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‘Telling Objects’ – Miniatures as an Interactive Medium in Eighteenth-Century Female European Court Portraits

Objets signifiants: la miniature comme média interactif dans quelques portraits de femmes de cour au XVIIIe siècle en Europe
Karin Schrader

Résumés

La miniature connut un réel succès dans la culture matérielle de cour et les représentations produites au long de la première modernité. Elle symbolisait les liens sociaux, dynastiques ou politiques tout en évoquant un lien particulier entre l’objet et celui ou celle qui l’arborait. Utilisée comme cadeau diplomatique, ou bien encore comme gage ou souvenir de moments marquants tels que naissances, mariages ou décès, elle se substituait parfois à la personne réelle lorsque celle-ci n’était pas ou plus là ou bien dans le cadre de négociations autours de mariages ou de fiançailles à venir. Lorsqu’elle est intégrée à des tableaux plus grands, comme image dans l’image, elle entre en résonnance avec le modèle et permet l’expression de messages personnels ou politiques, devenant dès lors un objet signifiant et révélateur. Enfermée dans de luxueux bijoux - pendentifs, broches ou bracelets – la miniature se portait comme signe extérieur de statut social ou bien encore comme témoignage d’un sentiment, de loyauté ou de propagande. Elle pouvait aussi être perçue comme porteuse de valeur économique, matérielle ou symbolique, ou bien ne livrer que de mystérieux indices ou mettre en scène des emblèmes dynastiques. En tant qu’objet que l’on donne et que l’on reçoit, que l’on porte et que l’on manipule, elle donne aussi à voir une structure narrative sous-jacente dans le tableau. Le présent article se propose de se pencher sur ces multiples aspects à travers une analyse de portraits de femmes produits en Europe au XVIIIe siècle.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 See Jill Bepler and Svante Norrhem, Telling objects. Contextualizing the role of the consort in ear (...)

1Since their emergence in the early sixteenth century, miniatures have been an integral part of the memory culture, reflecting significant aspects of life. Their intimate format and portability provided the ideal basis to commemorate highly emotional events, such as births, weddings and deaths, while, at the same time, evoking a special bond between wearer and object. The modes of wearing, regarding or presenting acted like a communication process that could trigger feelings of sympathy, love or grief. Thus, the miniatures became interactive telling objects.1

  • 2 See for example François Quesnel’s portrait of an unknown French aristocratic widow with her daught (...)
  • 3 To date the basic publication still is Friedrich Polleroß, ‘Des abwesenden Prinzen Porträt. Zeremon (...)
  • 4 In the course of the material culture discourse, also the interest in portrait miniatures has incre (...)

2As intimate souvenirs they could be concealed under clothing, worn directly-to-the-heart, or they could be displayed openly as precious jewels and signs of personal affinity. As substitutes for absent or deceased persons they were an integral part of family portraits, lovingly held or presented to symbolise eternal loyalty and love.2 Furthermore, portrait miniatures played a crucial role within early modern dynastic representation. They were part of courtly and diplomatic gift-giving, closely tied to the ceremonial contexts of courtship, engagement and marriage, and became components of ancestral galleries.3 They reflected both personal and political networks, alliances and interdependencies. This ambivalence, as intimate, emotionally charged precious items on the one hand and interactive, political mediums on the other hand, assigns them a special cultural and historical value.4 Furthermore, their significance could be enhanced by the integration – as a picture in a picture – into large-scale portraits: the inherent intimate character now being directly transposed into public display and the original purpose decisively transformed.

  • 5 Diana Scarisbrick, Portrait Jewels. Opulence and Intimacy from the Medici to the Romanovs, London, (...)
  • 6 I will focus on portrait miniatures executed in watercolours or enamel which were the favourite gen (...)

3The following observations should be understood, above all, as a first attempt to outline the various modes and intentions underlying this enlarged display of miniatures. In her ground-breaking work on Portrait Jewels. Opulence and Intimacy from the Medici to the Romanovs, Diana Scarisbrick has given a concise overview of the development and the various forms of miniatures as part of jewellery as well as their different functionality and usage.5 Whereas Scarisbrick relates to large-scale portraits mainly as sources for giving evidence of their display, this essay will discuss the complex physical, visual and semantic potential of miniatures embedded as a picture in a picture from a social and gender perspective, based on selected portraits of European princesses and queens who have integrated portrait miniatures of relatives into their portraits.6 The analysis will include questions about materiality, origin, handling, evidence and implication.

