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Portrait miniature - Portrait of Mrs Lowther
  • Portrait of Mrs Lowther
    Cosway, Richard RA, born 1742 - died 1821
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Portrait of Mrs Lowther

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1780 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cosway, Richard RA, born 1742 - died 1821 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Given by W. A. J. Floershein

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery, case 17

The art of painting miniature portraits on ivory originated in the work of Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757), a Venetian artist who began her career decorating the ivory tops of snuff boxes. With an eye for portraiture she soon began to paint portrait miniatures on ivory ovals separated from the snuff boxes and so established the practice that usurped the traditional use of vellum (animal skin) for miniatures. Cosway’s portrait of Mrs Lowther was painted in the 1780s, and it is a charming example of the ivory miniature portrait back in its original decorative role on the lid of a snuff box. It is not known for whom this portrait was painted, but it was probably a gentleman. Interestingly, the gentle erotic appeal of this image of a young woman, with her knowing but shy look and her décolletage, is that exploited so successfully by Carriera half a century earlier. Carriera was renowned for her alluring ‘fancy pictures’, ostensibly representations of ‘the Elements’ or ‘the Seasons’, but which were very much flesh-and-blood young women with what one commentator called a ‘half shielded, interesting disarrangement of line at the bosom’. But this portrait of Mrs Lowther is no allegory, and by the standards of 1780s England her dress is somewhat daring. And yet, like much of Carriera's work, more is left to the imagination than is presented to the eye. Cosway's style was perfectly suited to such hints of eroticism - light, airy and ultimately indistinct.

Physical description

Portrait miniature of a woman set on the outside of the lid of an ivory and gold pique snuff box (ie. white with gold stars). The sitter wears a white dress and a gold locket, with her left breast slightly exposed. Set against a lightly painted sky background.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (probably, painted)


ca. 1780 (painted)


Cosway, Richard RA, born 1742 - died 1821 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on ivory


Height: 44 mm, Width: 36 mm

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of a woman set on the outside of the lid of an ivory and gold pique snuff box, by Richard Cosway. Great Britain, ca. 1780.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Summary Catalogue of Miniatures in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Emmett Microform, 1981


Ivory; Gold; Pique; Watercolour



Subjects depicted

Portrait; Stars; Eroticism


Portraits; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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