Anyone who spends any time with me in work knows that I love ‘ma minis’. Better known as the Ulster Museum’s collection of around 100 portrait miniatures dating from the 1700s to the 1900s (1600s if you include our recently acquired Armada miniature). I discovered them in a collection audit and initially fell in love with them because of how they were beautifully stored. They also appeal to my love of all things miniature! The average size of the whole collection is 7cm x 7cm with the smallest in the collection around 2cm x 2cm - meaning they could fit in the palm of your hand. Further investigations into the collection revealed that this was a documentation and research project waiting to happen.
Though miniatures are often small portraits or paintings the word actually comes from the Latin verb miniare meaning to ‘illuminate a document’, and the technique was used to decorate manuscripts, often on vellum. So miniature really refers to the technique, not the size.
So far I have uncovered lots of fascinating information, including falling down a genealogy rabbit hole trying to relate 20 miniatures of 4 generations of one family. Need to wait for PRONI to open to complete that mystery!
One of my favourites is this one on ivory from the mid-1800s by a (currently) unknown artist. It is a copy of J.K. Stieler's portrait of the Irish dancer and actress Lola Montez that hangs in the Gallery of Beauties at Nymphenburg Palace in Munich. Lola was born Marie Gilbert in 1821, and a mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. She led a fascinating life and died tragically young, there is lots about her online to explore further.
I am still very much at the beginning of this project, my goal is to know something about each sitter and be able to identify each painter. Then we will look to re-display them in the Ulster Museum at some point. In the meantime I get do fun things like project one of our smallest works by a woman artist (Anne Marjorie Robinson) on the side of the Ulster Museum for the HerStory Ireland Light Festival.