Eye Miniatures or "Lover's Eyes" January 19 2014
A handkerchief rustles and drops to the floor, as the young man bends down to retrieve it and return it to the Lady their eyes lock, she blushes and turns away. As he places it in her hand she notices there is something in her handkerchief, something small and hard, like a rock. She turns away from the other ladies sitting near her and inspects the surprise object now in her soft hands. It sparkles and shines in the fading afternoon sun.What a glorious little brooch! But it is more than gemstones and gold for set in the center is a small picture, as she inspects it further she realizes there’s a tiny painting of an eye staring up at her from the center of the brooch, his eye. A small smile teases the corners of her mouth and as her heart races she swoons and nearly faints.
Romantic and a little corny I know but courting in Georgian times was a far cry from the texts and Facebook “likes” we have now. Pity the teenagers of today with their romances playing out on the world stage when years ago love was a secretive and tantalizing affair.
There are believed to be fewer than 1,000 of these precious mementos of love and remembrance left in the world. The original one was commissioned by the Prince of Wales for the widow Maria Fitzherbert. As their love had to be kept a secret the portrait was made only of his eye to keep his anonymity intact and avoid the wrath of the Court. He eventually became King George IV and keeping with the times, whatever the Royals did became de rigueur for the upperclass. They were commissioned and worn from the late 1700's up to late 1800's. The recent resurgence in their popularity has made quite a few portrait artists busy today.
Usually pieces of ivory painted in watercolor they were made into brooches, bracelets, rings and necklaces. The ornate borders were set with precious stones, pearls and gold and would be a prized possession by whomever it was made for. Some portraits were to remind lover’s of each other, others were of family members that had passed on. Usually a memento mori portrait would incorporate clouds or tears on the eye signifying the subject had died. As only close family members would recognize just an eye, these small tokens of love could be worn publicly without fear of revealing who they were involved with. What whispers must have passed through the crowd when she arrived wearing an eye miniature! Who could it be!
These wonderful pieces have been avidly collected by the Skiers of Birmingham, Al recently put their large collection on display to share their mysteries with the world. I highly recommend reading the Salon article about the Skiers and a more in depth story of the Prince of Wales and his romance with Ms. Fitzherbert.
I’ve always been fond of drawing eyes and making them out of glass is a challenge that I’ve gladly accepted. It’s always interesting to see how they turn out and I’m eager to make more.