Also called (16th-17th century) Limning, small, finely wrought
portrait executed on vellum, prepared card, copper, or ivory. The name
is derived from the minium, or red lead, used by the medieval
illuminators. Arising from a fusion of the separate traditions of the
illuminated manuscript and the medal, miniature painting flourished from
the beginningof the 16th century down to the mid-19th century.(Encyclopaedia Britannica)
The portrait miniature, as a separate portrait enclosed in either a
locket or a covered "portrait box," is most plausibly traced to Flemish
illuminators such as those of the Horenbout family. The earliest datable
portrait miniatures, however, are not Flemish but French, and are all
believed to have been painted by Jean Clouet at the court of Francis I.
Under the patronage of King Henry VIII, Lukas Horenbout painted the
first portrait miniatures recorded in England. He taught the technique
to Hans Holbein the Younger, who was able to put into this small-scale
work all the intensity of vision and fineness of touch apparent in his
easel paintings and drawings, creating masterpieces of the then-new art
form that remain unsurpassed.
Holbein inspired a long tradition of miniature painting in England. One
of his pupils, Nicholas Hilliard, became the firstnative-born master of
miniature painting in that country. He adopted the oval form, which had
recently become fashionable on the continent of Europe in preference to
the circular form and which remained the most popular shape until the
early 19th century. Hilliard served as miniature painter to Queen
Elizabeth I for more than 30 years. His chiefpupil, Isaac Oliver, was a
more technically sophisticated artist who became the chief miniaturist
during the reign of King James I (1603–25). Oliver's pupil, Samuel
Cooper, earneda preeminent reputation in Europe by his presentation of
character and tight, effective brushwork.
Early miniaturists had painted in watercolour and gouache (opaque
watercolour) on vellum or prepared paper. The technique of painting
miniatures in enamel on a metal surface was introduced in France in the
17th century and perfected by Jean Petitot. About 1700 the Italian
painter Rosalba Carriera introduced the use of ivory as a ground
thatcould provide a luminous, glowing surface for transparent pigments
and heighten their effect.
technical innovationstimulated a great revival of miniature painting
in the second half of the 18th century. The chief European
miniaturists of the period were Peter Adolf Hall and Niclas
Lafrensen in France and Jeremiah Meyer, Richard Cosway, Ozias
Humphrey, and John Smart in England.
In the early 19th century, French miniaturists such as J.B. Isabey were
influenced by the easel portraits of Jacques-Louis David. Miniature
portraits continued to be painted in the following decades, but they
remained an expensive luxury. Inexpensive black-and-white portraits in
the new medium of photography made painted miniatures obsolete in the
second half of the century.