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

Endorsements and Testimonials

Endorsements on Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America:

“As an introduction to the definitions and philosophies that guide contemporary miniature painters, Modern Masters is an important addition to the published histories of miniature painting in America, and a valuable record of recent developments in the five-hundred-year-old tradition of painting small independent images. A complementary section of statements prepared by individual miniaturists offers personal perspectives on the artworks and the mediums, surfaces, and techniques used to make them. Through the efforts of Wes Siegrist and the members of the MAA, a comprehensive, multi-faceted view of the modern practice of an historic art form has been achieved.”
Carol Aiken, Ph.D., Portrait miniature conservator and scholar

“Erudite and highly readable, this book by Wes Siegrist is the tour de force of miniature books. Encompassing every how, why, where, when and who, it should be an essential read for all artists, collectors, scholars and lovers of fine art. It is an astounding achievement.”
Carmela Arturi and Roger Frederick Phillips, Authors, miniature art collectors: http://www.portraitminiature.blogspot.com

“It was very interesting to read the history, much of which was new to me. … Lacking painting skill, I resorted to collecting miniature portraits. That led to my Artists and Ancestors website which displays my collection and has brought me into contact with owners of miniature portraits around the world, both collectors and those preserving miniatures of their ancestors. The website endeavours to spread knowledge of the art form and illustrate the thrills of researching artists and sitters, in effect preserving the past. I confess that portraits are my prime interest and I now get many emails on the subject, with all sorts of questions, and it being surprising how many people had never known such things existed. Those still possessing miniatures of their ancestors are universally proud of them. One sadness is that so few miniature portraits are painted of the present generation, to become cherished family heirlooms of the future. In an age of throw away consumerism, it is great to see Wes Siegrist explaining and encouraging the art form. I hope that his enthusiasm will encourage parents and others to commission new family portraits. Recently I commissioned three miniatures of my children from one of the featured artists, Irina Kouznetsova, and they are already prized family treasures.”
Don Shelton, Author, miniature art collector: http://www.portrait-miniature.blogspot.com

The Author, and the Miniature Artists of America Society, welcome your feedback and endorsements. Please send comments to Wes Siegrist at siegrist@artofwildlife.com

Testimonials on Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America:

“The Book was an enormous undertaking with amazingly fine results. You particularly mention scope in your letter and that is indeed what it has. I have always read a great deal in Art History and continue to do so. “Modern Masters” has a huge scope in the inclusions. It is likely the most inclusive book on the subject of Miniature Art so far! Artists and collectors hold much in their hands with it. The past and the present are both speaking clearly through the general text and the biographies which show varied backgrounds and ages in the membership. There is much value in young artists looking at the field as a worthy pursuit. That in itself is reason enough to consider it a valuable tool. We who are involved in the miniature surely hope it will continue into the future.

The word miniature often seems to infer less, not as important etc. than larger work. Reading this book will have to change that kind of thinking, finally! Fine Art comes in all sizes, mediums and execution and it needing saying in such an exceptional way. … Carry On, you’re doing a Grand Job!!” ~ Demaris Olson in CA, USA

“I just wanted to let you know that, after gifting four “Modern Masters” books to members of my family, I received e-mails and phone calls lauding the historical significance of miniature art. Everyone loved the book and will treasure it.

I feel very proud to be included and applaud your efforts and their amazing results. Beside the group of beautifully represented artists, the history of miniature art was most educational and thorough. It was fascinating reading for me as well even though I am, of course, somewhat familiar with the history on the subject.

You and all the other volunteers did a tremendous job and I can only add that your aim was achieved. I am thrilled to have this book in my art library. Thank you, Wes, for a wonderful job.” ~ John M. Angelini in FL, USA

“When I first received Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America, I wrote a thank you for all the time, thought, and energy you put into writing, researching, and publishing it. Now, having read and savored it, I must write to tell you what a profoundly important book this is to me. Prior to reading it, I knew nothing about the history or traditions of miniature art. I had never met another miniature artist. The awareness and understanding of this art form and the wonderful collection of quotes are tremendous gifts. The section of the book with images of the artists in their studios with their works of art and an essay in their own words was a communication I had longed for. Their expressions of joy, philosophy, inspiration, passion, technique, and problem solving offered a wealth of insights and wisdom. … Thank you for having the determination, wisdom, vision, and insight to create this most important book.” ~ Sue Wall in NY, USA

“I am so delighted with the MAA book!!! I can’t imagine how many hours were spent on its’ creation but the quality of the result is outstanding. Thank you [Wes] and your assistants for making me so proud to be a part of it.” ~ Gail MacArgel in MO, USA

“This book is a wonderful addition to the modern miniaturist’s library. In addition to technique and history, the reader is treated to biographies of 21st century miniature artists in a successful presentation of miniature fine art – then and now. Modern Masters continues what Sue Burton started.” ~ Debra Keirce in VA, USA

“To Wes and the gang who worked so hard on the Masters of Modern Miniatures my everlasting thanks!!! Words can not express my appreciation for the great amount of effort and thought that Wes put into creating this wonderful tome. I have just finished reading through the first part of the book and it took several hours. It is extremely well written and thoughtfully assembled. Lots of food for thought! My husband downloaded it to the computer last night. I will be reading over the individual artists histories with great interest. I plan to buy a number of hard copies to give as gifts. I am looking forward to seeing what this book accomplishes for the field of miniature art in the coming years. It is my opinion that there is a greater number of artists creating great miniatures than at any period in the history of the world. I realize there are more people in the world and we have better access to create but I also feel man is reaching out to something more than machines and there is a bright future. Thanks again Wes!” ~ Bev Abbott in VA, USA

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

Chapter 6: Size in Miniature Art

Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America book

Size in Miniature Art

The first limitation of a miniature is the size … a miniature must always be designed for close inspection.  It is meant to be held in the hand, to be pored over, even to be looked at with a magnifying glass; therefore all impressionist effects and all violent contrasts of color are out of place, and beauty of touch and delicacy of workmanship must be essentially aimed at. Barbara Hamley[i]

[The] … matter of size has always acted as a slur on the esteem in which miniatures have been held. Charles de Kay[ii]

This notion of the smaller being equal to, or even greater than, the larger is atypical. Viewers stop and gape at the monumental but rarely pause to notice the miniscule unless it is forced upon them. Miniatures on display never flaunt but whisper for attention.[iii]The scholar, J. L.Propert’s analogy between the Regent and Koh-I-Noor diamonds in comparison to a boulder on a hillside dramatically condenses these thoughts and the reward that inspecting the miniature can provide to those who take the time to see.[iv] Miniatures, through constraints in size and scale, either inherent or designed, beg inspection by concealment. A glance intrigues us but what we examine further, up close and even under magnification, is what captivates us. The derivative sources for miniature had no explicit references to size. Manuscript illuminations varied by size according to the format of the pages and detached limnings’ smaller dimensions owed more to function than design. Size, as inherently perceived in miniatures, was dictated by function as these delicate mementos were primarily intended to be portable. Additionally, subject miniatures, often referred to as histories, were ordered as reductions in size and scale of larger works. Despite scholarly diatribes on the subject and whether or not any conscious thought was given to dimensions by the early miniaturists, their extant body of work was typically small and repeatedly contrasted with larger works over the past 500 years.[v] The common vernacular of referring to limnings as works ‘in little’ implies small size as well as scale to the public, patrons and practicing artists. The wide acceptance through the generations that this branch of the arts equates with anything extremely small and tiny cements size in the definition. In spite of etymologies seemingly at odds with this result, the attribute held steadfast, and progressively miniatures were described by size.

