Tag Archives: 17th century

A History of English Miniatures

As is often the case, I recently came across a very dry history book with some hidden gems in it.  Miniatures: Ancient and Modern was written by Cyril Davenport and published in 1908 and although I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you’re a miniaturist dilettante like I am, it does offer a useful perspective on how English miniatures changed from the 16th through the 19th centuries.  The short answer is not much in terms of shape and overall presentation. Excluding the style exhibited in the day’s favored painter,  miniature portraits gradually grew more sophisticated in terms of backgrounds and range of mediums, but they are still miniatures.

England’s Three Periods of Miniature Art

Thomas Wriothesley, First Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein the Younger (1535) (c) Met Museum
Thomas Wriothesley, First Earl of Southampton by
Hans Holbein the Younger (1535) (c) Met Museum

The 16th century Tudor period marks the first time in English history when miniatures appear in large numbers.  They are influenced by the work of Hans Holbein, the younger and are fairly uniform in design.  Simple blue or red backgrounds predominate and men are the likeliest subjects, although important high-born ladies and Queen Elizabeth do appear.

The shape of the miniature is round, the medium gouache or oils, on vellum or paper, wood or metal, respectively, and no shadows present themselves on the portrait itself. Davenport’s definition of a miniature is no larger than 7×7 inches, which sounds fairly large to me if you wanted to admire someone in the palm of your hand (I always thought miniatures were somewhere in the range of 2×2 inches or less, but I guess not). Anything larger than 7×7 inches gets classified as a cabinet painting, which would measure no more than 2×2 feet.

The black and white mother and son portrait miniatures are from Elizabeth’s reign.  If you do know what Henry, Prince of Wales looks like, you might be wondering if this miniature is actually of his younger brother, Charles I.  Here’s a portrait from 1610-12 painted shortly before Henry death at age 18, making the age depicted in the miniature improbable.

Maybe the miniature below is a keepsake of what Henry would have looked like if he hadn’t died (hmm, I wonder if that was done)?  Or maybe the painter sucked at his art? Another of history’s mysteries, if you’re up for some sleuthing.  You can see Anne’s miniature in color here–the jewels in her hair and ruff are crazy!

The style of the 17th century Stuart period takes a nod from the work of Anthony van Dyck.  Instead of being strictly blue or red, backgrounds add distinctive scenery and short oval shapes compete with the rounds of the previous century.  The mediums have not yet changed.  I personally like the first miniature of a Lady as Flora that was painted by Issac Oliver between 1575 and his death in 1617, making it straddle the Tudor and Stuart period.  The duke in the second miniature has smug looking lips though, so I can’t recommend him.

Portrait of a Lady Dressed as Flora

books-2Before daguerrotypes came onto the scene and resounded the miniature death knell, the third period extended into the 18th and 19th centuries.  They styles is a reflection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s paintings.  Transparent watercolors were introduced, the shape turned oval, and ivory is a popular medium on which to paint.  Ladies also start to appear in miniatures with regularity, though I must say I’ve seen a lot of ladies in 17th century miniatures.

The first three below are 18th century, the fourth is from the 19th, and the fifth is late 19th to early 20th century.

Archibald Robertson by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1786-91) (c) Met Museum
Archibald Robertson by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1786-91) (c) Met Museum

 

Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Madame Récamier by  Nicolas François Dun (1812-14) (c) Met Museum
Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Madame Récamier by
Nicolas François Dun (1812-14) (c) Met Museum

One last medium that I haven’t mentioned is enamel.  Portraits on enamel have been around since the Byzantine period and during the 16th-19th centuries, were more popular on the continent than in England.  I like how glossy they look.  The colored Mary Wortley Montagu miniature at the top of the post is also enamel.

George IV  as Prince Regent, after Lawrence Henry Bone (1816) (c) Met Museum
George IV as Prince Regent, after Lawrence
Henry Bone (1816) (c) Met Museum

Unlike miniatures from the 16th century onward, early examples of Roman miniatures from the first and second centuries A.D. were painted on gold leaf and encased in glass plaques.  The Greeks produced encaustic miniatures, painted on wood with hot beeswax, while Renaissance Italians and Germans also excelled at encaustic works, setting their miniatures in relief with most of their subjects in profile.

Clearly, there’s always been a desire to carry a beloved’s portrait around, making me think that miniatures are kind of romantic.  Yes, they were given as diplomatic gifts and created to commemorate an age or occasion, but I can’t help but feel that many of them are as sentimental as a picture or a photograph in locket, which has got me thinking . . . what’s the history of lockets?

For more information on miniatures, do see:

Victoria & Albert Museum Portrait Miniatures Collection

And if you’d like to know what was going on across the pond, visit the Metropolitan’s Museum of 18th century American miniatures and 19th century American miniatures.  Of particular note is the daring Sarah Goodridge’s self-portrait.  Gotta love a lady with pluck!

