Exhibitions: Visible Storage ▪ Study Center

Portrait of a Gentleman/Mourning Miniature

A miniature painting consists of a diminutive watercolor-on-ivory picture—usually a portrait—housed in a piece of jewelry, a case, or a frame. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the miniature functioned as a token of affection that was treasured for its tiny likeness of a beloved friend or family member. Miniatures commissioned upon the death of a loved one epitomize the sentimental nature of these objects. In this double-sided locket, the finely rendered portrait of the deceased serves as a memento of the sitter, while the mourning scene on the reverse functions to memorialize his life. Mourning miniatures typically combined stock iconography—a bereaved figure, tomb, and weeping willow—with individualized inscriptions. To further personalize the object, a lock or plait of the subject’s hair was set into the casework, or chopped hair was mixed into the paint used to depict leaves and grass, as in this example.