By the 1600s small size was seen as intrinsic to miniature. Limits on dimensions were non-existent but common perceptions limited miniatures to portable, held-in-the-hand formats. Works growing larger than the average, often called ‘cabinet miniatures’, are referred to with non-typical adjectives: large, huge and even gargantuan.[vi] It should be equally noted that extremely small works are often singled out and described as a departure from the norm, but tantamount to the argument that diminutive size contributes to the definition of miniature, these minute works are not considered precursors to a new art form or reactionary attempts to compete with other established art forms.[vii] Historic miniature art size limitations hinged upon available working surfaces. Techniques were introduced to allow for ivory veneers and thin sheets of marble but even these had their limits. Additionally, the level of effort, patience and financial compensation proportionately increased with these larger sizes contributing to their rarity and oddity in the comprehensive oeuvre of the class.[viii] The smaller also passed the test of time while larger dimensions are still questioned as appropriate for inclusion in the genre.[ix] Increasing size was repeatedly seen by scholars, critics and the artists themselves as reactionary to the influence of larger works.[x] As miniatures began to be used as decorative objects in addition to functional mementos, and as they increasingly found themselves competing alongside conventional-sized works in exhibitions, their size increased.[xi] The miniaturists,Andrew Robertson, Robert Thorburn and Sir William Charles Ross were all proponents of larger format miniatures as an attempted means to achieve for miniature painting a level of academic respect. They did not wish their work to be seen as trivial trinkets or faint impressions of real art and struggled to achieve equal respect by adjusting their works to reflect popular styles. Their cabinet miniature formats allowed for variety in composition and appealed to public demand for miniatures as works of art versus intimate mementos. The changes wrought by these men upon the genre blurred the lines of distinction between miniatures and works in large and departed from what made the miniature ideal and unique.[xii]The shift from memento to an object of decorative display also moved the direction away from intimacy towards distance which further detracted from the miniature’s personal charm.[xiii]

Size did not become rigidly established until the development of the miniature art societies in 1896 when constraints were initially applied solely for the logistics of exhibition display. Initially set at 10 x 12 inches, the Royal Miniature Society dropped down to 5 x 7 inches by 1898. A 1927 exhibition catalogue acknowledges the ambiguity relating to size during the developmental years but stresses the almost exclusive associations with small dimensions pertaining to the term miniature. The catalogue further emphasizes that a miniature should be diminutive enough to be easily held in one hand.[xiv]The 1960s saw the general size restraints fall further to 6 x 4 ½ inches where it remains today with this Society. These sizes refer to overall dimensions including the frame. Modern specifications on image size range from 15 to 35 square inches with 24 to 25 square inches being the most prevalent. By establishing clear parameters on size, miniature art societies solidified small dimensions as intrinsic to the widely accepted definition of miniature and requisite to distinguishing a ‘true, traditional or classical’ miniature from competing namesakes in the public arena. Small size creates a charming appeal and invites intimate inspection. This enchanted interactivity between art and viewer hinges upon the diminutive size. Ideal miniatures are distillations of the best in art of conventional size and they lose this endearing quality when they grow larger. Perhaps an appropriate quote would be: “The innocence of babyhood is to humanity what miniatures are to art.”[xv]

The rise in popularity of small-dimensioned art exhibitions in the 20th century, adopting the name miniature, created additional confusion to the genre especially due to the upstarts having more acumen in marketing to the general public. Gallery and museum ‘miniature’ shows featured works as large as 120 square inches with 80 to 96 square inches being typical and placed no limits on styles, techniques, media … essentially an ‘anything goes’ venue. With no regard to the established art form of miniature painting, these exhibitions assumed the title based on the descriptive adjective of size and the marketing angle that these smaller productions by artists of conventional larger-scale works were more affordable. The wide-sweeping effects of this influence literally eclipsed public perception of the traditional world of miniature art and forced miniaturists to struggle to retain their unique identity.[xvi] The proliferation of these competitors was dramatically reinforced in 1997 with the development of the Artist Trading Card. Conceived by M.Vänçi Stirnemann in Switzerland, these 2 ½ x 3 ½  inch works of art, now recognized simply as ATCs, were to be created for the sole purpose of free exchange between artists to establish rapport.[xvii] The concept was soon altered to allow for non-artist collection and exploited by some for financial gain. By 2004, an offshoot known as ACEOs or Art Cards, Editions, and Originals was organized on eBay by Lisa Luree [bone*diva on eBay].[xviii]Both of these genres vary greatly, from highly refined quality work of value to quickly produced sketches that can sell for a mere pittance. Both ATCs and ACEOs claim the same heritage as the portrait miniature primarily from the perspective of function and size. The year 2005 saw another competitive genre known as SFA, meaning Small Format Art. Conceived by Jillian Crider [artistjillian on eBay], SFA allows a great diversity of works “no more than 14 inches in any one direction”[xix] Crider’s Small Format Art *SFA* eBay group has over 1,000 participants and her ATC & ACEO Enthusiasts eBay group stood at just over 7,000 as of the end of 2009.[xx] All three of these genres quickly dominated the online market for contemporary small works and convoluted the public notion of miniature to the further dismay of miniaturists and societies adhering to traditions and attempting to promote their unique genre. Crider, herself a miniaturist, does offer a degree of delineation for true miniatures in her groups and activities.

If the threat of similar size and hijacked heritage were not enough, another influence had entered the market in 2004 known as the Small Works, or ‘Painting a Day’ Movement.[xxi] The highly successful brainchild of Duane Keiser, this genre associated small size with speed of production and affordable/inexpensive artworks. Keiser avoided the pitfall of discounting and exploited many of the proven advantages to producing and collecting small works by using key concepts in art marketing. With thousands of artists now mimicking his methods, public perception has moved towards the notion that smaller is both faster and cheaper; an antithesis in creating ideal miniature art.[xxii] Janet Laird-Lagassee reflects most miniaturists’ efforts, noting that, on average, traditional miniatures take nine times as long per square inch to produce as conventional-sized works.[xxiii]

The numbers of artists working in these competitive genres greatly outnumber traditional miniaturists, and their continuing effects upon public perception and the world of formal miniature art societies and exhibitions, will persist indefinitely. Positively, some of these artists, after being exposed to the miniatures, are pursuing the direction of the formal miniature movement. Their sheer numbers and close parallels to miniature art make them obvious candidates for invitation to join in the more restricted arena of formal miniature art societies and shows.

The artistic difficulty of the reduced scale renders it in some respects more precious, for we all know that a diminished resemblance of an object affords a special pleasure and illusion … the minuteness of such works does not preclude the possibility of their possessing all the qualities of high art. Thomas John Gullick[xxiv]


[i] Barbara Hamley. “Miniature Painting.” International Congress of Women. (London: Fisher, 1899), 80.

[ii] Kay. “The Miniator’s Art.”, 333.

[iii] John Mack. The Art of Small Things. (London: British Museum, 2007), 186.

[iv] Propert. The History of Miniature Art., VI.

[v] Davenport. Miniatures Ancient and Modern., 2-3.

[vi] John Murdoch et al. The English Miniature. (London: Yale UP, 1981), 205. 

[vii] Ibid., 54 and 199.

[viii] Ibid., 205. 

[ix] Ibid., 54.

[x] Ibid., 199.

[xi] Johnson. American Portrait Miniatures in the Manney Collection., 23.

[xii] Rosetti. “The Exhibition of Miniatures at South Kensington.”, 94.

[xiii] Strickler.  American Portrait Miniatures: The Worcester Art Museum Collection., 15.

[xiv] Royal Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers Society. Exhibition Catalogue. (London: RMS, 1927), 9.

[xv] Francis Trevelyan Miller. The Connecticut Magazine Vol. VIII. No. 2. (Hartford: Connecticut Magazine, 1903), 307.

[xvi] Miniature Art Society of Florida. Exhibition Catalogue. (Clearwater, FL: MASF, 1993), 10.

[xvii] “Artist Trading Cards History” (n.p., n.d.) <http://www.artist-trading-cards.ch/history.html&gt; accessed 7.2009; “What are ATC or Artist Trading Cards?” Ming. (Artmakr.com, 11 Sept. 2007) <http://www.artmakr.com/what-is-atc-or-artist-trading-cards/&gt; accessed 1.2010.

[xviii] “ACEOs – A Flourishing Art Form Born on eBay.” The Chatter Newsletter. Nino. (eBay, Mar. 2006) <http://pages.ebay.com/community/chatter/2006March/feature.html&gt; accessed 7.2009; Jillian Crider email: “Re: Book Chapter Draft” 6 Jan. 2010. (According to Crider the person to suggest ‘Art Cards, Originals & Editions’ was an eBay user ‘withoutego’.)

