May 12, 2023
By Chelsea Reed
Miniature art is so much more than a tiny picture in a frame. These dainty art pieces have just as much quality and detail as other original art, but they are made on a significantly smaller scale. New information about miniature art history is uncovered every day! Let’s step back in time and explore the grand journey of this little art genre.
Did you know that miniature art is much older than we previously thought? Archeologists now know there are Prehistoric mini sculptures in caves that are thousands of years old. In ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia and Persia, miniature art took the form of royal seals and signet rings with unique designs. These important seals certified the king’s weighty decrees to the ancient world. Anything the king said could become law, so the seals were proof it came from him.
As the invention of handmade books became refined, so too did miniature art. Their fine details were suitable for rich painted illustrations in Western Civilization and the Ottoman Empire. This wasn’t the only type of miniature art. Inspired European artists carved amazing miniature relief sculptures of biblical scenes inside rosary beads!
In medieval times, miniature portraits were used similarly to the way we would carry pictures in our wallet, or more recently, in our smartphones. Nobles often commissioned miniature artists to paint them. Sometimes royalty sent minis of each other from their castles to screen suitor prospects!
By the Renaissance miniature painting became a serious business. Skilled artist mentors would pass down their prized techniques to other artists who became the next Masters. Royalty commissioned them to paint minis for many years. Nicholas Hilliard served as Queen Elizabeth’s royal miniature artist for three decades! This fine craft would continue to enjoy its popularity centuries later.
Renaissance Miniature artists painted with watercolor or gouache on paper or vellum, but the discovery of enamel on metal in the 1700s revolutionized the mini and popularity skyrocketed. The Italian painter Rosalia Carriera discovered that applying ground ivory to miniatures created a glowing effect! Many other painters followed suit. (Artists use a similar technique with oil painting on ivorine today.) But miniature art commissions were expensive. By the 20th century, the mini genre declined and gave way to the less expensive invention of photography. Would miniature art disappear for good?
Fortunately, the tiny art genre refused to disappear. Miniature art would bounce back in a big way by the 21st century. Professional miniature art societies defined qualifications for the genre and established their credibility in worldwide art circles. Artists like Karen Latham and Wes Siegrist championed minis and paved the way for public awareness. Art galleries like Seaside Art Gallery began hosting international miniature art shows. Patrons quickly realized that miniature art is more affordable to collect than standard sized fine art. Sure enough, a second mini revival swept through the world. Today, there are even sub-categories like dioramas and miniature food.
You can see the phenomenon for yourself during Seaside Art Gallery’s International Miniature Art Show. Discover your own little treasures during this event online or at the Gallery. But you may want to act fast. Now that they’re popular again, these tiny gems sell very quickly.
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