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18 Jul
Mon / 2011

Tokens of Love

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Yesterday‘s Family Art Workshop at Rienzi celebrated the Caroline A. Ross collection of portrait miniatures. Comprised of 146 European and American miniatures made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Caroline A. Ross collection delights and fascinates visitors of all ages (some of my favorites are included in the slideshow!). At the Family Art Workshop, families learned about portrait miniatures from instructor Judy Malone-Stein and had the opportunity to create their own tokens of love.

Portrait miniatures are exactly what they sound like – portraits on a miniature scale, small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. For the most part, the media of the portrait miniatures in Rienzi’s collection are watercolor painted on ivory. Often they were adorned or encased and then fashioned into jewelry. Portrait miniatures were first seen in both England and France in the early sixteenth century and remained popular until the onset of photography in the 19th century.

This small-scale art form developed from manuscript illuminations, which are the beautiful yet small designs that many medieval books are famous for (think Book of Kells). Both art forms required their creators to pay great attention to minute detail. They can be of a single person or of a family, and can even include the family pet! Portrait miniatures were often made to give as a token of love to a family member or beau. Many of Rienzi’s include elaborately woven hair - a gesture of affection during the period in which they were made.

Since portrait miniatures are so delicate, Rienzi only displays a few at a time so that their exposure to light and other potentially harmful elements is limited. Next time you’re visiting, stop by the Drawing Room and check out which ones are on view!

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About Casey Monahan

Casey Monahan

Casey Monahan joined Rienzi as education assistant in 2010. She received her B.A. in art history and history from the College of the Holy Cross, and her M.A. in art history from the University of Houston. At Rienzi, the Massachusetts native works with docents, tours, and other public programs. 

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