[xix] Jillian Crider’s Small Format Art Group. <http://www.smallformatart.com/&gt; accessed 1.2010; Jillian Crider email “RE: AMA – join” 6 Jan. 2010.

[xx] Jillian Crider’s eBay Small Format Art Group. (Jillian Crider, 6 Oct. 2005) <http://groups.ebay.com/forum/Small-Format-Art/Welcome/100037616>accessed 1.2010; Jillian Crider’s eBay ATC & ACEO Enthusiasts Group. (Jillian Crider, 27 Dec. 2005) <http://groups.ebay.com/forum/Atc-Amp-Aceo/Welcome/300009044&gt; accessed 1.2010.

[xxi] C. Sharp. “12 Tips for Selling More Art in a Recession.” (Artistsnetwork.com, 17 Feb. 2009) <http://www.artistsnetwork.com/article/sell-more-art/&gt; accessed 7.2009.

[xxii] Burton. The Techniques of Paintings Miniatures., 9.

[xxiii] Janet Laird-Lagassee email “The Book” 5 Oct. 2009.

[xxiv] Gullick. Painting Popularly Explained 2nd. Ed., 111.

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

Chapter 5: The Development of Media in Miniature Art

Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America book

The Development of Media in Miniature Art

Mediums associated with the history of miniature art have varied considerably over time ranging from the rigidly exclusive, to the wider acceptance of media in the mid 1800s, to the near complete representation of all branches of art in the present day. Watercolor and gouache have dominated the genre varying with artistic taste according to geographical regions or simply preferred use of the painting support. Miniaturists’ techniques working in watercolor and gouache have spanned the scale of transparent to opaque, from light and airy to dense and solid.[i]— Public appreciation and scholarly attention influenced the style of artists working in miniature and none were immune to adapting to market demands. Eventually, other mediums came to be known as miniatures absolving the dominance of the single media and broadening the genre to more fully represent all forms of fine art. Sculpture’s formal addition began in 1922 when Alyn Williams invited the American sculptor Louis Rosenthal to participate in the Royal Miniature Society (RMS) exhibition.[ii] The quality and public interest in Rosenthal’s works, alongside a few other Europeans, caused the privy council of the RMS to convene a special session to allow sculptors membership in the RMS.[iii] This was followed in 1926 by a decree from King George V to change the name of the society to the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers.[iv] Representations of the Modern Art Movement, such as surrealism and abstraction, became acceptable in the 1970’s. As of 2009, the miniature art movement typically rejects only two media: photography and digital art. Both exclusions are influenced by the historical impact of photography upon the miniature genre and the intrinsic advantages of production by mechanical means over manual physical dexterity. Digital art has made some brief incursions into the genre but the fear of misuse and the disproportionate advantage of using better equipment persist in excluding it from the genre in the near future.

Acceptable supports for miniature painting and materials for sculpture are generally limited to those suitable for fine, intricate work. The distractive weave of canvas, rough grained wood or pitted stone, lessen the impact of miniature art to the viewer and make the refined qualities usually associated with diminutive production proportionately more difficult. Ivory, as a support, was the first choice of miniature painters for its smooth surface, warm tint conducive to flesh tones when working transparently and its durability. Today’s miniaturists, typically more environmentally conscious, make use of a variety of synthetic substitutes for ivory such as ivorine, polymin, Duralar film, and Lumitex, while also utilizing old standbys of vellum, paper, rag board and gessoed/clay coated masonite panel. Reclaimed ivory is sometimes used, especially in the form of piano keys, but shipping it is difficult to sometimes impossible with international regulations. Few miniaturists today would agree with the following statement from the 1899 article “The Modern Miniature Craze”:

The elephant is not a graceful or artistic beast, and no particular sentimental thoughts at first sight attach to him. But artists to-day [sic] would be at a loss without his tusks, and so much sentiment is lavished upon them in the form of lover’s portraits. H. M. Tindall[v]

Archival qualities are of highest importance to the professionals with both media and support.


[i] Early miniaturists’ use of ‘body’ color differs from most modern opaque watercolors.  Early miniaturists used transparent pigments in a thick application with a minimum of binder to achieve the dense look of their ‘body’ colors compared to the more typical application and incorporation of gouache today with the latter basically having an inert white chalk as an additive to provide opacity. See Wehle, American Miniatures., 32.

[ii] Letter from Alyn Williams to Louis Rosenthal. 16 Feb. 1922 <http://www.lousirosenthalmuseum.org&gt; accessed 2.2010.

[iii] Glassman. “Weaver of Resplendent Fantasies.”, 682.

[iv] Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers. <http://www.royal-miniature-society.org.uk/History.html&gt; accessed 2.2010.

[v] H. M. Tindall. “The Modern Miniature Craze.” The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine Vol. 1. 1898-1899. No. 2., London: Harmsworth, 1899), 200.

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

Chapter 4: The Historical Origins of Miniature Art

Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America book

The Historical Origins of Miniature Art

Antecedents to the miniature genre are sporadically found such as the work of an unknown artist who rendered a “Portrait of a Man” on glass ca. 250 AD and Lala of Cyzicus practicing in 4th century Rome, who specialized in little portraits rendered by etching onto ivory.[i] Early Renaissance master, Cimabue and his more widely known pupil, Giotto, certainly laid the foundations of realism in the miniatura of book illustration that had parallels outside of books in small panel paintings. Surely many forerunners to miniature art have been lost with time but scholars tend to identify certain threads of origin that weaved together to develop into the miniature we know today. A brief look at each of them, and their contribution to the genre, creates a framework for the latter developed parameters.

The Illuminated Manuscript: As noted in the etymological origins, much of the terminology that developed into miniature pertained to book illumination. This art form, and the related terminology, had no explicit reference to size or scale. Limitations were due to the specific size of the physical page and usual styles of the illuminators. In classical Roman times, the miniator applied the minum to the text and had nothing to do with the pictorial image or miniatura.[ii] Pictorial representations were discouraged by the church prior to the 4th century but under Constantine, manuscript illumination assumed a more decorative role known as the Byzantine school.[iii]Even though the Church practically forbade realism in art as a reaction against graven images, the religious motivation provided a strong directional emphasis in illumination in the monastic period towards the elaborate decoration of a page. The aim, however, was decorative versus the illustration of a story.[iv] The foundation of universities ca.1180-1223 gave rise to secular books alongside the religious, and broadened the scope of subject matter depicted in illumination.[v] As early as the 13th century, owing to the reduction in size of manuscript folios, diminutive and refined miniatura became emphasized as illustrative pictures with decorative bordered framing on the page.[vi] By the start of the 14th century, illuminators set themselves to render real portraiture, not idealized or decorative, and they began to include equally refined landscape backgrounds.[vii]

The broadened scope of subjects influenced the miniatores/artists to strive for more individuality, likenesses and realistic modeling of forms which reached a pinnacle in the general art world at the hands of Renaissance artist, Jan van Eyck. He tossed aside all traditions and pursued solely the faithful imitation of life achieving “the illusion of nature by patiently adding detail upon detail till his whole picture became like a mirror of the visible world.”[viii]By the 15th century, miniatura were more pictorial and occupied the place of prominence on the page. Artists pursued the recent innovations of perspective and the study of light and shade which further heightened the move away from stylized decoration to realistic illustration. This pursuit of greater pictorial qualities, not always appropriate for manuscript illumination, provided incentive for the miniatores to take up panel painting. The waning vitality of their profession due to the invention of the printing press solidified the migration of the art from page to panel creating the conversion of miniatores into miniaturists in the sense that we perceive both today.[ix]Painters of this period were also lured away from the miniatores preferred medium of watercolor by the ever increasing popularity of oils.[x] They were accustomed to painting small in size and scale as illuminators and their independent small panels in oils possessed all the refined qualities of their previous work in watercolor. A clear cut line of distinction between their styles and medium was gone with the exception of support: an attached page or an independent panel.[xi] The use of the same techniques regardless of the size, from small panels to large scale works, facilitated the use of size and scale as descriptive distinctions between works which give enhanced meaning to Hilliard’s statement of making “pictures of her body and person in small compass in lymnage only”. In the context of his day, within the milieu of artistic developments, he was emphasizing the uniqueness of his work both in diminutive size/scale as well as technique.[xii] The elements that evolved combined to create miniature paintings, and while one may attribute the name ‘miniature painting’ to earlier miniatura in manuscripts based upon similarities, the two art forms are distinct with their own unmovable elements.[xiii]