  • 7 See also Marcia Pointon, ‘‘Surrounded with Brilliants’: Miniature Portraits in Eighteenth-Century E (...)

4The restriction to female portraits may be justified by a higher gender-specific variability observed.7 The rendering of miniatures in portraits of royal women seems to be larger than in the portraits of their male counterparts. Unlike men, who often favoured only a handful of patterns mainly stressing their sovereignty and military power, women, seemingly, could draw on a wider range of options. Male court portraits often featured miniatures in a diplomatic context. They were worn as a medal or a badge of honour, i.e. as a direct sign of the appreciation by important dynastic or political allies. Female portraits, however, could display a greater variety of aspects, such as marriage, mother- and widowhood, family ties, dynastic affiliation, social networking or political propaganda.

Modes of display

  • 8 This miniature, besides expressing her emotional bond with her father, is also intended to defend h (...)

5In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, due to their fragility, miniatures were mainly enclosed in sumptuous lockets. This practice is also reflected in their pictorial reproduction. Often, they would hang on fashionable long golden chains as in Juan Pantoja de la Cruz’s portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, Archduchess of Austria, holding a miniature of her father Philip II of Spain in her right hand.8

6Uncovered, they were held very carefully and elegantly between thumb and forefinger, as seen in Sofonisba Aguissola’s brilliant portrait of Isabella’s mother, the Spanish Queen Elisabeth of Valois, holding the portrait of her husband.9

  • 10 For the development of the different styles of framing see Céline Cachaud, Framing Renaissance port (...)

7Over the course of the eighteenth century, though, due to changing fashion styles and the development of the more robust enamel technique, the value and visibility of miniatures were vastly enhanced and the modes of display became more diverse.10 Now, miniatures were worn openly as part of jewellery (in bracelets, brooches or pendants), ostentatiously presented (on the body, in the hand) or pointed at (lying on a table), lovingly held or touched, sentimentally cherished and regarded. They could be directly connected to the body, centrally pinned to the robe as part of a rich stomacher jewellery, sumptuously framed with diamonds as a boîte à portrait, or worn asymmetrically like a badge. They could be kept close-to-the-heart as a medallion or pendant on a gold chain or worn as the centrepiece of a bracelet or ring. Individually framed or as part of an object of virtue, such as snuffboxes, they could be showcased as valuables.

8In addition, this larger range of display options also allowed a differentiated interaction between sitter and object while equally involving the beholder. The sitter could draw the attention of the onlooker via gestures and eye contact inviting him or her to examine the miniature more closely, thus creating a narrative structure and influencing the perception. This could be done subtly through rhetorical gestures and inviting looks over the shoulder or directly through gestural interaction and direct eye contact. However, the depiction was always subject to a deliberate staging.

9The following examples (fig. 1-6) will give a glimpse of these variations. The miniature worn openly as part of the stomacher jewellery or as a medallion pinned to the bodice appears in the portraits of Elisabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain, by Miguel Jacinto from the 1720s and Maria Carolina of Austria,  Queen of Naples and Sicily by Camillo Landini from 1787, both wearing the portraits of their husbands (figs. 1-2).

Fig. 1 Miguel Jacinto Meléndez, Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766), c. 1718-1722, oil on canvas, 82 x 62 cm, © Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Fig. 1 Miguel Jacinto Meléndez, Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766), c. 1718-1722, oil on canvas, 82 x 62 cm, © Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Fig. 2 Camillo Landini, Maria Carolina of Austria (1752-1814), 1787, oil on canvas 135 x 105 cm, Naples, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte © Cultura Italia / Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali (MiBAC)

  • 11 Other examples are: Louis-Michel van Loo, Elisabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain, 1739, oil on canvas 15 (...)

10The miniature mounted on a precious multi-strand pearl bracelet as centrepiece became one of the most popular styles, as shown in Anton Raphael Mengs’s lovely rendering of the 14 years old future Spanish Queen Maria Luisa as Princess of Asturias from about 1765 (fig. 3). Among the Spanish-Bourbon princesses such bracelets were extremely popular, perhaps echoing a kind of family tradition.11

Fig. 3 Anton Raphael Mengs, Queen María Luisa as Princess of Asturias (1751-1819), c.1765, oil on canvas, 152.1 x 110.5 cm, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado. Source: Wikimedia Commons [public domain]

  • 12 Often the brides were shown with the insignia of their future status. See also Sofonisba Aguissola, (...)

