The Miniportrait, Christmas Gift of the 1500’s

I have much respect for the talents of Medieval artists, who were looked upon as craftsmen in their field. Of such artists, those with the better skills were secured by wealthy nobility. The most talented artists, of course, worked for the royal family and were expected to paint family portraits, design festive decorations for special events, and to create small gifts that were given to other guesting nobility.

Miniportraits  were often given by the royalty as gifts during the 16th century. These were small, intricately detailed and very realistic watercolor paintings about two inches large (sometimes less). The paintings depicted the artist’s subjects much in the way a modern wallet-sized photo does today. Miniportraits were frequently placed into gold pendants or lockets by the artists, some of whom were also metalsmiths.

I know from first-hand personal experience that miniportraits require fine hand control, accuracy in small detail, and very delicate tools. Mideieval artists that were commissioned to paint miniportraits required these same skills and controls. Some notable and talented 16th century artists are Isaac Oliver and his teacher Nicholas Hillyarde, limner to Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Today, the Royal Family in England still maintains its collection of medieval-era miniportraits in the Royal Family archives. I have enjoyed spending hours just browsing through photos of selections from among the Royal Family’s collection and learning about the fascinating histories connected to them. These miniature paintings represent the ancestors of today’s Royal Family. Many such miniatures have endured for centuries with limited loss of color or quality.

Charity Goodwin, Artist

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