Glossary of Terms Frequently Encountered in Miniature Portraiture
While collecting and studying miniature portraits, you will encounter many specialized terms, some of which might be difficult to understand at first glance. Following is a glossary that may help explain some of these specialized terms.
academician: Full members of the Royal Academy of Arts (to which many British miniaturists belonged) are referred to as academicians. The term can also apply to other academies of arts and sciences, such as the Académie Française (French) and the Russian Academy of Sciences.
acorn frame: During the later part of the Georgian era and the early part of the Victorian era, many miniature portraits were encased in black, rectangular shaped frames. Most of these frames were made of paper mâché, but some were made of wood. At the top of such frames was a decorative finial, which was typically made of brass and molded into any number of popular motifs -- the most common being an acorn and two or three oak leaves. Many antiques dealers refer to such frames with an acorn finial as simply being "acorn frames".
après: "Après" is a French word meaning "after". The terms après and after are used interchangeably in the art world to refer to paintings that emulate or copy the work of a previous artist. The terms may also appear in the signature of a painting. (For example, if a portrait is signed David Smith après Richard Cosway, it would mean that David Smith painted the portrait in a manner that duplicated a previous work by Richard Cosway.)
attributed to: Many portrait artists did not sign their work. (This is not a surprise, given that the focus a portrait was supposed to be on the painted subject and not on the person painting him or her.) If an unsigned work is "attributed to" a particular artist, it means that someone has rendered an expert opinion as to who they believe the artist was. Such opinions should be founded on analysis of such things as the painting style, brushstroke techniques used by the artist, and methods of painting certain facial features that a particular artist was known to frequently use. Of course, errors in attribution do occur, so buyers should always question the source of an attribution and do their own comparative research.
bale (also spelled bail): A metal ring attached to the hanger/hanging loop at the top of a portrait that is used to hang it on a wall or to suspend it from a chain (for those miniature portraits that were encased in pendants and worn on a chain around one's neck). The term was first used in regards to jewelry (not a surprise, given that many miniature portraits were originally fashioned in to pieces of jewelry to be worn).
bezel: With respect to those miniature portraits that are set into pendants, rings, brooches or some other form of jewelry, the bezel is the metal ring or band that holds the portrait in place. More specifically, it refers to the metal that holds the glass lens in place, under which the portrait is set. (In a similar manner, bezels are used with watches to hold the crystal/lens in place that protects the face of the watch.)
Bonhams: A privately owned British auction house dating back to the Georgian era, having been founded in 1793. Bonhams is well known for its auctions of fine jewelry, antiques and art and is respected, in particular, for its strength in the sale of important miniature portraits. Catalogues of former Bonhams sales are a valuable resource to art historians and others who wish to broaden their knowledge of known works of old masters.
bronze doré: See ormolu.
celluloid: While browsing online auction sites, one will frequently encounter miniature portraits said to be painted on celluloid. The unaware might assume celluloid to be another word for ivory, but it is not. It is, in fact, an early form of plastic, developed in the late nineteenth century. Celluloid is most notable for its use in early cinematographic film. It remained, in fact, the standard of the film industry until the introduction of acetate in the 1950s. Such film was also put to use in decorative arts, as it was found to be a good material onto which one could easily print and/or paint images. Those who manufactured "decorative miniatures" found the medium particularly appealing, as it was a cheap and practical alternative to ivory, allowing manufacturers to improve their profit margins. Manufacturers were also able to shorten the length of time it took to produce decorative miniatures, as they were able to print an image on the celluloid and have an artist then paint highlights, as opposed to the artist having to paint the entire image. Of course, celluloid was not favored by manufacturers of decorative miniatures alone, as some artists also painted original works on celluloid. Most serious collectors, nonetheless, avoid miniature portraits painted on celluloid.
Christie's: A privately owned auction house, originally British but now owned by a French holding company. Founded by James Christie of London in about 1760. Though perhaps not as deeply rooted in the genre of portrait miniatures as Bonhams, they are the world's largest auctioneer of fine art, including miniature portraits. As is the case with Bonhams, catalogues of former sales of miniature portraits by Christie's are a valuable resource to those looking to broaden their knowledge of known works of old masters.
cipher: Also spelled as cypher in British English. One will occasionally find a cipher or monogram affixed to a miniature portrait case (typically on the reverse side of a locket or pendant style case). In today's modern age, the word cipher is typically associated with encryption. In the past, however, it referred to a monogram-like motif made up of two or more letters (typically someone's initials) that were intricately interlaced, making the letters difficult to distinguish from each other. (Thus, a symbol was created that was difficult for others to understand, no less duplicate -- hence, the word's eventual association with encryption.) A monogram, in its traditional usage, is a similar combination of two or more letters (again, typically one's initials) in which one letter forms part of another and cannot be separated from the whole. Note that this traditional requirement that a monogram contain letters formed out of the parts of adjoining letters is quite different from the modern understanding of a monogram (which is simply a decorative motif of letters arranged in any manner pleasing to the bearer).
circle of: Some painters were so admired and respected in their day that some of their contemporaries intentionally emulated their style. As such, it is sometimes difficult to attribute an unsigned portrait to a specific painter. In cases where analysis leaves one confident that an unsigned portrait resembles a particular artist's work but, as such, also resembles the work of the handful of contemporaries who emulated his/her style and technique, such portraits are said to be painted in the "manner of" or the "circle of" that artist. (To say, for example, that a portrait is "of the circle of John Smart" or is "painted in the manner of John Smart" means that John Smart himself might have painted the portrait; but it also means that the portrait might have been painted by the handful of John Smart's contemporaries who emulated his style.) Similarly, if a portrait is attributed to the "studio of" a particular artist, it means that it might have been painted by that artist or might instead have been painted (perhaps even partially) by a student or apprentice known to have worked alongside that artist in his/her studio. (To say, for example, that a painting is "of the studio of George Engleheart" means that it bears strong resemblance to the distinctive style of George Engleheart and may, in fact, be painted by him, but might instead have been painted by one of his better students.) Note that these three terms terms ("circle of", "manner of" and "studio of") are more narrow in reference than is the term "school", which is used to attribute a portrait to the collective influence of artists in a given country or region (such as noting a painting to be "English School" or "French School").
