Posted by: Wes and Rachelle Siegrist | December 4, 2011

Chapter 11: Framing Miniature Paintings

Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America book

Framing Miniature Paintings

Initially, miniatures were dominated by portraiture as cherished keepsakes and were housed in specially designed cases. As such, the art form combined the fine arts with the decorative to the degree of equating painting with jewelry.[i] Framing of miniatures has always varied due to function or necessity and as early as 1820 one artist pointedly wrote that “a miniature is like a drop of water in the ocean” at the Royal Academy exhibition.[ii]From its inception, the Academy limited the size of an individual miniature’s frame molding to one inch. Attempting to compete with the popularity of more elaborate and substantial framing, Robertson argued successfully for policy changes and the rules were modified to allow for up to two and a half inches wide with a maximum dimension of six inches for a miniature.[iii]Robertson, and his followers, also preferred rectangular frames as these emphasized their miniatures as objects of art versus mere sentimental mementos.[iv]

The later development of display cases, used by miniaturists and art societies added not just a level of security but enhanced the sense of prominence as if they were protected gems. Visually the cases displayed miniatures as groupings which offset the overpowering visual bombardment of so many monotonous works of size and shape and perhaps reinforced the charm of collections to patrons.[v]Formal miniature societies today employ a variety of rules to dictate framing styles and sizes in the exhibitions. Such restrictions are purely for facilitating the arrangement of the miniatures for display and vary depending upon the particular limitations of the display cases or venue panels. While varying rules frustrate the participating artists, they are a necessary problem as long as diversity exists in display venues and methods of hanging works.

Two major styles dominate framing for miniatures and both follow precedents set in the historic traditions. The more popular use smaller sizes and delicate moldings in proportion to the works. This is the usual method pertaining to society exhibitions, and it is also preferred by miniaturists wanting to appeal to collectors who group miniatures or patrons who wear miniatures. Smaller framing allows for greater display flexibility in locations such as tables, cabinets, shelves or small niches inappropriate for conventional sized framed art. Larger, more elaborate and substantial framing is used by miniaturists wishing to enhance the visual appeal of their work for collectors whose preference is to display the miniature, either alone or alongside conventional-sized work, where diminutive framing would be lost. Miniaturists still pursue substantial framing as a means of enhancing the associated value of their work in competition with conventional-sized art.

The argument as to which method best promotes the art of miniature depends upon the intended goal. Collectors can be satisfied either way and retain the option to re-frame works to suit them. Prestige and avoidance of being lost or overpowered in conventional art exhibitions merits the substantial styles.[vi]Appeal to charming characteristics inherent in miniature and distinction from other forms of art are best achieved with delicate framing. Smaller framing suits exhibitions of great numbers of works in limited venue spaces and contributes to the visual dazzle of so many artistic gems in an individual’s field of view. Efforts to change miniature show framing policies to suit public preference will fail both by diluting the essential attributes of miniatures and by the repetitive need for altering the guidelines to suit the fickle public taste in time.[vii]


*Addendum

The content below has been added by the author as pertinent to the reader with the subject of the specific chapter. If you are a MAA Signature Member and have information relevant for this, or any other chapter, please contact the author.

– In 2010 through 2012 the Hilliard Society of England has been debating the issues of size and framing. Larger image size and framing has been allowed to some degree in their exhibitions with the issue still being considered as temporary.


[i] Barratt. American Portrait Miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art., 11.

[ii] Heath. Miniatures., 211.

[iii] Murdoch et al. The English Miniature., 223.

[iv] British Portrait Miniatures. Reynolds, 6.

[v] “Wee Portraits in Color.” New York Times (18 Apr. 1907).

[vi] Wehle. American Miniatures., 3.

[vii] “Philadelphia Exhibit of Miniatures.” New York Times (10 Nov. 1907).

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