One of the greatest of the miniatores during their waning days was Giorgio Giulio Clovio. A contemporary and friend of Michelangelo, he was hailed as both the “Michelangelo in Little” and the “Raphael in Little”.[xiv] His work combined the strength of Michelangelo and the finesse of Raphael.[xv]His limnings were known for their extremely fine, life-like and miraculous minuteness and it was in his hands that the technique of miniatura granita [stippling] found perfection.[xvi] Clovio, in his work, treated the pages of the book as a canvas for fine art, raising it from mere decoration of a page to setting the stage for the full detachment of the miniatura which formed the final evolution in the development of the miniature.[xvii]

Illuminations differed from the detached art, later described as miniature, in several specific ways. First, they were integral to the manuscript; illustrating and telling the story through visual imagery. Later detached miniatures needed no connection to a physical page or storyline. Secondly, illuminations were rendered and associated with decorative techniques that typically employed the use of either gold or silver, as embellishments and reflective elements, and the miniatores illuminating the manuscripts made use of a wide variety of pigments. Miniaturists, on the other hand, were more concerned with viability of their colors exposed to light outside of the protection of a sealed book. Finally, on a practical level, miniaturists had to develop new functional supports and housing for their art which tangibly created obvious differences with their predecessors. While illuminations in books are commonly referred to as miniatures through etymological associations and developments, it should be noted that most detached works of art, known as miniatures, cannot be properly called illuminations in reverse.[xviii] The detached branch followed the turn in style to pursue realistic, recognizable likenesses with their subjects, a trait that would distance and distinguish them as a separate art form for centuries to follow. As cherished mementos, miniatures assumed an intimate bond with their owners unknown to conventional arts best communicated with the quote: “Many a miniature have been kissed by dying lips.”[xix] Today’s miniature art movement encompasses an amalgamation of both branches of the miniature traditions: the realistic centered in the West, and the more stylized decorative approach which call to mind the illuminations of the manuscripts, dominating in the East. Today, with the emphasis on fine art in miniature, all styles are included although realism remains dominant.

It is also interesting to note that the scholarly consensus on the link with minium, or the red lead, typical of the rubrication involved in manuscript illumination, is glaringly absent from subsequent detached miniatures. The usage of minium as a defining attribute did not transfer to the separate miniature which may have been due to the fugitive nature of the red lead.[xx] Exposed to light minium turned dark, but while sealed inside the pages of the book it could remain vibrant for some time.* The development of the mechanical printing press in the 1400’s began to gradually replace all need for illuminators, and the eventual demise of the hand embellished manuscript spurred the birth of the novel detached miniature.[xxi]

Detached Limnings and Panel Paintings: Limnings were synonymous with pictorial miniatura in manuscripts but even before the decline of the written page, artists began to make their art available apart from the illuminated text. This was probably due to opportunities in the market of religious icons afforded by the rise in power of Catholic appreciation for the arts. The limners would find opportunities primarily in the demand for intimate personal mementoes and secondly in the requests for copies of conventional-sized work done ‘in little’. While detached portrait miniatura are noted by Vasari as having been done by Clovio, attribution of their introduction apart from the pages of a book into a unique art form usually resides with Jean Clouet on the basis of his extant works ca.1520.[xxii] Clouet’s seven circular paintings of war heroes within the Commentaries on the Gallic War around 1514-19 are considered by many to be the prototype of the miniature portrait.[xxiii]

Small wood panel paintings, usually oil, offered limners a market outside of book production. The implementation of watercolor and gouache in imitative panel painting formats further increased this opportunity with their faster drying times. The artists could achieve the level of desired detail quicker and their output of work grew exponentially.

The Portrait Medallion and Coins: The reintroduction of the medallion in the Renaissance at the hands of Pisanello in 1438 laid an integral foundation for miniatures.[xxiv] Representing royalty and governing officials, they set a clear precedent for portrait miniatures both in form and function. Once the genre moved from the realm of royalty to the domain of the gentry, this influence waned. Miniatores often painted small circular portraits of their patrons in the altar step, predella, which resembled medallions.[xxv] Clouet combined the detached limning and medallion to create the unique art form we know today as miniature portrait painting.[xxvi]

Miniatures adopted their circular form from medallions and they may potentially have been influenced by the prestige associated with round paintings/tondi during the period of the Renaissance. The oval format, popularized by Hilliard, probably resulted from Renaissance Mannerist influences.[xxvii]

Plea Rolls and Coats of Arms: Coombs demonstrates that although the advent of the printing press influenced the detached limning, limners continued to work in the realm of book illumination for wealthy patrons. The King’s Plea Rolls included artist’s portraits of the monarch in the opening letter ‘P’ and some limners continued in the services of the College of Arms.[xxviii]

Socio-religious Influences: While the influence of the Reformation has never been adequately explored in the subject of miniature art, the proximity of timing indicates more than mere coincidence. The Reformation influenced the style of artists and particularly broadened their scope and focus of subject matter, providing the impetus to pursue non-religious, and less controversial, compositional subjects. This shift was especially pivotal among artists who came to specialize in secular portraiture and still life.

Hans Holbein’s relationship with Martin Luther and Erasmus directly entwined his art with the Reformation and the subsequent establishment of the Church of England under Henry VIII in 1529 solidified artistic freedom on the English Continent. The unfettered ability to pursue their inspiration, and fulfill patron taste and demand, shaped the course of artists’ works in creating new motifs independent of religious themes; the culmination of which became natural, realistic, secular portraiture. The miniatores of prior times shifted their efforts into the burgeoning portrait market and specifically the niche of portraits ‘in little’.


*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.

– “Minium is liable to discoloration in the presence of air pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide. … it may darken when exposed to humidity and light.” [http://www.naturalpigments.com/detail.asp?PRODUCT_ID=457-10S accessed 1.2012]

– “Samples from Van Gogh’s paintings have been found to contain the lead-based mineral plumbonacrite that reacts with carbon dioxide in the air. They say this mineral is the missing link that may explain why the red lead paint, known as minimum, is turning white.” [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2989654/Is-Van-Gogh-s-Sunflowers-risk-fading-away-Red-paint-artist-s-masterpieces-turning-white-reaction-air.html accessed 3.2015]


[i] Bardo. English and Continental Portrait Miniatures: The Latter-Schlesinger Collection, 14; John William Bradley. Illuminated Manuscripts. (Chicago: McClurg, 1909), 3; The Gentleman’s and London Magazine Vol. LV. (Dublin, Exshaw, 1785), 200.

[ii] Bradley. Illuminated Manuscripts., 4-5.

[iii] Knight. Arts and Sciences: or Fourth Division of “The English Cyclopedia” Vol. V., 666-668; Dudley Heath. Miniatures. (London: Methuen, 1905), 6.

[iv] Ibid., 19.

[v] Ibid., 20 

[vi] Propert. The History of Miniature Art., 24-25.

[vii] Foster. Chats on Old Miniatures., 49.

[viii] Heath. Miniatures., 29; E. H. Gombrich. The Story of Art. (Mark Harden’s Artchive, n.d.), <http://artchive/V/van_eyck/ghentopn_text.jpg.html&gt; accessed 6.2009.

[ix] Heath. Miniatures., 35-37.

[x] Ibid., 45.

[xi] Ibid., 80.

[xii] Ibid., 101.

[xiii] Bradley. Illuminated Manuscripts., 3.

[xiv] John William Bradley. The Life and Works of Giorgio Giulio Clovio, Miniaturist, with Notices of His Contemporaries and of the Art of Book Decoration in the 16th Century. (London: Quaritch, 1891), 40 and 125; Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects Vol. V. (London: Bohn, 1852), 449.

[xv] Heath. Miniatures., 48.

[xvi] Bradley. The Life and Works of Giorgio Giulio Clovio, Miniaturist, with Notices of His Contemporaries and of the Art of Book Decoration in the 16th Century, 94-95; Miniatures. Heath, 52.