cobalt glass: Elaborate locket or pendant-style miniature portrait cases will sometimes contain a decorative glass element. When such glass is of a rich, deep blue appearance, it is typically cobalt glass, which is made by adding cobalt oxide to molten glass in the manufacturing process.
commemorative portrait: Commemorative portraits are paintings of historical figures that were painted long after their lifetime. A commemorative portrait of Napoléon Bonaparte, for example, might have been painted in the late nineteenth century or the early twentieth century, long after his death in 1821. Some collectors make commemorative portraits the entire focus of their collections (collecting portraits of kings, queens, and other important figures). Others might have just a couple or few commemorative portraits. (A commemorative portrait of an eighteenth century figure painted in 1850, for example, is still an antique painting and might be of appeal to some collectors.) Commemorative portraits can be problematic for collectors, however, if they are erroneously purported to be original portraits that were painted during the lifetime of the subject. (Clearly, a portrait of Napoléon Bonaparte, modeled by the emperor himself, should be worth considerably more money than one that was painted 50-100 years after his death. Thus, one can understand why unscrupulous dealers might falsify a painting's age.)
Continental portrait: If a portrait is said to be "Continental", as opposed to French, English or American, it means that it originated on the continent of Europe, but that it is difficult to determine exactly where in Europe it was painted. One might think it easy to determine a painting as being French, for example, especially if it is signed by an artist with a French name; but what if it was painted in Belgium or Switzerland, where French names also existed? The same can be said of paintings from Germanic regions that were once a part of the Holy Roman Empire.
coque de perle: See mother of pearl.
cravat: A precursor to the modern, tailored necktie or bow tie, a cravat was a form of neckwear worn by men in the 16th through 19th centuries. The appearance and style of a cravat varied widely over the years, much like any form of fashion. In simplest of terms, it was a long, wide band of cloth that wrapped around the neck and tied in any number of different styles. Unlike a modern necktie, which is typically tailored in appearance and not nearly as wide as a cravat, a cravat was lose and flowing (sometimes even having ruffles or elegant lace) and typically required a stick pin to hold it in place. Collectors will frequently encounter the term, as cravats were worn by the subjects of many thousands of miniature portraits -- particularly by those of the Georgian era.
cross-hatching: Cross-hatching is a technique used by artists to create tone and texture by painting or drawing layers of small, parallel lines. Stippling is a similar technique except that, instead of lines, it entails creating areas of small dots, which can be applied evenly or in different densities.
decorative miniature: Decorative miniatures are a subset of miniature portraiture. As opposed to traditional miniature portraits, which are original paintings, painted in the presence of a sitter who modeled personally for the painter, decorative miniatures are portraits either painted from the imagination of the artist or painted as copies of someone else's work. Oftentimes, they were mass produced for commercial sale. Thus, one will often encounter multiple copies of popular subjects. Beginners may have a hard time distinguishing traditional miniature portraits from decorative miniatures. Over time, however, differences between the two quickly become apparent. Facial features in decorative miniatures tend to be less detailed than those of sitters in traditional portraits. Decorative miniatures, likewise, tend to have more flourish and embellishment (especially in the clothing or hair of the subject) and have more of a "romantic" look about them. Similarly, the frames of decorative miniatures also tend to have more flourish.
dexter: Dexter is Latin for "right" (as opposed to "left", which is similarly referred to by the Latin word "sinister"). When encountered in portraiture, it refers to the subject's right hand side. (i.e., If a subject is facing dexter, he/she is looking to their right.)
doré: See ormolu.
ebonized: If something is ebonized, it has been stained a dark black color, with the intention that it resemble ebony, a naturally dark and dense wood found in some species trees of trees in West Africa, India and Shri Lanka. Ebony is used in many decorative arts. Its most commonly recognized use is in the black keys of pianos. Collectors of miniature portraits will frequently encounter the term "ebonized", in reference to ebonized frames -- black frames, typically made of paper mâché, stained black, and given a smooth, shiny finish.
Edwardian: A miniature portrait that is described as Edwardian means that it is of the Edwardian era or Edwardian period in British history -- referring to the period of the reign of King Edward VII, who reigned from 1901-1910. Some historians extend the Edwardian period beyond Edward's death in 1910 to include the years leading up to World War I. With respect to the Tormey-Holder collection, the term Edwardian is applied to miniature portraits that date from January 22, 1901 (the date Edward VII became king) to August 4, 2014 (the date Great Britain declared war on Germany, marking the beginning of Britain's involvement in World War I). Note that the term Edwardian should only apply to items that originated in the United Kingdom. It is not appropriate, for example, to refer to a portrait by an American or French artist as being Edwardian.