11The miniature as a single object presented with ostentation or lovingly kept in hand is part of the following three portraits (figs. 4-6):12

Fig. 4 Unknown artist, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici (1667-1743) holding a miniature of her husband Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine, in her hand, after 1691, Brühl, Schloss Augustusburg. Source: Wikimedia Commons [public domain]

12Whereas Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici faces the beholder head-on, presenting the miniature portrait of her husband Johann Wilhelm, the Elector Palatine, like a monstrance, the young Spanish queen Maria Luisa seems to have been interrupted while lovingly regarding the portrait of her husband Philip V.

Fig. 5 Unknown artist, Maria Luisa of Savoy, holding a miniature portrait of her husband Philip V of Spain, c. 1705-1709, oil on canvas 185 x 140 cm, © Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

13Polyxena of Hesse-Rotenburg, Queen of Sardinia, on the other hand, presents the miniature of her husband Charles Emmanuel III on a side table, next to an open jewellery box, as if she has just taken the precious item out to show it off, shielding it with her hand.

Fig. 6 Martin van Meytens, Polyxena of Hesse-Rotenburg (1706-1735), Queen of Sardinia, after 1724, presenting a miniature of her husband Charles Emmanuel on a table, oil on canvas 202 x 117 cm, Turin, Palace of Venaria © Cultura Italia / Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali (MiBAC)

14Apart from these different options of displaying and staging, the presentation of a miniature was always closely linked to the contexts of its origin, to the relationship between donor and recipient, be it as a betrothal or marriage gift, as a commemorative token or as part of an ancestral portrait gallery, linking the sitter as recipient to a specific function, as here in the case of the female members of the aristocracy, to their roles as brides, consorts, mistresses, queens in their own rights, mothers, daughters or widows. These contexts not only constituted the message of the entire painting but also its perception. Even though these messages may overlap, often a certain objective is recognisable, as will be discussed below based on selected examples.

The ceremonial aspect: the bride

15Portraits, notably portrait miniatures, were an important medium in marriage negotiations as well as in both the engagement and the wedding ceremony, underscoring the eligibility of the presumptive partner or serving as a proxy and publicly enshrining the ceremonial act. A mezzotinto by Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty is capturing such a moment at the French court, as Louis XV is presenting the portrait of Marie-Antoinette to the Dauphin in April 1770.13

  • 14 See Ilsebill Barta and Hubert Winkler, ‘Portraitgeschenke am kaiserlichen Hof’, Kaiserliche Geschen (...)

16As part of the celebratory audience for courtship carried out at the court of the bride’s parents, the portrait miniature of the bridegroom was often bestowed to the bride. This had been documented for the Viennese court since 1629.14 During the ceremony an authorised representative of the bridegroom, i.e. an ambassador, envoy or a relative, stood in for him while a portrait represented the absentee, as it is described in Julius Bernhard von Rohr’s Einleitung zur Ceremoniel-Wissenschafft Der großen Herren, published in 1733:

  • 15 ‘Hierbey überliefern sie bißweilen das / Portrait des Hoch=Fürstlichen Herrn Bräutigams, / welches (...)

Hereby they occasionally deliver the portrait of the princely bridegroom, which is richly studded with diamonds, as a pledge of his love, with the assurance that he reserves himself the right to appear in persona [...] Sometimes, one of the princess’ parents would attach the portrait of the prince, delivered by the envoy, personally to the princess’ chest.15

  • 16 Mathias Fuhrmann, Alt- und neues Wien, oder dieser […] Residentz-Stadt Chronologisch- und Historisc (...)
  • 17 Georg Christoph Dinglinger, Boîte à portrait with portrait of the Electoral prince Frederick August (...)
  • 18 See Johann Christian Lünig, Theatrum Ceremoniale Historico-Politicum, Oder Historisch- und Politisc (...)

