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The story of Miniature Eyes

Framed as an independent image, the eye portrait is an intensification of the look: its subject matter is the sitter's gaze, watching out for us.

What are miniature eye portraits?

Eye Miniatures” or “Lovers’ Eyes” were Georgian miniatures that depicted the eye of a loved one, a spouse or partner, a child or a beloved pet.

These miniatures were usually commissioned for sentimental reasons: love, romance, remembrance and mourning. As photographs were non existent in the late 1700s these paintings became an attempt to carry those you love close to you. The eye miniatures were usually worn on the wrist or close to the heart as it created a tactile connection between the owner’s body and the person depicted in the portrait - a special connection between subject and wearer.

The eyes, one of the oldest symbols known to men, were supposed to reflect a person’t most intimate thoughts and feelings. During Georgian times the eye miniatures became an attempt to capture “the window into the soul” of the beloved.

Eye Portraits served as intensely private objects that were recognizable and meaningful only to the intended recipient of the gift and remained obscure to all others.

 

The painted eye does not stand in for a loved one's face, rather it stands in for his or her gaze.

The story behind them

Historically, eye miniatures are believed to have originated with the Prince of Wales, Charles IV, that felt the need to sent Maria Fitzherbert a token of his love. The romance between a Protestant king and a catholic widow was frowned upon by the court, so the Prince asked the miniaturist to paint only the eye and therefore preserve anonymity and decorum. They eventually got married (even thought it was considered invalid) and it was known that George IV wore a lovers’ eye miniature of Maria’s eye under his lapel.

Even thought it is thought this event started the Miniature Eye trend, it is reported that in 1784 there were some French painters already doing these miniature portraits for the French aristrocracy.
 
The lack of any depiction or further details of the face of the subject serves to envelop the eye portrait with a great degree of anonymity. Gazing directly at the viewer the eye is quite an intimate piece for the wearer and therefore something very close to its heart.