églomisé: Also seen as verre églomisé (meaning "gilded glass" in French), églomisé refers to the application of metal leaf (typically gold) to the back of glass. The metal leaf is either adhered with a gelatin adhesive (resulting in a mirror-like reflective finish) or an oil-based adhesive (resulting in a matte finish). Once fixed, the metal leaf is an ideal medium for engraving any number of designs, including portraits. The technique is sometimes combined with reverse painting on glass.
empire gown: You will sometimes encounter a miniature portrait where the subject (a female) is described as wearing an empire gown or empire dress. The term refers to a particular style of dress that was made popular by Napoléon's first wife, Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais. Classic elements of the empire look are a very high waist (created by a fitted bodice ending just below the bust) and a gathered skirt, which is long, loosely fitted and skims the body rather than being supported by voluminous petticoats.
enamel miniature: Although most antique miniature portraits that collectors will encounter are those that were painted in watercolor on ivory, one does occasionally run into portraits painted on other mediums, such as metal, glass, porcelain or marble. Miniatures painted in enamel are a particular favorite amongst some collectors. Unlike portraits in watercolor, enamel portraits are very durable. They do not fade in sunlight, they cannot be damaged by exposure to water or humidity and they will not smudge if touched. The process of creating an enamel miniature begins first with selecting a base material. Metal (such as copper, gold or silver) was most commonly used as a base in the eighteenth century. From the nineteenth century, the use of porcelain as a base also became popular; and occasionally, a base of glass is also seen. Upon the base material of choice, powdered vitreous enamel (what is essentially powdered glass) is gently applied (typically by sifting the powder through a fine sieve over the base, to create an even layer). This is then fired in a kiln at 750-850° Celsius (1,380-1,560° Fahrenheit) until the powdered enamel melts into a smooth, glasslike finish. Once cooled, paints of metallic oxide are applied by brush to paint the portrait. Some artists painted enamels in a freehand manner. Others first sketched a light image before applying paint. Still others yet, such as Mathieu Deroche, developed a faint photographic image on the enameled base and then painted over the photograph. Typically, an enamel portrait was fired in a kiln several times, as each layer of paint was applied. When completed, a final protective layer of glaze was applied and the miniature would be fired one last time.
engraving: Engravings and etchings are often associated with miniature portraiture, as many miniature portrait painters happened to also have been accomplished engravers (not a surprise given that both art forms required a skilled hand capable of mastering fine detail). Before the invention of photography, engraving and etching were the principle methods of making portrait prints, frequently used as illustrations in books. To make an engraving, an artist "draws" an image by using a burin (a sharp gouging tool) to cut grooves into a metal plate (typically made of copper). An etching is similarly made by scratching marks onto the surface of a metal plate that has been treated with an acid-resistant waxy ground. When the artist's image is complete, the plate is exposed to acid which effectively cuts deeper grooves where the wax has been scratched away. When completed, engraved or etched plates are used to make prints with the use of a printing press. Plates are rolled with ink, which fills the cut grooves and is ultimately transferred to paper when pressed.
en queue: Collectors of eighteenth century miniature portraits will frequently encounter the term "en queue" in descriptions of portraits. A typical example would be, "...a Georgian era gentleman with his powdered hair en queue..." The word queue is French and, translated literally, means "tail". With respect to hair, it refers to a braid worn at the back of the head, originating at the base of the hairline just above the neck. The term is typically only used to describe men's hair fashion.
etching: See engraving.
eye portrait: Eye portrait miniatures are a subset of miniature portraiture. They typically depict a single eye and some of the area immediately around the eye (such as an eyebrow or the top of a cheek showing makeup). Eye portraits were typically exchanged between love interests and were considered discreet tokens of affection. They evoked intimacy, allowing the bearer to look into the eye of his/her absent lover; and yet, they were very discreet, as it would be difficult for someone else to learn the identity of one's love interest with just the image of a single eye. Eye portraits were made popular by Britain's George IV, during the period when he served as Prince Regent (1814-1820).
faux montre: The term faux montre, French for "false watch", refers to a pendant or locket-style miniature portrait frame that was fashioned in the appearance of a false pocket watch. Such frames were first conceived as a way to discreetly hide a portrait (such as the portrait of a mistress).
fecit: Fecit is a Latin verb. Translated literally, it means "he made" or "she made". Occasionally, one will encounter the term on older works of art, appearing after the name of the artist. For example, if a painting is signed "Pasquier fecit" it would mean "made by Pasquier". The term is frequently abbreviated as f, fe, or fec (i.e., "Pasquier fe"). A similar term that is also frequently encountered is pinx.
fixé sous verre: Also referred to as éludorique. Fixé sous verre is a French term which, translated literally, means "fixed under glass". The technique was invented in the second half of the eighteenth century by French painter Arnaud Vincent de Montpetit (1713-1800), who sought ways to prevent oil paintings from deteriorating over time when exposed to air. Simply described, de Montpetit's process entailed first painting an image in oil on very fine fabric (typically taffeta or silk). When completed, the painting would be coated with a thin layer of translucent glue, upon which glass would then be affixed. Working with a very thin medium (fine taffeta or silk), the placement of glass was not an easy process, as one would have to be careful to avoid bubbles, wrinkles or other imperfections. The end product was considered quite appealing, however, as it resulted in an image of superb color intensity that was less likely to fade than traditional, watercolor miniatures. Its smooth and shiny surface also appealed to refined eighteenth and nineteenth century tastes.
foxing: Foxing is a term that refers to age-related spots or browning that one occasionally encounters in old works of art, old books or antique paper documents. The spots are typically light reddish brown in color (a color similar to the coat of a fox -- hence the term).
Georgian: A miniature portrait that is described as Georgian means that it is of the Georgian era or Georgian period in British history-- referring to the period of 1714-1830, the period spanning the reigns of the first four Hanoverian kings of Great Britain, all of whom were named George (George I, George II, George III and George IV). Some historians extend the Georgian period beyond the death of George IV to include the years of the brief reign of William IV, who was king from 1830-1837. Note that the term Georgian should only apply to miniature portraits (or other items) that originated in the United Kingdom. It is not appropriate, for example, to refer to a portrait by an American or French artist as being Georgian.