17The economic value of such a miniature “richly adorned with diamonds” as reported by von Rohr was tremendous: In 1707, the Emperor Karl VI sent a gem-set miniature worth the enormous sum of 60,000 gulden to his bride Princess Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.16 On the occasion of her engagement with the Electoral prince Frederick Augustus of Saxony in 1719, the Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria was bestowed with a rich boîte à portrait of her fiancée.17 The precious jewel was manufactured by Georg Friedrich Dinglinger, August the Strong’s royal court jeweller, and handed over to the Habsburg imperial daughter by the royal cabinet minister Jakob Heinrich Count von Flemming, who represented the bridegroom at the ceremony at the court in Vienna.18

18By transferring these betrothal miniatures as a motif into large-scale portraits, the ceremony was visually documented for posterity of which Louis de Silvestre’s portrait of Maria Anna of Saxony (1728-1797), holding the diamond-bordered miniature portrait of her bridegroom, Elector Maximilian III Joseph of Bavaria, bears witness (figs. 7, 7a).

Fig. 7 Louis de Silvestre, Maria Anna of Saxony, holding the miniature portrait of her husband, Elector Maximilian III Joseph of Bavaria, 1746, oil on canvas, 146 x 116.5 cm, © Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, photo: Bastian Krack

Fig. 7 Louis de Silvestre, Maria Anna of Saxony, holding the miniature portrait of her husband, Elector Maximilian III Joseph of Bavaria, 1746, oil on canvas, 146 x 116.5 cm, © Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, photo: Bastian Krack

Fig. 7a Louis de Silvestre, Maria Anna of Saxony, 1746, (detail) © Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, photo: Bastian Krack

19But not only the classic oval medallion or boîte à portrait served this purpose. As seen in a portrait of Maria Luisa of Parma (1751-1819) by Laurent Pécheux, snuffboxes were also used as betrothal or wedding gifts (fig. 8).

Fig. 8 Laurent Pécheux, Maria Luisa of Parma (1751-1819) as Princess of Asturias, 1765, Oil on canvas 230.8 x 164.5 cm © Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • 19 Almudena Ros de Barbero. ‘Laurent Pécheux: pintor francés retratista de María Luisa de Parma, Princ (...)

20Maria Louisa was the youngest daughter of Duke Philip of Parma and his wife, Louise Elisabeth of France, and granddaughter of both Philip V of Spain and Louis XV of France. The life-size portrait of the young bride was commissioned from the parental court at Parma to be presented to the family of her fiancé, the Prince of Asturias, the later Charles IV of Spain.19 Maria Luisa wears the decoration of the Imperial Austrian Order of the Starry Cross pinned to her dress, and in her right hand she holds an open snuffbox, probably a Limoges box, the open lid displaying on the inside the portrait miniature of her future husband. Beyond the visualisation of the engagement act via the medium of portrait miniature, the union is also symbolised via the body of the young princess. By wearing the Habsburg insignia, by touching the Spanish French snuffbox and by presenting it to the beholder, Maria Louisa is transferring these material objects into emblematic signs, representing the conjunction of two of the most powerful European dynasties.

The sentimental aspect: the wife and consort

21In addition to the aforesaid one-time staging that connotes a specific ceremonial event, miniatures can also symbolise a more intimate and long-lasting sentimental relationship between the sitter and the object received, usually emphasised by direct physical contact. Whereas the demonstrative exhibition of the miniature as a precious object primarily underlines the legal and dynastic aspects, the integration of the portrait of the fiancé, respectively the husband, into jewellery constantly worn indicates a more intimate, even sentimental bond. As mentioned above, portrait miniatures mounted on pearl bracelets belonged to the most popular items worn by royal women in the eighteenth century.

  • 20 Karin Schrader, Der Bildnismaler Johann Georg Ziesenis (1716–1776). Leben und Werk mit kritischem O (...)
  • 21 Richard Walker, Miniatures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. The Eighteenth and Early Nin (...)

22One of these women who openly cherished the matrimonial gift of her husband’s portrait miniature her entire life was Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Great-Britain (1744-1818). On the occasion of the royal engagement in 1761, the Hanoverian court painter Johann Georg Ziesenis was commissioned by George III with a portrait of the future Queen (fig. 9).20 The portrait shows Charlotte in three-quarter-length, wearing state robes with lavish jewellery, among it a valuable triple pearl bracelet with the portrait of George III as centrepiece that had been sent to her as a betrothal present.21

Fig. 9 Johann Georg Ziesenis, Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) when Princess Sophie Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, about 1761, oil on canvas, 134.9 x 96.8 cm, The Royal Collection Trust, © Her Majesty the Queen 2019

  • 22 See Karin Schrader, ‘Between Representation and Intimacy: The Portrait Miniatures of the Georgian Q (...)