Advertisements

Queen Henrietta Maria & Lord Minimus

In case you’re in need of a refresher or an introduction, the queen’s abbreviated bio is this:

Unpopular consort of King Charles I, youngest daughter of King Henri IV of France, catholic, subject of several Anthony Van Dyck’s paintings, and woman with “a strong penchant for private theatricals.” Also, keeper of Lord Minimus.

Who was Lord Minimus, you ask? Scroll to the Van Dyck with Henrietta Maria and the male figure who I, upon first glance, believed was a child. As far as records go, he was consistently described as a miraculously well-proportioned dwarf, which accounts for my momentary blunder.

But first a few lavish pictures of Henrietta Maria with her tight curls and early to mid 17th century get-ups.

20130619-180226.jpg

by Van Dyck (1632)

20130619-181330.jpg

Miniature by John Hoskins (1632)

20130619-192018.jpg

by Van Dyck (1638)

20130619-193007.jpg

With Sir Geoffrey Hudson (1633).

Comically known as Lord Minimus, Sir Hudson was the queen’s official court dwarf. According to Wikipedia, he killed a man in a duel via pistols on horseback (the challenged fellow dared bring a squirt gun and was thus shot dead), spent 25 years as a slave, and was 18 inches tall (yeah, right). An 1894 volume of The Strand says he was 3 feet 9 inches by 30; at two years he was 18 inches–much more believable. The Strand also states he was knighted as a joke, but he did hold a captain’s commission with the Cavaliers in England’s Civil War. He apparently had a boisterous, “peppery” personality, but he didn’t think much of being Henrietta Maria’s little man. That’s okay though; the formerly mentioned fellow he shot dead was his queen’s brother. The account was described in one of the queen’s letters wherein she stated she wished permission to “dispose of them [servants] as I please, in dispensing either justice or favour.” This was how slavery happened to Geoffrey. He was expelled from court and captured by Barbary pirates. Many years later he returned to England and was thrown into prison, possibly for being Catholic. The rest of his life has been described as: Lived where? Unknown? Died when? Unknown. Died how? Ring-a-ding. Unknown.

Beyond Henrietta Maria’s flair for unusual courtiers, if you’re interested in her epistolary life or royal relations in the 17th century, you can read her letters.

Risk One’s Hair, Risk One’s Head: Losing the Periwig

As I am wont to do, I was recently digging around a volume of The Gentleman’s Magazine when I discovered a fictionalized account regarding the first brave soul to don natural hair après the periwig fashion and the row that ensued.  Dare I say this is a version of Gentlemen brawlers, bandying over hairstyle supremacy? Victor Hugo, if only it were true!  I would be most amused.

From ‘By Order of the King: A Romance of English History’ by Victor Hugo

“Lord David held the position of judge in the gay life of London.  He was looked up to by the nobility and gentry.  Let us register a fact to the glory of Lord David.  He dared to wear his own hair.  The reaction against the wig was beginning.  Just as in 1824, Eugene Deveria was the first who dared to allow his beard to grow, so in 1702 Price Devereux dared for the first time to risk his natural hair in public, disguised by artful curling.  For to risk one’s hair was almost to risk one’s head.  The indignation was universal.  Nevertheless Price Devereux was Viscount Hereford, a peer of England.  He was insulted and the deed was well worth the insult.  In the hottest part of the row, Lord David suddenly appeared without his wig and in his natural hair. Such conduct shakes the foundations of society.  Lord David was insulted even more than Viscount Hereford.  He held his ground.  Price Devereux was the first; Lord David Dirry Moir, the second.  It is sometimes more difficult to be second than first.  It requires less genius, but more courage.  The first, intoxicated by the novelty, may ignore the danger; the second sees the abyss and precipitates himself therein.  Lord David flung himself into the abyss of no longer wearing a periwig.

Later in the century these lords found imitators.  After these two revolutionists, men found sufficient audacity to wear their own hair and powder was introduced as an extenuating circumstance.  In order to establish, before we pass on an important period of history, we should remark that the true pre-eminence in the war of wigs belongs to a Queen Christina of Sweden, who wore man’s clothes and had appeared in 1680 in her hair of golden brown, powdered and brushed up from her head.  She had besides, says Nisson, a slight beard.  The pope on his part, by his bull of March, 1694, had somewhat let down the wig by taking it from the heads of bishops and priests and in ordering churchmen to let their hair grow.”

Related Posts:

18th Century Wig Curlers

The Bird Still Sings: Underrated Poet, Anne Finch (1661-1720)

Yesterday I received an email from a musician specializing in the 18th century who had recently begun a YouTube project on the poems of Anne Finch, née Kingsmill.  If you’re not familiar with the Countess of Winchilsea, she was one of England’s earliest celebrated female poets and served as a trailblazer to all aspiring stanza scribblers of the feminine persuasion during the 18th century.