gesso (as in gesso frame): Collectors of miniature portraits will frequently encounter the word gesso in written descriptions of portrait frames -- those frames that appear to be carved out of wood, have ornate designs and are gilded with gold leaf. Gesso is a substance that is easy to mold and shape into decorative designs. When applied over a carved wooden frame, one can shape the gesso to embellish the carved wood with relief designs. (To carve every fine detail of relief into wood would be quite a time consuming process. The use of gesso allows a frame maker to significantly speed up the process.) Gesso can cast in a mold when wet, shaped by hand when still pliable or carved with tools when dry. Historically, gesso was made by mixing calcium chalk and animal glue into a paste-like mixture. It is the use of chalk, in fact, that forms the basis of the word -- as the word "gesso" in Italian means "chalk". In addition to being useful for molding relief designs, gesso creates an ideal medium onto which gold leaf can be applied.
gilding: The term gilding refers to the process of applying liquid gold, gold leaf or gold powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone or metal to enhance the object with a thin coating of gold, referred to as gilt. A gilded object is described as "gilt". In the context of miniature portraits, the term "gilt" is frequently encountered in the description of frames, bezels or surrounds. In the past, gilt miniature portrait frames were typically gilded through a process of fire-gilding (sometimes also called wash-gilding), which required the use of volatilized mercury. When done properly, this process resulted in gilt of a beautiful luster; but craftsmen were unknowingly exposed to serious health risks due to their exposure to such mercury. As the dangers of mercury toxicity became known, this method of fire-gilding became less common; and today, gilding is instead typically achieved with chemical or electromechanical plating (processes referred to as "gold plating").
gilt: A thin layer of gold applied to an object through gilding.
glass disease: As a collector of miniature portraits, one will occasionally encounter a frame that shows signs of "glass disease". The condition is quite serious, as far as miniature portraits are concerned, and can be very destructive to a watercolor painting. Thus, when encountered, "diseased" glass should be disposed of and not allowed to remain in contact with valuable artwork. Glass disease is not contagious to other pieces of glass, as it is not caused by a bacteria or virus. Rather, it is a process of chemical disintegration that, once begun, cannot be reversed. The root cause of glass disease stems from the original manufacture of the affected glass. Glass in its purest form would be made 100% of silicon dioxide, also known as silica (found in quartz and sand). The melting point of silica, however, is a very high 2,300° Celsius (4,172° Fahrenheit), making it difficult and impractical to work with. Thus, glass makers typically add other materials to the silica, in an effort to reduce its melting point to a more practical level. A typical mixture might be 70-74% silica and 16-22% of an alkali material, such as sodium carbonate. Sodium carbonate both makes the silica easier to work with and improves clarity; but the resulting glass is, sadly, water soluble (meaning that it will dissolve in water). Thus, to counteract this negative effect of sodium carbonate, lime and other minerals are commonly added to the glass mixture. If these various components are not balanced properly, however, problems can arise in the glass over time. If there is too much alkali and too little lime, for example, the surface of the glass will eventually react with moisture in the air and break down over time. This occurs at the molecular level as sodium carbonate in the glass draws moisture into the glass itself. Once the sodium carbonate is hydrated, sodium ions then leach out of the glass in the form of salt, which forms a crusty deposit on the surface of the glass. In certain environments, droplets of moisture may also appear on the surface of the glass (a condition referred to as "sweating" or "weeping"). It is the presence of this moisture that can be particularly destructive to miniature portraits and other fine art. The glass itself is also subject to destruction -- as, when sodium ions are removed from the chemical structure of the glass, they are replaced with hydrogen ions, which then diffuse throughout the glass and result in a gradually weaker structure. Once this process begins, it will continue (albeit slowly over many years) until the weakened glass simply dissolves under its own weight.
glazed: If a miniature portrait is described as being glazed, this means that it is protected by or sealed behind glass. Thus, glazing refers to the glass itself. Note that this is quite different than the glazing one encounters with oil paintings. The glazing of an oil painting refers to the application of a transparent layer of paint over another thoroughly dried layer of paint for the purpose of enhancing colors or luminosity. Such glazing is not at all used with watercolors (watercolor and gouache being the typical paint mediums used in miniature portraits).
gold filled: See "rolled gold".
Grand Tour: Collectors will frequently encounter miniature portraits described as "Grand Tour" miniatures. Distinctly British, the term "Grand Tour" refers to a long period of travel that was not only customary, but from about 1660 was considered a right of passage for the sons of British nobility, and other wealthy elite. Lasting months, and in some cases years, such travel typically began after a young man completed college. Venturing southward from England, he would typically begin his journey traveling throughout France and Italy, seeking the best of European art and culture and the very roots of Western Civilization. Then, on the long return leg of his trip, he would travel northward, taking an easterly route through the German speaking parts of Europe, often allowing time to study in Munich or Heidelberg. Such travel afforded one the opportunity to perfect his foreign language skills (of great value to many future diplomats) and to become acquainted with many important families throughout Europe. Of course, art galleries and museums were an important part of such travel; and many a young man wished to bring home to his family a glimpse of the great works of art that he himself was able to see first hand. Satisfying this desire were skilled miniaturists (many themselves English art students who traveled a similar route -- albeit traveling less grandly -- in an effort to learn techniques of the great Italian masters) who were commissioned to paint miniature copies of important works. Many such miniatures, aptly referred to as Grand Tour miniatures, were superbly well painted. Thus, when encountered today, they often make welcome additions to any fine collection. From the mid to late nineteenth century, however, as international travel became more affordable to a growing middle class, the quality of Grand Tour miniatures diminished. This was partly a function of merchants turning to mass production to meet the desires of more tourists and partly a function of less monied travelers demanding lower cost souvenirs. Such later period Grand Tour miniatures are considered less desirable to serious collectors.
