A form popular in England and on the Continent from the late sixteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries, portrait miniatures assumed a range of formats. As the name implies, they were small in scale and designed for intimate viewing. Monarchs, nobles, and politicians exchanged them as favors; others were given as tokens of love or friendship. They were worn on the body like jewels, or set into cases, snuffboxes, or other small, precious objects. Delicately drawn and often brilliantly colored, they might be painted on vellum, enamel, copper, or paper, but from the early eighteenth century onwards, ivory was the preferred material.
The Art Museum has an impressive collection of portrait miniatures from England, Europe, and America. These fine examples were produced in England, where the portrait miniature proved more popular than in any other country. Isaac Oliver’s Lady, meticulously painted on vellum and mounted in a turned ivory box, wears a fanciful costume from the masques (or plays) presented by the court to entertain King James I of England. Masques were written by accomplished authors such as Ben Jonson, with stage sets designed by the architect Inigo Jones.