[xvii] Julia de Wolf Gibbs Addison. The Art of the Pitti Palace. Boston: St. Boltolph Soc., 1912., 302.

[xviii] Paul A. Winckler. Reader in the History of Books and Printing. (Englewood, CO: Information Handling Services, 1978), 149; Bardo. English & Continental Portrait Miniatures: The Latter-Schlesinger Collection., 31.

[xix] Gullick. Painting Popularly Explained 2nd. Ed., 112

[xx] “Artists Pigments.” (Old and Sold, n.d.) (Originally published 1913.) <http://www.oldandsold.com/articles20/painting-methods-12.shtml&gt; accessed 2009.

[xxi] Dudley Heath. “Some Ancestors of Alphonso XIII and Other Miniatures in Oil in the Collection of His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch at Montagu House.” The Connoisseur Vol. 18. (London: Otto, 1907), 3.

[xxii] Propert. The History of Miniature Art., 41; Graham Reynolds. European Miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (New York, MET, 1996), 11 and 68.

[xxiii] Wehle. American Miniatures. 8; See also: L. Dimier. “French Painting in the Sixteenth Century.” Trans. Harold Child. (London: Duckworth, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904)

<http://www.archive.org/stream/cu31924015178860/cu31924015178860_djvu.txt&gt; accessed 2.2010.

[xxiv] “Byzantium and the Origins of the Renaissance Medal.” Craig Barclay. (New-byzantium.org, n.d.) <http://www.new-byzantium.org/Pisano.html&gt; accessed 2.2010.

[xxv] W. G. Bowdoin. “Miniature Painting.” The Outlook. (1901), 776.

[xxvi] Graham Reynolds. Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Miniatures. (London, 1980), 7; Reynolds. European Miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art., 67; “Philadelphia Exhibit of Miniatures.” The New York Times 10 Nov. 1907.

[xxvii] Bardo. English & Continental Portrait Miniatures: The Latter-Schlesinger Collection., 15-16.

[xxviii] Coombs. “European Visions: American Voices, A Kind of Gentle Painting.”, 83.

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

Chapter 9: Debates Among Miniaturists

Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America book

Debates Among Miniaturists

There was a period when the painting of these small portraits was considered the height of an artist’s ambition …[i]

From the outset of any type of competitive influence, miniaturists surely must have debated and defended their view of what constitutes a proper miniature. Semantic exchanges are recorded between Cosway, Robertson and their peers as they struggled to maintain their genre’s unique identity and remain relevant to their contemporary market in the 19th century.[ii]

Positions on definition, and the emotional fervor attached to these thoughts, solidified during the revival period and the development of miniature art societies. The advent of organized groups of miniaturists created the need for consensus of definition, the establishment of guidelines for exhibitions, and the concise wording of bylaws. From the onset, these organized societies struggled to set their genre apart as unparalleled among art forms, and specifically different from other object d’art, that laid claim to the title of miniature. The ASMP faced the question “when is a miniature not a miniature?” in their attempts to distinguish miniature from works simply on small scale. The leading conundrum of the day posed “[why] for the sake of coherency and harmony in our current miniature exhibitions, there could not be a clearer understanding … of the definition of the term ‘miniature’.”[iii]References to traditional, classical and true miniatures proliferate in society communications over the past century, highlighting the added emphasis by miniaturists to distinguish their works. The desire by these miniaturists to have their work regarded by the public and academia as a continuation of the historic genre both on the timeline and in terms of quality dictated their purpose as stated by miniaturist, Jane Blake:

What is the purpose of our miniature art societies? Is our purpose to exhibit and sell works of art in a specified few inches, or is it to educate the public and perpetuate this art form of antiquity?[iv]

She echoed sentiments written in 1900 contrasting miniatures with scaled down easel painting, which pointed out in miniature art there is the added dimension of altering and removing elements of the composition, to satisfy the demands of the miniature’s restricted format and dimensions.[v]Those debating her exposed the over-reliance on one specific technique reflective of a narrow time frame at the expense of innovation and individual characteristic style, but they also tended to sidestep the issue with oversimplification and lack of foresight. As mentioned in the preface, everyone recognizes that at some point not everything fits into the miniature box. An emphasis on fine art in miniature does not mean that all work recognized as fine art is necessarily identified as miniature. Sue Burton, author and co-founder of the Hilliard Society of Miniaturists (HS), bemoaned the impossibility of summation in rules of the emotive aspects of miniature art.[vi] American and Australian miniature art societies pursue a greater variety of style and technique than their European counterparts who tend to promote a more narrow focus on 16th century miniaturists’ techniques. The limit is natural given that the English perfected the art on ivory and have maintained an unbroken succession of miniaturists for the past 500 years on a variety of surfaces.

The increase in small works exhibitions, particularly in the United States in the late 20th century, with many calling themselves miniature shows, created a worldwide reaction among miniaturists struggling to remain distinct from their competitors while at the same time avoiding the pitfall of being completely dictated by tradition. Blake, in America, perceived the value of those miniaturists that had preceded her; forging policies and standards under the auspices of formal miniature societies and limiting the scope and performance of miniaturists. She was certainly correct in the prophetic pronouncement that the word miniature could denigrate to mean merely small. The miniaturist, Robert J. Humphries, had previously written in inter-society communication that in the absence of clear direction from the miniature movement, the definition of miniature, and its essence, was left to the whims of the public, the critics and the shows. He was among the leading proponents for a national organization in America to foster unity among American societies and demonstrate their concern and purpose for the miniature genre to the art world. This began as a ‘Correlation of Standards’ seminar in 1983 that ultimately birthed the Miniature Artists of America (MAA), in 1985. This Society, founded with a goal to honor outstanding miniaturists exhibiting in America, itself indirectly influenced the scope of miniaturism in America, through their policy of electing new members via a Candidate’s Circle, reflective of the award winning artists in the constituent societies. By limiting candidates to those exhibiting in approved shows or nominees from recommendations of three MAA Signature Members, they tacitly approached the standardization of parameters in miniature. This acquiescing was made easy by the five constituent societies of the MAA being in agreement with their individual definitions of miniature. When three societies eventually collapsed and a fourth altered their delineation of miniature in 2005, the old silent understanding was manifestly in need of solid clarification and this effort was undertaken in 2009 during changes to the MAA’s bylaws. The MAA officially adopted the AMA standard definition for miniature at their 2010 annual meeting with overwhelming support from the membership’s returned ballots.

The constant need of some to create a clear definition for miniature had resurfaced repeatedly, but apparently failed each time, specifically because the ability to broadly debate this topic among all represented miniaturists was discouraged by slow forms of communication and the physical distances separating them. Society newsletters provided some initial inroads into better communication but the lag time in posting responses and limited available space on the printed pages diminished these attempts. It was not until the application of the internet, with instant email communication, easily available research and specifically online forums that any progress was made in establishing a consensus of thought. Further impulse was forced upon the miniaturists of this digital age by the increase in competitive art forms asserting to be miniatures with some even going so far as to adopt the same claim to heritage. The need to clarify the established position became both a means to facilitate new participation and to prevent adverse changes to acknowledged traditional parameters. An agreement establishing the first ever standard definition occurred in July of 2007 with the founding of the Association of Miniature Artists. This grass roots movement, by constituents of the societies and online forums, conceived a plan to arrive at an established definition from the inside out. Individual miniaturists voluntarily chose to acknowledge the AMA standard as their own, hence establishing the specific definition across all societies and continents. The founding members of the AMA recognized the validity of works not conforming to their standard, but, in carefully wording their tenets to reflect the unique aspects of miniature art as espoused by their contemporary societies; their efforts took root and continue to grow.[vii]

While individual rules and guidelines provide the bulk of debate material among miniaturists, the revival movement, developing alongside the Modern Art movement, has also struggled with the arguments insisting upon no rules, guidelines or stipulations restricting artists in their creative endeavors. Balancing between relevance to the modern age and respect to established traditions has been a give and take among miniaturists for the past century. Despite the fluctuations in the evolutionary sea of fine art, miniature has kept an anchor in essential attributes of character. The leading exponents of the genre insist that freedom is possible within the established restraints. These thoughts were eloquently stated in 1905 as “within the cramping limits of a miniature” the best qualities of fine art on any scale can be seen and that a miniature, despite diminutive size, is a “tour de force” in which the best artists have “triumphed over them without violating what is essential to their character.”[viii] A New York Times critic had years before noted that great opportunities awaited miniaturists who were experts in adapting themselves to the genre’s necessary limitations.[ix] Artists not wishing to confine themselves to the restraints imposed by exhibitions and miniature art societies have the privilege of declining submission or pursuing other exhibit avenues. As Charles de Kay, a writer reviewing early efforts in 1901 by miniaturists to form societies and a standard for their art, stated: “What seems unfair and short-sighted is the noisy protest some artists make against those who are trying to improve the condition of their own branch of art along these cumbersome and imperfect lines. The burden of proof lies with the recalcitrants. Have they any better way to suggest, how the desired end shall be attained? If not, let them hold their peace and at least adopt a kindly attitude towards those who undergo the heat and burden of the battle.”[x] Satisfaction rewards those who work in harmony with the traditions and guidelines knowing they have assisted in the preservation and posterity of the miniature genre.