23Obviously, Charlotte appreciated this bracelet very much. Over the following decades it became an integral part of her iconography, appearing on nearly all her later grand portraits by Zoffany, West, Beechey, Gainsborough and Lawrence (see fig. 10). In the course of time, especially considering the growing illness of her husband, it became a life-long-bond, a subtle symbol of her fidelity to her husband the king, to the dynasty and thus to the kingdom itself.22

Fig. 10 Johan Joseph Zoffany, Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), c. 1771, oil on canvas 162.9 x 137.2 cm, The Royal Collection Trust, © Her Majesty the Queen 2019

Political legitimisation: the empress

  • 23 See Michael Yonan, Conceptualizing the Kaiserinwitwe: Empress Maria Theresa and Her Portraits, in, (...)

24Whereas Queen Charlotte emphasised her role as loyal consort by constantly carrying the portrait of her husband on her body, Maria Theresa as ruler of the Habsburg dominions pursued quite another objective. By openly displaying the portrait miniature of her husband, the Emperor Francis Stephan, she was supporting and legitimising her own dynastic rights and claims. The complex private and politic functions of Maria Theresa as mother, archduchess, queen and consort created a unique iconography that oscillated between these partially overlapping role models.23 This is also echoed in the two known portrait types showing her with the miniature of her husband.

  • 24 The splendidly done large enamel of 62 x 51 cm is one of the largest enamel paintings ever made. An (...)

25In a painting by Liotard from 1747 she presents herself not in official state robes but, nevertheless, underlines her status with a soft green fur-lined robe and a purple ermine cape (figs. 11, 11a).24

Fig. 11 Jean-Étienne Liotard, Maria Theresa wearing a diamond studded portrait of her husband Francis Stephan, 1747, enamel on copper 62 x 51 cm, ©Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Fig. 11 Jean-Étienne Liotard, Maria Theresa wearing a diamond studded portrait of her husband Francis Stephan, 1747, enamel on copper 62 x 51 cm, ©Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Fig. 11a Jean-Étienne Liotard, Maria Theresa, 1747 (detail) ©Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

  • 25 The process of the “solenne courtship” from 1736 is described in detail by Barbara Stollberg-Riling (...)

26The soft shimmering, marble flesh tint of her plunging neckline draws the attention to the opulent diamond stomacher brooch with the Emperor’s portrait that has been her betrothal gift.25 In September 1745, two years before Liotard executed this painting, Maria Theresa had secured the election of Francis Stephan to the Empire in succession to Charles VII in the Treaty of Füssen and had him made co-regent of her hereditary dominions. Despite the seemingly lyrical, intimate atmosphere of Liotard’s rendering there is a clear political statement involved. The dominant positioning of the miniature literally incorporates the presence of the husband, thus transferring the queen’s portrait into the portrait of a married couple as well as symbol of united sovereigns. Maria Theresa not only presents herself as queen in her own right with a deep connection to her husband but illustrates in a subtle way her claim to the Habsburg Empire. Although she ruled over all the Habsburg dominions, she could not be crowned Holy Roman Emperor as the title was masculine and therefore could only be held by her husband.

  • 26 An earlier version from 1742 by Schmiddeli is held by the Galéria mesta in Bratislava. See S. Serfö (...)

27This indirect political statement becomes clearly obvious in Maria Theresa’s official coronation portraits as Queen of Hungary, in which she is staging herself in the richly beaded Hungarian coronation dress and holding the insignia as a symbol of the legitimacy of the Habsburg rulers as Hungarian sovereigns (fig. 12).26

Fig. 12 Johann Peter Kobler, Maria Theresa as Queen of Hungary in coronation robe, wearing a portrait miniature of her husband, 1751, oil on canvas 318 x 220 cm © Vienna, Bundesmobilienverwaltung, Standort Hofmobiliendepot, Möbel Museum Wien, photo: Edgar Knaack

  • 27 Ibid., p. 107.
  • 28 See E. Mikosch, op. cit. p. 65. The huge life-size painting was dominating the audience chamber at (...)
  • 29 For the importance of miniatures for Maria Theresa as well as the interrelations between large-scal (...)

