I have been fascinated by the beauty of antique portrait miniatures since my first visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Uffizi in Florence. I am no expert on the subject but from what I have learned over the years is that they were often given as a keepsake by a loved one and were popular until the development of photography. Also referred to as mourning portraits they were given as a memento mori to mark the passing of a loved one or in the vanitas style of the day meant to remind the recipient of the transience of life.
Here are 2 beautiful examples from the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection. A fascinating variation of the Portrait Miniature is the Eye Portrait. Given as love tokens, having only the eye painted kept the identity of the subject a secret to everyone but the beloved recipient. I find the idea of this clandestine gift giving so touching .
My fascination with this art form led me to design a contemporary version using my own animal portraits which already have a Victorian theme. I was first introduced to the art of bead work by costume designer Ramona Ponce. I remember watching her doing her intricate bead work and just itching to get my hands into a big jar of glistening glass beads! It wasn't until I saw the embroidered bird brooches of Conieco and the whimsical wall hangings of Rebecca Purcell that I began to imagine how beautiful the combination of Victorian animal portraits and bead work could be. All the following ornaments are available in a round or oval format in my Etsy shop Curious Portraits.
I began with a printed image of the animal and sealed it behind a resin cabochon (as I do in my brooches). I then glue that onto a double sided felt setting with a cardboard insert and a grosgrain hanging ribbon and hand sew the rows of black glass beads, which I import from the Czech Republic. A final layer of felt backing is applied to make it neat and ready to hang! The round ornaments measure approximately 2 3/4" in diameter and the oval ornaments measure 2 3/8" x 2 3/4".