Eye Miniature

ca. 1800 (painted)
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 came into fashion at the end of the 18th century. They seem to have originated in France, and were a curious but brief anomaly in painting in miniature. They represented 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. But sometimes the result was merely anatomical and unpleasing, or uncanny and disturbing.

The eye is one of the oldest and most powerful symbols. 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, the state police adopted the eye as a symbol of watchfulness for buckles and belts. During the Revolution of 1789 it was apparently taken over 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. Some eye miniatures even glisten 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. All too often the name of the person whose eye is depicted is unknown.

This eye miniature is set in a square frame edged with 12 pink stones. The eye has a brown iris and the face is close up. As seen by the viewer, it is of a right eye facing left.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour on ivory Topaz* stones (common sources for pink topaz in the early 19th century are Brazil, and the Ural Mountains, Russia). Tinted foils, as above. N.B. Craftsmanship - fitting glass with rolled edge bezel - glass fits exactly into bezel which is then burnished over the glass to hold it in place. *topaz: a gemstone with the chemical composition aluminium fluorohydroxysilicate, occuring in a variety of colours including colourless, yellow, pale blue, green and pink.
Brief Description
This eye miniature is illustrated on Fiche 36, C/11of Miniatures microfiche.

Square frame edged with 12 pink stones. Brown iris. Close up of face. As seen by the viewer - right eye facing left.
Physical Description
Square frame edged with 12 pink stones. Brown iris. Close up of face.
Credit line
Given in memory of the Hon Donough O'Brien by his wife the Hon Rose O'Brien
Subjects depicted
Summary
Eye miniatures came into fashion at the end of the 18th century. They seem to have originated in France, and were a curious but brief anomaly in painting in miniature. They represented 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. But sometimes the result was merely anatomical and unpleasing, or uncanny and disturbing.



The eye is one of the oldest and most powerful symbols. 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, the state police adopted the eye as a symbol of watchfulness for buckles and belts. During the Revolution of 1789 it was apparently taken over 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. Some eye miniatures even glisten 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. All too often the name of the person whose eye is depicted is unknown.



This eye miniature is set in a square frame edged with 12 pink stones. The eye has a brown iris and the face is close up. As seen by the viewer, it is of a right eye facing left.
Collection
Accession Number
P.54-1977

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record createdMarch 2, 2004
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