Contemporary artists are far more independent than their predecessors, with opportunities to achieve success not dependent upon restrictions imposed by formal societies or guilds. Those who opt to place their work and profession under the scrutiny of their peers are seeking aspirations of qualification, assistance in business and friendly interaction with like-minded artists. While “artists are the first to recognize the limited value of so-called authoritative opinions” … they eagerly welcome them when they are in line with their own thoughts and goals.[xi]The modern miniature movement walks a fine line encouraging diversity and novelty without being overly limiting with rules and guidelines. The latter some see as necessary evils and fear the exclusion of valid, quality work due to a rigid adherence to policy. Most prefer to seek a balance via allowing individual societies/shows leeway while acknowledging that an agreed upon core is essential to facilitating public understanding and new artists’ submissions.

The issue of reproducing miniature paintings has also been contested among miniaturists. The debate as to whether or not to mechanically mass produce reproductions of one’s work plays a more pivotal role in the miniature genre than in conventional art. Proponents pursue offering offset-lithographs, laser prints and giclees as a marketing angle to appeal to a broader public base. Opponents see the inexpensive offerings as detrimental to the uniqueness of miniatures while those familiar with the historical effects of photography warning of the danger in similarities.[xii]— In establishing value based upon rarity, or cost due to demand, clearly the benefits of avoiding mechanical reproductions outweigh any potential income from their sale. The complexity of the issue is compounded in our modern age where hand embellishment of reproductions is commonplace and sometimes falsely advertised as original art. The argument that proliferation of image copies enhances the value of the original is not easily swallowed by collectors who recognize that one-of-a-kind rarity is the ideal. Confusion also exists over the term “print” when applied to mechanical reproductions, versus hand-pulled media editions more properly known by that name (woodblock, linoleum, aqua tint, etching, etc.) which are considered legitimate original work in art exhibitions.

Debates increasingly play pivotal roles in clarifying the thoughts of miniaturists and formulating organized guidelines in miniature exhibitions and societies. The benefit of worldwide mass communication in the digital age has given the movement unparalleled ability to exchange thoughts and information to develop cooperation for the betterment of all.

The very marked attention which the miniatures in the Royal Academy attracted this year is one of the many things which show how great a revival there has been in the taste for miniatures–a revival which is one of the most significant features in the history of modern art. H. M. Tindall[xiii]

I am so glad that the beautiful art of legitimate miniature painting has come to the fore again to the exclusion of the so-called miniatures on photographic basis. King Edward VII[xiv]


[i] “Mr. Marie’s Miniatures.” The Sun [New York, NY] 4 Nov. 1894, 7.

[ii] Murdoch et al. The English Miniature., 196-199.

[iii] Searle. “The Twelfth Annual Exhibition of the American Society of Miniature Painters.” The International Studio Vol. XLIII., xxi-xxii.

[iv] Georgia Miniature Art Society. Thumbnails, July 1990.

[v] “The American Society of Miniature Painters.” Public Opinion Vol. XXVIII. (New York, 1900), 246.

[vi] Hilliard Society of Miniaturists. Newsletter, Aug. 1996. 

[vii] The Association of Miniature Artists. <http://www.miniatureartist.com/&gt; accessed 7/2009.

[viii] Royal Cortissoz. “Significant Art Books.” The Atlantic Monthly Vol. XCV. (Cambridge: Riverside, 1905), 275-276.

[ix] “Miniature Painters’ Society.” The New York Times. (3 Feb. 1901).

[x] Kay. “The Miniator’s Art.”, 338.

[xi] Heath. Miniatures., vi, 225.

[xii] Photographic developments in the mid 1800’s that negatively influenced miniature painting by offering quick and inexpensive representations included the collodion glass negative, albumen print, tintype, ambrotype, and ferrotype. These inventions allowed for multiple copies from a single negative. André Adolphe Disderi’s “Carte de Visite” introduced the mass production of photographic images on paper. See: <http://www.collodion-artist.com/History/&gt; and <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9-Adolphe-Eug%C3%A8ne_Disd%C3%A9ri&gt; accessed 2010.

[xiii] Tindall. “The Modern Miniature Craze.”, 197.

[xiv] “Faces on Ivory of Famous Men His Life’s Work.” The Washington Herald. (Feb. 20, 1910).

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

Chapter 3: Considering Miniature as a Noun

Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America book

Considering Miniature as a Noun

Are all objects rendered in techniques characteristic of miniature to be considered a miniature? As an objective noun, miniature refers to a tangible work of art that possesses certain qualities that define it as a unique art object. The most obvious of these qualities would be techniques of rendering inherent to all miniatures to a degree of being recognized as working ‘in miniature’. In an application of this ‘in miniature’ technique at what point is a work of art transformed into a miniature object? The debate as to what constitutes the definition of miniature also influences other art forms by way of comparison and contrast. Distinctive qualities of character build uniqueness, so the arguments as to which of these qualities define miniature are more than philosophical semantics.

In the historical periods of origin, miniature was perceived as a genre differing from all other diverse forms of art. The heritage of the modern miniature movement can be pinpointed to the mid-sixteenth century in Europe with the first great master specializing in miniatures acknowledged to be the Englishman, Nicholas Hilliard. In his words “Limning is a thing apart….”[i] While Hilliard’s oft quoted phrase may be misconstrued today, there is little doubt that we align our beliefs with the 1627 treatise by Edward Norgate emphasizing the exclusivity based upon techniques typical of miniatures.[ii] Historians, and practicing artists from each age, also reinforce the belief that miniature painting differs from other art with respect to all three primary components of established miniature painting. Miniatures stand apart as a combination of technique, size and scale used as descriptive adjectives. These, when combined, always define miniature. Remove one of these attributes and the uniqueness and absolute definition are questioned. To miniaturists striving to pursue historical affiliation and maintain contemporary distinction, a clear cut definition becomes a means of both legitimacy and self-preservation. The miniaturist of the 21st century faces competition for identity from a diverse onslaught of art forms. Any work on a greatly reduced scale is typically referred to as miniature. Any work of greatly reduced size is usually called miniature. Finally, there is an espoused belief by a very few, that any work, potentially as large as a wall, rendered ‘in miniature’, or characteristic of miniaturists’ techniques, has the right to be called a miniature.[iii]—

By themselves, size, scale and technique all come short of adequately defining miniature as a timeless object. Individually they may sometimes adequately represent specific periods of the genre but without the additional qualifications, they find themselves lacking and even misleading at points over the timeline. All three attributes in combination have consistently been inherent to the genre with varying degrees and each act as a balancing measure with respect to the others to keep the perception of the genre unique.

