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Eye miniature

Eye miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    early 19th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Amethysts, set over reflective foils that have been painted with a tint in order to enhance the colour and brilliance. Traditionally the tints used for this purpose are comprised of isinglass* coloured with carmine*, litmus* and/or saffron* as primary colours mixed to suit the desired hue of the gem. In this case, it is likely that a red colour was achieved using carmine, or a purplish-red using a mixture of carmine and litmus.

    The gold appears to be of a relatively low carat gold. Glass backing which would have contained, probably, hair.

    *isinglass: a kind of collagen obtained from fish, especially sturgeon, once used in making jellies, glue, etc.

    *Carmine: a vivid crimson pigment made from cochineal.

    *litmus: a dye obtained from certain lichens that is red under acid conditions and blue under alkaline conditions.

  • Credit Line:

    Given in memory of the Hon Donough O'Brien by his wife the Hon Rose O'Brien

  • Museum number:

    P.45-1977

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case RMC, shelf 7, box In Green box

Eye miniatures were a curious but brief anomaly in miniature painting that came into fashion at the end of the 18th century. They were an extremely intense manifestation of an already emotionally charged art, apparently an attempt to capture ‘the window of the soul’, the supposed reflection of a person’s most intimate thoughts and feelings. Often, as here, the result was a compelling piece of jewellery. Sometimes, however, the result was merely unpleasantly anatomical or disturbingly uncanny.
The eye is one of the oldest and most powerful symbols used by man. In Italy one often finds a large eye gazing down from a cupola, the all-seeing eye of God, and the Masonic Order, for example, adopted the eye as its symbol. In France, where the eye miniature seems to have originated, the eye as symbol of watchfulness was adopted by the state police for buckles and belts. During the Revolution of 1789 it was apparently adopted by adherents of the Revolutionary party to signal a member's allegiances to initiates. In Britain it seems to have had a much more innocent role as a love token, with some eye miniatures even glistening with a trompe-l'oeil tear, or even a diamond set to imitate a tear. Most eye miniatures are unsigned, due to the minuteness of the background, and all too often the name of the person whose eye is depicted is unknown.

Physical description

Oblong frame edged with 10 pale pink stones. Blue iris against 'sky' background.

Place of Origin

England (probably, painted)

Date

early 19th century (painted)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Amethysts, set over reflective foils that have been painted with a tint in order to enhance the colour and brilliance. Traditionally the tints used for this purpose are comprised of isinglass* coloured with carmine*, litmus* and/or saffron* as primary colours mixed to suit the desired hue of the gem. In this case, it is likely that a red colour was achieved using carmine, or a purplish-red using a mixture of carmine and litmus.

The gold appears to be of a relatively low carat gold. Glass backing which would have contained, probably, hair.

*isinglass: a kind of collagen obtained from fish, especially sturgeon, once used in making jellies, glue, etc.

*Carmine: a vivid crimson pigment made from cochineal.

*litmus: a dye obtained from certain lichens that is red under acid conditions and blue under alkaline conditions.

Descriptive line

This eye miniature is illustrated on fiche 36, C/2 of Miniatures microfiche.
Oblong frame edged with 10 pale pink stones. Blue iris against 'sky' background. As seen by the viewer left eye looking right.; Eye; Anon - English

Materials

Stones

Techniques

Painting

Subjects depicted

Eye; Miniature

Categories

Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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