gouache: In simplest of terms, gouache is an opaque watercolor paint, as opposed to standard watercolor paint, which is transparent. The transparency of standard watercolors allows one to see through a portrait to the base layer below (which, in miniature portraits, is typically a thin wafer of ivory). In contrast, gouache allows an artist to achieve solid layers of color that cannot be seen through. Some artists use a combination of watercolor and gouache to achieve the impression of increased depth and dimension in a painting. The "opaqueness" of gouache is achieved by the addition of thickening agents to a standard watercolor base. In modern times, there are several brands of manufactured gouache that are available to artists. In the past, however, artists typically blended their own paints and would use the likes of animal gum or acacia gum (gum arabic) as a binding agent when blending gouache.
half-length portrait: A half-length portrait (occasionally abbreviated as "HL portrait") is one that depicts the subject from about the waist up. This is in contrast to a standard portrait which depicts the subject's head and shoulders along with a small portion of his or her upper body. A three-quarter-length portrait (occasionally abbreviated as "TQL portrait") is one that depicts the subject from the head down to about the knees. The subject may be standing or seated in a three-quarter-length portrait; but, if seated, his or her knees would typically be shown.
hallmark: A hallmark is an official mark or series of marks struck on items made of precious metal (such as gold or silver) indicating such things as where the item was made, who manufactured it and what grade of metal it was made of. Collectors of miniature portraits will sometimes encounter hallmarks on frames or other items that a portrait might be set in (such as a piece of gold jewelry or a sterling silver snuff box).
hatching: See cross-hatching.
ivory: Derived from the Latin word ebur (meaning ivory), which in turn is derived from the ancient Egyptian word âbu (meaning elephant), ivory is the material found in the teeth and tusks of large mammals, most notably elephants, walruses, hippopotamuses, wart hogs and certain species of whale. For roughly 250 years (from about 1700 until shortly after World War II), elephant ivory was the most popular support upon which miniature portraits in watercolor were painted. This is to the chagrin of those in the modern age (myself included) who champion the protection of animals; but the fact of the matter is, many tens of thousands (if not millions) of important, historical works of art, especially miniature portraits, contain some small portion of ivory. Italian miniaturist Rosalba Carriera was the first known to use ivory for miniature portraits, in lieu of vellum, beginning in about 1700. Her technique was quickly emulated throughout Europe. Bernard Lens III (1682-1740) was the first known to paint miniatures on ivory in England, beginning around 1707. The appeal of ivory in historic miniature portraiture lies in its translucency when cut into very thin wafers. This translucency was able to reflect colors and light through watercolor paints in a unique way (especially enhancing flesh tones), allowing painters to depict their subjects in a more flattering way than had been possible with vellum. Today, of course, ivory is no longer used in miniature portraiture -- its properties having been replicated in man made synthetic alternatives, such as ivorine and polymin.
jabot: The jabot was a prominent part of men's fashion throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Simply described, it consisted of the frilling or ruffles decorating the front of a gentleman's shirt. Over time, jabots evolved to also include a form of neckwear consisting of a collar or neck band from which similar ruffled fabric or lace was suspended.
KPM: KPM is an acronym for Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (meaning "Royal Porcelain Manufacture" in German), a porcelain manufacturing company founded in 1763 under the patronage of Frederick II of Prussia (known affectionately as "Frederick the Great"). The company still exists today (2015) and has long been regarded as one of the highest quality porcelain makers in the world. KPM porcelain is highly valued for the superb quality of the designs, motifs and decorative paintings (including portraits). It is this fact that makes some KPM ware of interest to collectors of decorative miniature portraits. As beautiful as they can be however, "KPM portraits" are of little interest to purists (those collectors who seek fine portraits of live sitters who modeled in person for an artist).
lens: In the context of miniature portraits, the word lens refers to the glass of a frame or pendant, behind which the miniature is displayed. It is typically curved, so as to prevent any portion of the glass from touching the miniature portrait.
limner: A limner is a miniature portrait painter. The term has its origins in the "illuminating" of medieval manuscripts -- the embellishing of manuscripts with ornate initials, decorative borders and miniature illustrations. In eighteenth and nineteenth century America, the term limner referred more specifically to an itinerant miniature portrait painter (one who traveled from town to town and painted portraits on commission). Such itinerant limners typically had little or no formal training.
listed: Collectors of miniature portraits often encounter the term listed -- sometimes referring to a listed artist and sometimes referring to a listed miniature. If a particular artist is said to be listed, this means that his or her career is documented in any number of respected reference books. (Some of the most valuable reference books available to collectors include dictionaries of miniature portrait painters by Harry Blätel, Daphne Foskett, Nathalie Lemoine-Bouchard, Leo Schidlof, Roger Phillips and Carmella Arturi.) In a similar manner, if a particular miniature portrait is said to be listed, this means that the portrait was important enough to have been specifically mentioned (and perhaps its photograph included) in a respected reference book.
manner of: Some painters were so admired and respected in their day that some of their contemporaries intentionally emulated their style. As such, it is sometimes difficult to attribute an unsigned portrait to a specific painter. In cases where analysis leaves one confident that an unsigned portrait resembles a particular artist's work but, as such, also resembles the work of the handful of contemporaries who emulated his/her style and technique, such portraits are said to be painted in the "manner of" or the "circle of" that artist. (To say, for example, that a portrait is "of the circle of John Smart" or is "painted in the manner of John Smart" means that John Smart himself might have painted the portrait; but it also means that the portrait might have been painted by the handful of John Smart's contemporaries who emulated his style.) Similarly, if a portrait is attributed to the "studio of" a particular artist, it means that it might have been painted by that artist or might instead have been painted (perhaps even partially) by a student or apprentice known to have worked alongside that artist in his/her studio. (To say, for example, that a painting is "of the studio of George Engleheart" means that it bears strong resemblance to the distinctive style of George Engleheart and may, in fact, be painted by him, but might instead have been painted by one of his better students.) Note that these three terms terms ("circle of", "manner of" and "studio of") are more narrow in reference than is the term "school", which is used to attribute a portrait to the collective influence of artists in a given country or region (such as noting a painting to be "English School" or "French School").
