Today, we take pictures of everything – friends, sunsets, disasters, pets – anything. We have our mobile phone with us all the time. We share them with our friends as well as with complete strangers. We have become quite obsessive about photos although I am not too sure if people actually look through all their photos afterwards, as we used to do when we had photo albums – but we still keep taking photos.

Georgian ring with miniature painting

Before photos, the only way to record a person’s image was to paint it and, starting in the 16th century, painting miniature portraits gradually became a flourishing business. There was always going to be a demand for paintings of important people, like royalty and famous generals or admirals, but an important area for miniaturists was in private commissions by wealthy clients, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. A soldier or sailor going overseas for a posting might want to leave their family or girlfriend a picture by which to remember them. Matching portraits were commissioned by newly-weds and parents commissioned portraits of their children. Then, of course, some miniatures were commissioned as mementos of deceased loved ones.

Victorian gold bracelet clasp containing painting of a young girl

In the 18th and 19th centuries, miniatures were usually painted on ivory and then increasingly in enamel. They often had very ornate frames, some set with diamonds, others with paste, and they were also incorporated into jewellery items. A miniature could be included in a ring (see above) or into a bracelet clasp (also below), or could just be used as a pendant. The back of the miniature might have a lock of hair and initials.

Victorian miniature painting set in rose gold

The miniatures tell us so much about the clothing and jewellery that people wore, the way in which the miniature was worn and also often about their life and death. The photos I have included in this post are all of miniatures females. and it is interesting to look at the jewellery some are wearing. In the photo at the top of the post, the lady in the red dress is wearing a lovely string of pearls, together with a demi parure of earrings and brooch in what I think is a black material, possibly onyx, decorated with seed pearls. The lady in the portrait on the right appears to be wearing coral drop earrings. The woman at the bottom may be wearing a seed pearl pendant.

I am not sure if the sweet lady depicted in the portrait in the ring, with her hair piled high, is wearing a necklace or whether what we can see if a trim of her neckline but she certainly has some form of decoration on top of her hair. The young girl in the middle photo has no jewellery but is wearing a pretty dress of dark red velvet, with a lace trim and blue shoulder bows. The lady in the bottom portrait has her hair in a bun with lots of kiss curls around her forehead and ears. She is also wearing large round gold earrings.

Next week, I will look at some miniatures of men.