Miniature on Ivory by Stan Shelley

Posted on Monday, June 25th, 2018 at 9:43 pm by Shelley's

Miniature portraits, from one inch in diameter up to tennis ball size, started getting popular among Europeans in the sixteenth century. If a husband was going traveling, both spouses would keep an image of their mate painted in this way. For following centuries, many fine artists produced quality portraits for wealthy families.

In the 1800s commercial artists started producing generic portraits to sell to tourists. Sometimes the person being painted was unknown and other times it was a famous person. I have seen hundreds of miniature portraits of Napoleon. The best portraits are on thin slabs of ivory and done in watercolor. The earlier and better ones were signed by the artist.

Most nineteenth century examples are not signed. The miniatures were often mounted in pins or pendants so they could be worn by a loved one. If you ever remove one from its frame in order to see if it is ivory, handle it very carefully. The ivory is extremely thin and fragile. Also, do not let water near an unframed portrait because the watercolor paint will run.

Here is one from our estate collection. We can often date the jewelry according to the style of clothing in the portrait. This nineteenth century portrait is set in a 14K yellow gold border embellished with tiny seed pearls. The painting is unsigned so we cannot identify the artist, but the image is exquisite!