minium: The origins of miniature portraiture point back to minium, a bright red pigment that was used since the Middle Ages to illuminate (decorate) manuscripts in Western Europe, the British Isles, and even the Persian and Byzantine Empires. Made from red oxide of lead (which can occur naturally, but can also be manufactured by heating white lead in the presence of air), minium was was favored by illuminators for its vivid color, its tendency to dry quickly and for its permanence. Over the centuries, manuscript illuminations in minium evolved to include more portraits and other small paintings, rather than just ornately decorated letters and decorative borders. These small illustrations came to be called miniatures, a word based on the Latin verb miniare, meaning to apply minium. Thus, the very word miniature portrait finds its roots not a word that originally meant small, but in a word that originally referred to a bright red pigment.
monogram: One will occasionally find a monogram or cipher affixed to a miniature portrait case (typically on the reverse side of a locket or pendant style case). In its traditional usage, a monogram is a combination of two or more letters (typically someone's initials) in which one letter forms part of another and cannot be separated from the whole. (Note that this traditional requirement that a monogram contain letters formed out of the parts of adjoining letters is quite different from the modern understanding of a monogram -- which is simply a decorative motif of letters arranged in any manner pleasing to the bearer.) In a similar manner, a cipher (cypher in British English) is a monogram-like motif made up of two or more letters (again, typically one's initials) that are intricately interlaced, making the letters difficult to distinguish from each other (creating a symbol that was difficult for others to understand, no less duplicate -- hence, the word's eventual association with encryption.)
mother of pearl (also referred to as coque de perle in French): In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, some avante-garde artists painted miniature portraits on mother of pearl, which was particularly favored for its high level of iridescence. Others simply incorporated mother of pearl into jewelry settings or locket-style cases in which miniature portraits were housed. Mother of pearl is a natural material produced by some mollusks and found in the inner lining of their shells. The most desired variety of mother of pearl is harvested from the shells of the East Indian nautilus.
mourning portrait: A mourning portrait refers to a miniature portrait that was painted as a memorial of someone who had died. Sometimes they were painted days or months before death. More often than not, however, they were painted postmortem (requiring the artist to sit with the deceased individual and attempt to create his or her likeness as if he or she were still alive). Oftentimes, these portraits were encased in ornate frames and quite often they contained either a lock of hair from the deceased or an elaborate piece of hair art (artwork created with human hair, sometimes patterned in such a way as to resemble brush strokes of paint).
Napoleonic: If a miniature portrait is described as being Napoleonic, it means that it was painted during the Napoleonic era of French history, which began with Napoleon Bonaparte's overthrow of the Directory (November 1799) and ended with Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (June 1815). Note that it is only appropriate to refer to a miniature as being of the Napoleonic era if it is French in origin.
obverse: The obverse of a miniature portrait is its front side (as opposed to its back side, which is referred to as its reverse -- reverse being the opposite of obverse). Obverse and reverse terminology are most commonly encountered in numismatics (with the obverse of a coin being the primary side that features the portrait/head of a prominent person); but the terms are also used in reference to two-sided works of art. (Thus, with respect to miniature portraiture, the terms are most appropriately used in reference to those works that have two distinct sides -- such as a pendant style frame that might have a miniature portrait on the obverse and a piece of hair art on the reverse.)
ormolu: In simplest of terms, ormolu is gilded brass or bronze. The term is derived from the French words or moulu, meaning literally, "ground gold". It is created by applying a finely ground, high-carat gold-mercury amalgam to an object of brass or bronze. The object is then fired at a very high temperature in a kiln until the mercury burns off, leaving behind a gold veneer that has adhered to the metal object. The French refer to this technique as bronze doré; in English, it is known as gilt bronze.
paper mâché: Paper mâché (also seen as "papier mâché", French for "chewed paper") is a composite material made up of shredded paper or pulp, sometimes reinforced with small pieces of fabric, bound together with glue or a paste-like adhesive. Today, paper mâché is mostly known as a medium for artistic crafts; but, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it had many architectural and decorative applications. It was particularly liked as a low cost alternative to plaster and carved woods in homes and public buildings; and it was a common component in the manufacture of trays, chair backs and even miniature portrait frames. Most such miniature portrait frames were laminated with a smooth surface and ebonized to appear like fine ebony wood.
pinchbeck: Named after its inventor, Christopher Pinchbeck, an eighteenth century London clockmaker, pinchbeck is a form of brass that closely resembles gold in appearance. It is essentially an alloy of copper and zinc, making it a cheap substitute to authentic gold. Pinchbeck himself used the alloy in the manufacture of clocks, watches and musical automata that he was famous for, as well as a line of affordable pinchbeck jewelry that he proudly marketed under his name. In the mid and late nineteenth century, pinchbeck was commonly used in the manufacture of miniature portrait frames -- especially for those miniatures that were more decorative in nature, as opposed to original paintings.
pinx/pinxt: Pinxit is a Latin verb. Translated literally, it means "he painted " or "she painted ". It is most often abbreviated, either as pinx or pinxt. It is found quite frequently on older works of art. Sometimes, it appears with a place name (such as pinxt Paris, meaning "painted in Paris"). Other times, it appears with an artist's name (such as pinxt Augustin, meaning "painted by Augustin") or a date (such as pinxt 1795, meaning "painted in 1795"). A similar term that is also encountered occasionally is fecit.
posthumous: Posthumous is an adjective that refers to something that follows or occurs after one's death. In the context of miniature portraiture, it refers to a portrait that that was painted after the subject was deceased. (Thus, a portrait painted after death is referred as having been painted posthumously.) Some such portraits were painted using the deceased body as a model. Others are were painted from memory (requiring the painter to have know the individual). From the late nineteenth century, some posthumous portraits were painted from a photograph that was taken during the deceased's lifetime.
