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Tuesday, March 23, 2010


This comprehensive tutorial was generously contributed by my good friend Stefanie Deutsch, who has been collect- ing antique miniatures for more than ten years, and is currently working on a book on the subject. She is also the author of two books on vintage Barbie dolls: "Barbie, The First 30 Years" (published by Collector Books, the 3rd edition just printed) and "Barbie" (published in the German Battenberg Verlag).

What is a Miniature Portrait?

Nearly all miniature portraits depict a sitter's head and shoulders in an area not exceeding five inches. They were done from the early 1700's mostly in watercolor on ivory wafers, and from the late 19th century, often on a substitute called "ivorine."
The earliest miniatures date from the mid 1600's and were painted on either copper or on the back of playing cards, and a little later on vellum (a parchment made from calf skin). Miniatures in enamel (mostly 18th century pieces) will occasionally (though rarely) come up for sale. Porcelain or marble were almost never used for real miniatures. Miniatures also appear on paper, but most watercolor portraits of this genre will show the full body of the sitter, and are not considered to be true miniatures. Neither are paintings on canvas or wood, or, for that matter, silhouettes.
Most early miniatures are oval in shape. However, from the mid 1800's on, when they had to compete with early photographic images, they were often made in a rectangular format, in order to appear more like oil paintings and/or photos. Round miniatures point to a French origin. Size-wise, early miniatures from the 1700's tend to be smaller than later ones, and were often worn as jewelry. Later miniatures were intended for hanging on a wall, or were framed with "easel" backs for displaying on a table or in a cabinet.
As the art of miniature painting waned in the early 20th century, many of these pieces were being produced with a photographic base, and it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between a portrait miniature with a light photographic base and an over-painted photo.

Stay tuned for Part III of PORTRAIT MINIATURE BUYING GUIDE ... to be posted tomorrow.

Interested in buying or selling miniature portraits? You can contact Stefanie directly at:

1 comment:

Gypsy Trading Company said...

Very much looking forward to the buying guide. I have several miniatures I have not listed yet.
Great Info!