Miniature art has always existed alongside art that possessed similar qualities of size, scale and technique to some degree yet the genre has always been perceived by the practicing artists, the public, and the academia of their times as different. While this individuality may be attributed to function, such qualities are lost in the milieu of the modern art world. Lacking a specifically written and accepted definition constrains an individual grasping for a solid, clear perception of what defines the class of miniatures to use a combination of size, scale, and technique. These elusive parameters are fluid but only within measure.  Shrink down the size to microscopic proportions and a work represents nothing more than incredible feats of craftsmanship and physical dexterity. Increase the size format larger than hand-held, or the scale to life-size or greater, and the work is outside accepted public perceptions, established definitions, and clear affiliations with the categorized oeuvre of miniaturists.[iv] Obtrusively apply paint in a method which distracts a viewer from overall appreciation and marvel, and you lose the refined qualities that distinguish the miniature among fine art. Artists may push these boundaries and even assert legitimacy with the genre but they risk crossing the line of perception to find themselves outside the walls of acceptance.

Participants require that a fine art miniature be measurable, provide scholarly solid ground for understanding, and be capable of codification in writing without becoming overwhelmingly divisive. Such an objective statement of definition for miniature was successfully established in 2007 with the formation of the Association of Miniature Artists (AMA). The AMA guidelines admit variety within the world of miniature, but for consensus among members, and uniformity in exhibitions, specify the following tenets to define miniature:

· Minute in scale vs. life sized. For practicality following the general 1/6th scale for work sent to formal miniature exhibitions and shows.

· Delicate and painstaking technique that withstands magnification.

· Small in format and size: 25 inches or less for surface area. Sculpture should fit inside an 8 x 8 x 8 inch cube including the base.

· High in quality. The work should exemplify fine art – demonstrating a mastery of composition, color, values etc.[v]


[i] Strickler.  American Portrait Miniatures: The Worcester Art Museum Collection., 13; Murrell. The Way How to Lymne., 3.

[ii] Coombs. “European Visions: American Voices, A Kind of Gentle Painting.”, 82.

[iii] Some scholars, narrowly focusing on specific technique to solely define miniature, set no limit on size.  Joan Willies echoed Roy Strong’s assertion that miniatures could potentially be as large as a wall although she acknowledged the loss of its preciousness. (Miniature Painting. Willies, New York: Watson, 1995, 13) Her publication, The Artists Workbook on Miniature Painting set a 5×7 inch limit on miniatures. (Willies, 56) Jim Murrell, isolating mainstream miniature painting as minuteness and specialized watercolor techniques discusses miniature paintings up to three feet in length. (Bardo. English & Continental Portrait Miniatures: The Latter-Schlesinger Collection., 29).  

[iv] Cyril Davenport. Miniatures Ancient and Modern. (Chicago: McClurg, 1908), 2-3; W. M. Rosetti. “The Exhibition of Miniatures at South Kensington.” The Intellectual Observer Vol. VIII. (London: Groombridge, 1866), 92; Charles Knight. Arts & Sciences: or Fourth Division of “The English Cyclopedia” Vol. V. (London: Bradbury, 1867), 667; The Encyclopedia Americana. 171; Julie Aaronson and Marjorie E. Wieseman et al. Perfect Likeness. (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2006), 29.

[v] <http://www.miniatureartist.com/&gt; accessed 7.2009.

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

Chapter 2: In Little Versus In Large

Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America book

In Little Versus In Large

In the context of time associated with the term miniature, to limn specifically meant to illustrate manuscripts or to produce detached artwork using these same illustrative techniques. Limning was perceived as a unique art both in reference to techniques of illumination as well as a stand-alone art form. The phrase ‘to paint in little’ was synonymous with this latter detached art and referred to the use of specific techniques as well as a reduction in scale. The ca. 1675 play, Country Wit by John Crown has the following lines:

Merry: Cannot you limne, Sir?

Ramble: Limne! What dost thou mean?

Merry: Why, Limne, Sir, draw pictures in little.[i]

The term miniature also was equated with ‘in little’:

… but rather to draw her in miniature, to take her in little; to look upon her through the wrong end of a perspective [telescope], and receive her images not only much less, but infinitely more imperfect than the life.[ii]

Apparently, the term limnitures was also used to describe the detached form.[iii] By the time miniature was first used in association with detached limnings, its meaning encompassed technique, scale, and to some degree of perception aligned with ‘in little’, size. It is often highlighted that miniature’s association with size results from a pseudo-etymological association with the Latin minor or mini pertaining to a small size.[iv] Written evidence for such misunderstanding is lacking but debating this association today is pointless when one considers that the link pertained enough to the origins of the term miniature to be a fitting and lasting adjective. Miniature art historian, Katherine Coombs, aptly points out that from the time the word miniature was first heard in England it carried connotations associated with size and she suggests the blending of terms by Sir Philip Sidney as a possible source of the confusion of miniature as the opposite of ‘in large’, which is our common sense today.[v] Henry Peacham, author of an early 17th century treatise on limning, hailed Hilliard and Oliver as “inferior to none in Christendom for the countenance in small” and he provides instructions for preparing to work on a “picture in small”.[vi] Hilliard, in his treatise concerning limning, contrasts the use of shadows in conventional sized art with “small pictures which are to be viewed in the hand”, where harshness is out of place, which he employs to be synonymous with limning.[vii] Scholars commonly use the phrases ‘in little’ contrasted with ‘in large’ to illustrate differences in technique due to size.[viii] Modern societies, from their inceptions, have used the phrase ‘in little’ to delineate their purpose and exhibitions from those of conventional scale. These societies have additionally stressed the importance of works ‘in little’ being recognized as complete works of fine art counter to nothing more than small and unusual articles. The Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers (RMS), with longstanding affiliations to prestigious academies and societies have long fondly referred to their organization as the ‘Academy in Little’ to stress both the fine art of their genre and its diminutive size and scale against the academies of conventional art. In America the two largest miniature art societies, the Miniature Art Society of Florida (MASF), and Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers of Washington, DC (MPSGS), continue to pursue this tradition stressing their exhibitions as “fine art on a small scale” or as wondrous “gems of the art world”.[ix] The resurgence of interest in miniature art that began in 1970 with the formation of the Miniature Art Society of New Jersey (MASNJ) is often referred to as the second wave of the revival period but the age of Fine Art Miniatures is clearly the title active participants seek to best describe their efforts.


[i] George Charles Williamson. The Miniature Collector: A Guide for the Amateur Collector of Portrait Miniatures. (New York: Dodd, 1921), 4.

[ii] Edward Arber and Thomas Seccombe. An English Garner Critical Essays & Literary Fragments. (Westminster: Constable, 1903), 69; Dryden an Essay of Dramatic Poesy. Ed. Thomas Arnold. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1889), 44.

[iii] “Manuscripts both Illuminated and Historical.” A Catalogue of Rare and Valuable Books. No. 151. (London: Quaritch, 1895), 1; Jim Murrell. The Way How to Lymne. (London: VAM, 1983), 79.

[iv] Talbot. English Etymologies., 455.

[v] Coombs. “From Limning to Miniature: The Etymology of the Portrait Miniature.”

[vi] Richard Redgrave and Samuel Redgrave. A Century of Painters of the English School Vol. I. (London: Smith, 1866), 25.

[vii] Horace Hart. The First Annual Volume of the Walpole Society. 1912. (Archive.org.  n.d.), n. pag. Web. 2009

[viii] William Dunlap. A History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States Vol. 3. (Boston: Goodspeed, 1918), 225.

[ix] Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers. Exhibition Catalogue. (London: RMS, 1927), 10-11; Miniature Art Society of Florida. Exhibition Catalogue. (Clearwater, FL: MASF, 2009), 1; Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers Society of Washington, DC. Exhibition Catalogue. (MPSGS, 2008), n. pag.