provenance: Derived from the French word provenir, meaning "to come from", provenance is the chronology of ownership of a historical object or work of art. Particularly with respect to art, a documented provenance can help establish the authenticity of an object. In some cases, it helps alleviate worries of possible forgery. In others, it can add credibility or value to an object. (For example, if a portrait is documented to have come from the estate of a collector who was known to be meticulous in the selection of his or her acquisitions, one can have increased confidence that they are buying a genuine or important work of art. Similarly, if a portrait was known to have been in the possession of a notable family for several generations, its association with that family might enhance its value.)
realism (opposite of romanticism): Realism (also known as naturalism) refers to a method of painting where one attempts to portray his or her subjects accurately and honestly, flaws and all, without stylizing, embellishing, including supernatural elements or using other artistic conventions. There have been many periods of realism throughout the ages, but the term is most frequently used in reference to the realism movement that arose in the 1850s, particularly in France, as painters rejected Romanticism, which had so dominated European art and literature since the late eighteenth century.
Regency: A miniature portrait that is described as being a Regency portrait means that it is of the Regency era or Regency period in British history -- referring to the period between 1811 and 1820, when George III was deemed unfit to rule (due to severe dementia) and his son, the Prince of Wales (who himself would eventually become George IV), ruled as his proxy as Prince Regent. The Regency period is a sub-period of the Georgian era. Note that the term Regency should only apply to miniature portraits (or other items) that originated in the United Kingdom. It is not appropriate, for example, to refer to a portrait by an American or French artist as being a Regency portrait.
reserve: The reverse of nineteenth century locket-style portrait cases often contain a reserve, which is a small, oval or circular receptacle, covered with a glass lens and containing hairwork or some other keepsake related to the individual depicted on the obverse of the portrait.
reverse: Opposite of obverse. (See obverse.)
rolled gold: Typically seen with respect to jewelry, but occasionally seen with miniature portrait frames and pendants, "rolled gold" (also referred to as "gold-filled) was developed in the early nineteenth century as a cheaper alternative to solid gold. It is made by mechanically bonding or heat-fusing a thin layer of gold to both sides of a base metal (typically copper or brass). The bonded metal is then rolled out into sheets (hence its name) from which end products are cut and molded.
romanticism: The opposite of realism, romanticism refers to a method of painting where one portrays his or her subjects with a degree of fantasy or supernaturalism by including spiritual or mythological elements, giving subjects the impression of having superhuman strength, or painting a scene as one would want it to look, as opposed to how it actually does look. There have many periods of romanticism throughout the ages, but the term is most frequently used in reference to the movement that arose in Europe towards the end of the eighteenth century, partly in reaction to the Industrial Revolution and partially as pushback against political and cultural norms of the Age of Enlightenment (a Western European movement that occurred from the 1650s to the 1780s, during which individualism and intellectual skepticism challenged traditional beliefs, dogmas and superstitions).
rose gold: Rose gold, sometimes referred to as "red gold" is a gold alloy that has a pink tone. This reddish or pink tone is achieved by blending copper with gold and silver. There are many accepted ratios used in the manufacture of 18 karat rose gold, but a typical alloy blend might consist of 75% gold, 22.25% copper and 2.75% silver. Rose gold is often encountered in miniature portraiture, as it was popular during Great Britain's Georgian era to make miniature portrait frames or pendants from this copper-rich gold alloy.
Royal Academy: Often referred to as simply the "Royal Academy", or abbreviated as "RA", the Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768, under an act by King George III. It is the oldest fine arts institution in the United Kingdom, but was founded 120 years after France's Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, founded in 1648. Countering the dominating influence of French taste in art was clearly a motivating factor in the foundation of the society; and its creation marked the beginning of what was a distinctively British style in painting and architecture. Over the past two and a half centuries since the Royal Academy's founding, many distinguished miniature portrait painters have been members of the institution. Many notable miniature portraits have, likewise, been exhibited at the Royal Academy's annual Summer Exhibition, which has been held each year without interruption since 1769.
Salon: Collectors of miniature portraits will frequently encounter portraits described as having been exhibited at the Salon in Paris, referring to the Salon d'Apollon of the Louvre Palace. Long regarded as the greatest art exhibition in the Western world, the Salon's beginnings date to 1667, when Louis XIV invited members of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, founded in 1648) to exhibit their works at his Louvre Palace in Paris. For the first seventy years of the Salon's existence, such exhibitions were sporadic events, initiated at the whims of the royal family. From 1737, however, the Salon became an annual event; and in 1748, a jury system of selection was introduced (with prospective entries being judged by chief members of the Académie Royale), ensuring that only the finest artists exhibited at the Salon. Four decades later, with the onset of the French Revolution, the Salon was opened for the first time to all French artists. Members of the Académie Royale continued to control the Salon, nonetheless, and were effective in keeping exhibitions somewhat exclusive, only highlighting the best of the best in French art. By 1881, the French government withdrew official sponsorship from the annual Salon, and, in response, a group of artists organized the Société des Artistes Français to take responsibility for sponsoring and managing future exhibitions. By the turn of the twentieth century, however, the Salon found its influence and prestige somewhat diminished, as independent galleries grew in number throughout Paris, featuring the works of many avante-garde artists. The Salon continues to this day, nonetheless, still sponsored by the Société des Artistes Français; and any artist with a Salon exhibition on his or her résumé continues to be regarded as an artist of superb accomplishment.