Only a handful of collections by female poets were published prior to her, and Anne herself was nervous of the negative reputation gained by her predecessors.  For a long time after coming to court at St. James’ Palace, where she served as Maid of Honour to the Duke of York’s (later King James II) wife, she kept her scribblings private.

When she married in 1684, her husband Heneage Finch strongly supported her work.  Since she possessed hopelessly illegible penmanship, he eventually transcribed her poems into a folio manuscript around 1694 -1695.  His encouragement, along with that of her friends, played a signifcant role in getting her poems before the public eye.

Anne’s daily struggles provided fodder for her writing.  The Finches led an exciting life of political upheaval, starting with their refusal to swear an oath to William of Orange during the Bloodless Revolution.  Stressors regarding her husband’s arrest and their subsequent exile resulted in Anne having a depressive period, which produced one of her most famous poems, The Spleen.

Although Anne is not part of the popular British canon today, she was a well-heeled wit who could hold her own against contemporary poets.  She was unusual for her time not only because she was a published female poet, but unlike many of her peers, she was happily married.  These unique circumstances turned Anne into an upper class observer, and lucky for us, her poetry provides a window into the 18th century elite without being too firmly entrenched in the inside view.

Many of her poems center around love and friendship, but her topics went beyond proper female preoccupations of the time.  They ranged from keen political observations to feminist commentary on sufferance and repression.  And as poets are wont to do, she had a satirical devotion to the human condition, though, unlike some of her male contemporaries, she posessed a tendency to temper her barbs.

If you like your poetry read to you with music accompaniment and video, please consider visiting Anne Finch Poetry on Youtube.  I’ve embedded ‘Tis Strange, This Heart’ for your enjoyment:

If you’re interested in Anne, a more complete history can be found at Celebration of Women Writers, Biography and Links to Works from UPenn.  I will also provide links to Anne Finch’s poetry and the YouTube channel in the 18th Century Reading Room for later reference.

Rubens’ Majestic Marchesa

One can imagine the Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria held a secret behind her lively expression.

Peter Paul Rubens painted her in 1606 when he, a keen student of the Italian masters, was 28.  She was 22, a pink-cheeked newlywed from a leading family in Genoa.  A year prior in July 1605, she had married her cousin Giacomo Massimiliano Doria after receiving a matrimonial dispensation from the pope.  This was a common exemption in canon law that allowed members of consanguineous aristocratic families to marry and proved especially useful where powers were centralized among the exalted few.

Although this portrait is considered one of Rubens’ finest, not much is known about the Marchesa.  We know that her first husband died and that she remarried, but there is no recorded date for her death.  If lengthy accounts of her life exist, they appear to be moldering in libraries somewhere.

Given the date of the portrait and her elaborate styling, she is believed to be wearing her wedding finery.  The original portrait was cut down to its current size between 1854 and 1886, possibly because of water damage, and showed an open landscape to the Marchesa’s right.

In full view, she would have stood on the terrace of a palace, a scene intended to arouse an impression of wealth and power.  The tight crop makes the detailing all the more exquisite, from her luminescent silk gown to the crimson drapery behind her.  Similar to Rubens’ portrait of Maria Serra Pallavicino, her Elizabethan ruff is among the most elaborate I’ve ever seen.  I half wonder how she managed to move her head, although perhaps this is apropos her fate.

A Spinola by birth, the Marchesa married into the Dorias.  By the 16th and 17th centuries, the Dorias–a feudal, soldiering lot–had become the richest family in Genoa.  Their principal spheres of influence resided in banking and the military, and as part of the “aristocratic republic”, they occupied seats in government as ambassadors and prelates.  Six Dorias rose to power as doges between 1528-1797, which ensured their place at the top of Genoan society.

The Spinolas had a similar pedigree.  Although having descended from their heights in the 13th and 14th centuries, they held prized roles in society, making a match between the two families an exceptional one.

The Marchesa’s portrait currently hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  It has had a long ownership history and is one of Rubens’ few surviving portraits from his Italian period of 1600-1608.  Influenced by Veronese, Tintoretto, and principally by Titian, Rubens’ style in painting the Marchesa would later make its mark on Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, two prominent 18th century painters.

This portrait of the Marchesa is one of my favorites.  She’s more than beautiful; she’s intriguing, and I’m not sure if it’s Rubens skill in enlivening his subjects or merely reflecting their depths that makes the portrait so compelling.  All I know is that canvassing the Italian aristocracy in his search for greatness works for him here.  He captures the Marchesa’s elegant intensity with such mastery that it’s hard to look away once she’s held you in her gaze.