Eye miniature jewellery
Eye miniature jewellery was made in order to preserve the anonymity of a lover or a loved one, just as memorable item, later – decoration. Often with a miniature was kept a lock of hair of beloved one. Such commemorative miniatures were in vogue and became very popular in the 1790 – 1820’s in England, then in France, and Russia. The eyes of lovers were portrayed in jewelry: brooches, rings, bracelets and pendants, on the boxes, and wallets. Most often, these miniatures were made on on ivory.
The history of the emergence of these miniatures is as follows:
Prince of Wales (later King George IV) was in love with the widow Maria Fitzherbert (she was a Catholic and six years older than him) and made her a proposal. It is believed that sometime around 1785 Mrs. Fitzherbert commissioned Richard A. Cosway, a London miniaturist, to paint one of her eyes. The portrait was done on ivory, placed behind glass and set within a locket.
December 15, 1785 was their secret wedding. The artist – miniaturist Richard Cosway painted only the eyes of lovers, they exchanged and thereby maintained anonymity and decency. But the marriage was invalid, since his father George III did not approve it. As they say – a miniature “eyes of Mary”, George IV wore hidden under the lapel.
These miniatures were made not only for loving hearts, but also as a memory of a deceased spouse or child. Preserved brooches, pins, medallions, casket, bracelets, which show only the eyes, often side by side with them curl or twist of hair of a loved one, often a child’s or relative’s, not only a lover. On bracelets and medallions sometimes occured multiple thumbnails, then memorial decorations were very much in fashion. Many of the “eyes” were paired with portraits or entirely thumbnails. Such pairs havesurvived in museums.
Now many of these little things are unusual, even frightening. But these were the eyes of loved ones. There was no photography, from the means of communication- only mail, a miniature portrait was very expensive. The most important thing – they maintained anonymity. Eye miniature was exchanged by lovers who wished to keep their relationship a discreet secret.
Eventually, not just lovers but beloved family members were portrayed. One bracelet, for instance, is composed of four eyes, each belonging to a member of one family and bearing the initials of each individual. Mourning pieces contained the eye of a departed loved one, sometimes set in a frame of pearls which symbolized tears.”
Mourning eye miniature. English. Circa 1820. Eye miniature brooch surrounded by diamonds set in black enamel and with a split pearl border.
The oval ring of pink gold surrounded by blue enamel with ten small and two large diamonds in a frame made from freshwater pearls. c. 1790. from Dr. David and Mrs. Nan Skier Collection.