NOTE: The official Salon (sometimes referred to as the Salon de Champs-Élysées, referring to its location) is that which is sponsored by the Société des Artistes Français, as outlined above. There are, two additional exhibitions that also use the "Salon" name: the Salon du Champs de Mars, sponsored by the Société Nationale des Beaux–Arts (the National Society of Fine Arts) since 1890 and the Salon d'Automne (Autumn Salon), sponsored by the Société du Salon d'automne since 1903.
school: In art, one will frequently encounter the use of the world school in reference to a dominant style of painting associated with a country or region (i.e., "English School", "French School" or "American School"). A school, as such, is more a reflection of a collective presence of influential artists than a reflection of a geographic area or national identity. That is to say, it reflects the emergence of native artists whose work was not only distinctive in style but greatly influenced the course of painting in their country or region. Art historians and at dealers alike will use the term when trying to give partial attribution to a painting when an artist's identity remains elusive (such as noting a painting to be "English School, early nineteenth century").
sinister: Sinister is Latin for "left" (as opposed to "right", which is similarly referred to by the Latin word "dexter"). When encountered in portraiture, sinister refers to the subject's left-hand side. (i.e., If a subject is facing sinister, he/she is looking to their left.)
sitter: In portraiture, "sitter" refers to the painted subject (the person depicted in the painting). The term is derived from the fact that, to have a portrait painted, someone typically had to sit and model for the artist, oftentimes for hours at a time.
stick pin: A precursor to the modern-day tie pin, stick pins were an essential item for any eighteenth or nineteenth century English or European gentleman's wardrobe and were used to hold the folds of a cravat in place. They derive their name from the fact that their "pins" were quite long (often up to 3 inches). Affixed to the end of such pins were any number of gemstones, precious metals or other decorative objects of value. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it became popular to adorn stick pins with miniature portraits -- most typically, enamel miniatures of horses, dogs or other subjects of interest to wealthy gentlemen.
stippling: Stippling is a technique used by artists to create tone and texture by painting or drawing areas of small dots, which can be applied evenly or in different densities. Cross-hatching is a similar technique except that, instead of dots, it entails the layering of small, parallel lines.
studio of: Some painters were so admired and respected in their day that some of their contemporaries intentionally emulated their style. As such, it is sometimes difficult to attribute an unsigned portrait to a specific painter. In cases where analysis leaves one confident that an unsigned portrait resembles a particular artist's work but, as such, also resembles the work of the handful of contemporaries who emulated his/her style and technique, such portraits are said to be painted in the "manner of" or the "circle of" that artist. (To say, for example, that a portrait is "of the circle of John Smart" or is "painted in the manner of John Smart" means that John Smart himself might have painted the portrait; but it also means that the portrait might have been painted by the handful of John Smart's contemporaries who emulated his style.) Similarly, if a portrait is attributed to the "studio of" a particular artist, it means that it might have been painted by that artist or might instead have been painted (perhaps even partially) by a student or apprentice known to have worked alongside that artist in his/her studio. (To say, for example, that a painting is "of the studio of George Engleheart" means that it bears strong resemblance to the distinctive style of George Engleheart and may, in fact, be painted by him, but might instead have been painted by one of his better students.) Note that these three terms terms ("circle of", "manner of" and "studio of") are more narrow in reference than is the term "school", which is used to attribute a portrait to the collective influence of artists in a given country or region (such as noting a painting to be "English School" or "French School").
subject: The subject of a portrait refers to the individual(s) whose likeness is portrayed in the painting. If this individual modeled for the painter in person, he or she might also be referred to as a sitter. Sometimes, however, the subject of a portrait might be a historical figure who had long since passed away. Such portraits, not having been modeled for, cannot be expected to be an accurate likeness of the subject (unless the painter modeled his painting on a historical work painted by someone else for whom the subject did sit, in which case the second portrait would be considered a reproduction or an "après" portrait).
three-quarter-length portrait: A three-quarter-length portrait (occasionally abbreviated as "TQL portrait") is one that depicts the subject from the head down to about the knees. The subject may be standing or seated in a three-quarter-length portrait; but, if seated, his or her knees would typically be shown. This is in contrast to a standard portrait which depicts the subject's head and shoulders along with a small portion of his or her upper body. A half-length portrait (occasionally abbreviated as "HL portrait") is one that depicts the subject from about the waist up.
three-quarter-view portrait: Most portraits (miniature or full-sized) are painted with a three-quarter view of the subject's face. In this pose, the subject's face is turned slightly to the side, allowing one to partially see both the front and side of the subject's face. Despite the subject's face being slightly turned in this manner, his or her eyes are usually painted to be looking in the direction of the viewer of the portrait. In contrast to the more prevalent use of the three-quarter view pose, some portraits are painted with a full-face view (with the subject looking forward, facing the viewer, with no turn of the head). A profile view (a side view of the subject's face) is seldom encountered in portraits, as it doesn't allow for engagement with the viewer (doesn't allow the viewer to look into the subject's eyes). A profile view can, nonetheless, be very characterful if well painted.
TQL: See three-quarter-length portrait.
vellum: Generally speaking, vellum is understood today to be a premium grade parchment paper made from chemical wood pulp and/or cotton fibers. It is typically used for formal documents that are engraved (such as diplomas). Prior to the late nineteenth century, however, vellum was made not from plant and tree fibers, but from animal skin -- most commonly, calf skin. (The word vellum is, in fact, derived from the Latin word vitulinum, meaning "made from calf".) Prepared properly, animal vellum is durable and long lasting, making it ideal for important documents or works of art. Miniature portraits were often painted on vellum prior to the early eighteenth century, when ivory became a more common medium.
verso: In the context of miniature portraits, the term verso refers to the reverse side (back side) of a miniature portrait. If a portrait is described, for example, as being "signed en verso", someone is saying that the artist's signature is on the back side of the portrait (which is most often enclosed within a frame and not visible without being removed).
Victorian: A miniature portrait that is described as Victorian means that it is of the Victorian era or Victorian period in British history -- referring to the period of the reign of Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837-1901. Note that the term Victorian should only apply to miniature portraits (or other items) that originated in the United Kingdom. It is not appropriate, for example, to refer to a portrait by an American or French artist as being Victorian.