An Eye in a crescent shaped setting

Eye Miniature
early 19th century (painted)
An Eye in a crescent shaped setting thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour on ivory Half-pearls (cut in half with a fine saw). Glass cover sealed to ivory by gold beaters skin (inner gut of oxen, impregnated with isinglass*, and sticks when moistened). Brooch fitment added later. Brass loop added recently probably for ease of display. The 'window' back is empty - we can see modern cloth, so it has lost its hair. *isinglass: a kind of collagen obtained from fish, especially sturgeon, once used in making jellies, glue, etc.
Brief Description
This eye miniature is illustrated on Fiche 36, C/12 of the Miniatures microfiche.

Crescent shaped frame edged with seed pearls. Blue iris against 'sky' background. As seen by the viewer - left eye facing right.; Eye; Anon - English
Physical Description
Crescent shaped frame edged with seed pearls. Blue iris against 'sky' background.
Dimensions
  • Height: 12mm
  • Width: 22mm
  • Frame (including loop) height: 33mm
  • Frame width: 36mm
  • Frame (maximum including clasp) depth: 12mm
Style
Credit line
Given in memory of the Hon Donough O'Brien by his wife the Hon Rose O'Brien
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.
Bibliographic Reference
Alison Smith, ed. Watercolour London: Tate Publishing, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-85437-913-9.
Collection
Accession Number
P.55-1977

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record createdMarch 12, 2003
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