthin oval of ivory; parchment or paper were also used. At a price, a miniature could be set in a suitable frame of ivory, silver, or gold; others were framed in pinchbeck, pewter, brass, iron, steel, wood, or finely machine-tooled leather. In competent hands, miniatures became objects of great elegance and sophistication, often stippled and painted in thin, translucent layers of a subtle array of watercolors, which allows the milky glow of the ivory to show through the veils of paint. While most miniatures served as personal, portable, visual tokens of affection and keepsakes, others were patriotic, depicting symbolic images such as Lady Liberty.

In America, the portrait miniature became popular in the second half of the eighteenth century and continued through the 1860s. John Watson, a Scot, was among the first documented miniaturists. His small portraits are in pencil and India ink. Most well-known eighteenth century American painters, such as John Singleton Copley, filled their time between larger commissions with miniature painting and, presumably, signed them. Few have survived. Other distinguished American painters who also did miniature work include Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Sully, and John Trumbull. Trumbull contracted with Yale University in 1831 to supply portraits and miniatures in return for an annuity. He also designed Trumbull Gallery there. Completed in 1832, it was America's first art museum. It was demolished in 1901.

One of America's most sought-after portrait painters, Charles Wilson Peale, who had studied in London, did miniatures in a stipple technique. His younger brother and pupil James Peale painted miniatures in a linear style. Miniatures survive from the hand of John Wesley Jarvis, a respected painter in New York State. Anson Dickinson, a trained silversmith, gained renown for his miniatures. Joseph Wood began his miniature career in New York State, and then painted in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The Museum of Worcester, Massachusetts, has a fine miniature portrait of Captain Charles Tyler Savage by Wood's talented follower Nathaniel Rogers, who was a founding member of the National Academy of Design.

Probably the finest American miniaturist was Edward Greene Malbone. Born in Newport, Rhode Island, he studied and trained under the painter Benjamin West at the Royal Academy, London. Admired as a fine draftsman, Malbone worked in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Savannah. A Portrait of Charles Inglis,

in the National Portrait Gallery at Washington, D.C., represents Malbone's artistry. Françoise M. Guyol de Guiran, a Frenchman, was active in St. Louis and New Orleans between about 1812 and 1828. His only known miniature is Portrait of a Gentleman and His Daughter (1800/25), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

When daguerreotypes made the personal image both popular and cheap, the miniature hand-painted image was quickly replaced.


Colding, Torben Holck. Aspects of Miniature Painting. Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1953.

Johnson, Dale T. American Portrait Miniatures in the Manney Collection. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990.


See alsoArt: Painting .


views updated May 18 2018

min·i·a·ture / ˈmin(ē)əchər; -ˌchoŏr/ • adj. (esp. of a replica of something) of a much smaller size than normal; very small: children dressed as miniature adults.• n. a thing that is much smaller than normal, esp. a small replica or model. ∎  a plant or animal that is a smaller version of an existing variety or breed. ∎  a very small and highly detailed portrait or other painting. ∎  a picture or decorated letter in an illuminated manuscript.• v. [tr.] rare represent on a smaller scale; reduce to miniature dimensions.PHRASES: in miniature on a small scale, but otherwise a replica: a place that is Greece in miniature.


views updated May 18 2018

miniature reduced image, small representation XVI; †illumination in manuscripts XVII; portrait on a small scale XVIII; adj. XVIII. — It. miniatura — medL. miniātūra, f. miniāre rubricate, illuminate, f. L. minium native cinnabar, red lead.
So miniaturize, miniaturization XX.