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

Chapter 1: Developmental Etymology

Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America book

Developmental Etymology

The introduction of the term miniature must be placed contextually in time with comparisons to synonyms and other potential nomenclature to establish why this particular term managed to survive the struggle of evolutionary development to remain a viable description. Research is compounded by the fact that the initial usage of these terms predates the development of dictionaries by decades.[i]— The percentage to which the term miniature reflects its historical origins will be made clear as the reader follows the progression of the applied meanings of the word. A variety of terms are associated with miniature but ultimately scholars have focused on minium as the primary origin. It is imperative to note that this focus is on the development of miniature as a term more than a description or perceived meaning of the actual physical object. Among other terms of relative importance to the contribution to the meaning are:

· Limn, Limne, Limning (English ca. 1200s): Derived from limnen/luminen, to illuminate, and means to represent by painting or drawing both within manuscripts and as separate works of art.[ii] These terms became associated with reduced scale and small size through equation with ‘in little’ and the restrictive functions of limnings. While some would restrict meaning to only specific techniques in watercolor, sufficient scholars and the oeuvre of work demonstrate that the more general sense of ‘in little’ is more accurate with a range of media and surfaces over time.[iii] To limn, by the 16th century, referred to special ways of working separate and distinct from conventional art.[iv] This final evolved form is synonymous with miniature art today.[v]

· Lytel, Littell, Little (English ca. 900s): Used in reference with limning to mean small in the sense of reduced scale and transferred the meaning of small size through common understanding. Littell is often isolated by scholars to distinguish small oil paintings versus watercolor miniatures but this seems a stretch for convenience. Such limited use applies only to a fraction of the timeline. The writings of Geoffrey Chaucer use the term in the modern sense of small as early as the 1300s and Nicholas Hilliard uses the terms little, lytel and small repeatedly with the same sense in his 1598 treatise on limning. A 1636 English document gave instructions that contrasted a picture in little with one ‘at length’ andSamuel Pepys, author of a 17th century diary clearly uses the term as equal in our present sense of a miniature by the year 1668.[vi] Curiously, hardly any attention is paid to the etymology of the oft used phrase ‘in little’ to describe artworks both as an adjective and a noun. The phrase is recognized as being synonymous with limning and later miniature. The Old English term lytel used in the genre’s context was equated with small, or diminutive in size and scale, with roots in manuscript illumination and small separate paintings.

· Minio (Latin): The color red.

· Minium (Latin): Red lead pigment.

· Miniare, Miniate (Latin) Miniato (Italian): To color red. Miniáre (French): Means to paint in miniature, describe minutely.

· Miniatura (Latin): This word is the combination of ura ‘to render with’ and minium. Initial meaning was limited to rendering with minium but gradually became associated with the decoration and then specifically, with the pictorial imagery. Interestingly, the Italian plural of miniatura is miniature. In Florio’s 1598 Italian/English dictionary miniatura is defined as a limning and by 1627 the relationship was solidified in Edward Norgate’s treatise: Miniatura or the Arte of Limning.[vii]

· Miniator, Illuminatore/Miniatore, Miniatori (Italian): Initially one who simply miniated the manuscript but later restricted to those who created the pictorial miniatura. Their counterparts were the miniatori caligrafi who wrote by hand the text of the books and additionally drew the initial large letters often embellished with minium or gold. Manuscripts still lacking the illustrative artwork emphasize that early on being a miniatore was perceived as being part of a specialized branch of the arts. Occasionally an individual could be skilled at both aspects of the art of manuscript production.[viii]

· Inlūmināre (Latin): To embellish. Literally to light up.

· Lūmināre (Latin) Miniare (Italian) Limnen, Luminen (English ca. 1300s) Enlumine, Enluminer, Luminer (French): To illuminate, adorn. By the 13th century limning assumed the meaning in England for these terms and became the preferred descriptive term for the decorative art of illumination.[ix]

· Minor, Mini, Minus (Latin ca. 1200s): Denotes small in size or nature. These terms are often blamed for the etymological confusion that associated the term miniature with small size. This misunderstanding is presumed to have been auditory in nature since written evidence is glaringly absent.[x] Scholar Leo Schidlof considered minus a more sensible origin for miniature due to the lack, or subordination, of minium in many manuscripts and the principle nature of miniatures as small dimensioned representations of smaller than nature subjects.[xi]

Miniature (Italian ca. 1200s): The term is used in reference to the writing and illustration of manuscripts. Initially it was synonymous to some degree with other terms used to denote either the art of illumination or the manuscripts themselves.[xii] Miniature (English ca. late 1500s): By 1616, this term had cemented its associations with small proportions and littleness although limning and in little were still the preferred descriptive terms associated with the specific art.[xiii] Mignature (French): A small scale painting of particular refinement with the term coming from mignard and mignon meaning delicate, small scale. The influence of minion, derived from mignon but meaning a favorite or darling, may have also influenced the meaning of mignature/miniature due to the affections and high estimation placed upon these sentimental little paintings. Mignature was defined as a sort of painting in small ca. 1688.[xiv] By 1694, mignature was considered a type of painting done with petit points [small marks as in pointillage]. Interestingly, by this time the English miniature is regularly used in the French text: “travailler in miniature” [work in miniature] and “peindre in miniature” [to paint in miniature] with this latter phrase being noted/contrasted with working “en huile [oil], en detrempe [gouache], en grand [large ]”.[xv] Miniature is also used in lieu of mignature in the 1681 Histoire Naturelle et Morale des Iles Antilles de l’Amerique.[xvi] By 1715 miniature/mignature was primarily associated with a particular technique of painting in watercolors.[xvii] Despite assertions that etymological errors are based upon confusions with the Latin mini, minor and minus, it is more probable the notion of littleness came from the French mignature/mignon as well as the English, lytel/little.[xviii]


[i] Some of the earliest dictionaries were:

– 1538: Sir Thomas Elyot’s Latin/English “Wordbook”

– 1598: Florio’s Italian/English “A Worlde of Wordes”

– 1604: Robert Cawdrey’s “A Table Alphabeticall Of Hard Usual English Words”

– 1611: Randle  Cotgrave’s French/English “A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues”

[ii] Coombs. “From Limning to Miniature: The Etymology of the Portrait Miniature.”

[iii] Susan E. Strickler and Marianne E. Gibson. American Portrait Miniatures: The Worcester Art Museum Collection. (Worcester: WAM, 1989), 13; Dale T. Johnson and Carol Aiken. American Portrait Miniatures in the Manney Collection. (New York: MET, 1990), 14; Daphne Foskett. Miniatures: Dictionary and Guide. (Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1987), 17; John Malam. The Shakespeare Marriage Picture. (London: Simpkin, 1873), 17.

[iv] Katherine Coombs. “European Visions: American Voices, A Kind of Gentle Painting.”, 81.

[v] Coombs. “From Limning to Miniature: The Etymology of the Portrait Miniature.”

[vi] Erica E. Hirshler. “Copley in Miniature”, John Singleton Copley in America. (New York: MET, 1995), 119; “Diary of Samuel Pepys. Monday, Feb, 24 1662.” (Pepysdiary.com n.d.) n. pag. Web. <http://www.pepysdiary.com/archive/1662/02/24/&gt; access 2009.

[vii] Florio’s 1598 Italian/English Dictionary: A World of Words. Ed. Greg Lindahl. n.p.: n.d. <http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/florio1598/&gt; accessed 2.2010; Coombs. “European Visions: American Voices, A Kind of Gentle Painting.”, 78.

[viii] Thomas John Gullick. Painting Popularly Explained 2nd. Ed. (London: Lockwood, 1864), 101-102; See Original treatises by Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, 1849.

[ix] Coombs. “From Limning to Miniature: The Etymology of the Portrait Miniature.”

[x] William Henry Fox Talbot. English Etymologies. (London: Murray, 1847), 455.

[xi] Bardo. English & Continental Portrait Miniatures: The Latter-Schlesinger Collection., 13. (quoting from The Miniature in Europe. Leo Schidlof, 1964, I, 1.)

[xii] Coombs. “From Limning to Miniature: The Etymology of the Portrait Miniature.”

[xiii] John Bullokar. An English Expositor (1616) 12th Ed. (London, 1719), n. pag. (miniature)

[xiv] Oxford Journals. Notes and Queries Third Series. Vol. VII. William Bates. (London: Office, 1865), 477.

[xv] Académie Française. The Dictionnaire de l’Académie Françoise, Dédié au Roy Tome Second M-Z. Paris, 1694., 72, 208, 268, 592.

[xvi] César de Rochefort. Histoire Naturelle et Morale des Iles Antilles de l’Amerique. (Rotterdam: Reinier Leers, 1681), 400.

[xvii] Abel Boyer. The Royal Dictionary Abridged, in Two Parts. (London, 1715), n. pag. (miniature)

[xviii] John William Bradley. Historical Introduction to the Collection of Illuminated Letters and Borders in the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum. (London: Eyre, 1901), 9; Talbot. English Etymologies., 455.

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