28The complex legal situation of Maria Theresa, being Queen of Austria-Hungary in her own right but not allowed to be crowned as Empress, forced her to constitute a subtle iconography to underline and legitimise her status. The Hungarian royal title was the most important and significant among all her other titles. At her coronation in Bratislava on June 25, 1741, she was proclaimed not as regina (like consort) but as rex femina (female king).27 This ambivalence of female identity and male power of authority is reflected in her iconography. As part of the parure, the miniature with the portrait of her husband is attached to her body, giving evidence of the (physical) inclusion of Francis Stephan as co-regent of Hungary which she had to prevail against the opposition of the Hungarian parliament.28 The incredibly complex political propaganda of this iconography is particularly evident in the print versions that were disseminated in the style of an allegorical homage (fig. 13). 29

Fig. 13 Philipp Andreas Kilian after van Martin Meytens, copperplate, etching 92.6 x 65.5 cm ©Albertina, Vienna

29Maria Theresa is pointing with her left hand at the portrait of Francis Stephan attached to her bodice while Justitia and Fortuna are holding the imperial crown over her head. Hereby, she indirectly claims herself as sovereign of the Holy Roman Empire, standing as proxy for her husband who in turn is present in a hierarchically reduced form via his portrait miniature.

Dynastic affiliations and propaganda: widow, mother, daughter, grand-daughter, mistress

30As widows, mothers, daughters or mistresses early modern aristocratic women could use the display of miniatures to underline complex dynastic claims, political ambitions and familial relations. Hence, portraits of royal widows wearing or holding the portrait miniature of their late husbands were more than just a statement of personal grief, they were a symbol of moral virtue and dynastic continuity. For early modern consorts the role model of widowhood served as a connective emblem, connoting positive virtues as well as allowing a very individual approach to form alliances, to perform power or to display emotions. This topic is covered in the portraits of Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham, wearing a pendant with the portrait of her murdered husband, and in Charles Beaubrun’s portrait of a widow, presumably Marie Louise Gonzaga, mourning over the miniature of her husband Władysław IV Vasa.

31In addition, widow portraits could explicitly express dynastic propaganda, for example, if the role of the widow was overlapping with the role of the mother of the heir presumptive. By showing the portrait of her first-born son, the widow would try to legitimise the succession and to consolidate the dynasty. The reduced miniature-like portrait of the hereditary prince could be a reference to the ceremonial decorum as well as to the form of ancestry galleries and genealogical tablets. Often, these depictions correlated with the situation of an impending regency and the necessity to strengthen the own dynasty, as in the portrait of Anne of Austria holding the oval portrait of her son Louis XIV.

32Both these threads are interwoven in the portrait of Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Queen of Denmark and Norway, executed around 1766 by the Hanoverian court painter Johann Georg Ziesenis (fig. 14).

Fig. 14 Johann Georg Ziesenis, Queen Juliana Maria of Denmark-Norway with a portrait of her son, prince Frederick the heir presumptive, c. 1766, oil on canvas 138 x 100 cm, Frederiksborg Castle, The Museum of National History Museum, Source: Wikimedia Commons [public domain]

  • 30 Michael Bregnsbo, ‘Danish Absolutism and Queenship: Louisa, Caroline, Matilda, and Juliana Maria’, (...)

33Juliane was the second wife of King Frederick V and deeply anxious for her son Prince Frederick to succeed the throne against his older mentally deranged half-brother Christian VII. Her portrait unites three different types: the queen staging herself in a three-quarter length state portrait as regent widow (black mantilla and chair with crown), the small half-length portrait of her son in court dress with insignia, emphasizing him as the heir presumptive, and, finally, the diamond framed miniature portrait of her late husband, King Frederik V, lying on a table next to her. As Michael Bregnsbo has stated, “the picture is a clear political demonstration: by placing the crown above the portrait of her son and by pointing at that portrait with her right hand she is suggesting that her son ought to be king instead of her stepson.”30 Although the portrait miniature of the late king is not the focal point of the painting, nevertheless, it is the crucial symbol of the lineage on which the young prince’s claims to the throne are based.

  • 31 The miniature portraits of the sisters are very similar to the large-scale portraits of the two duc (...)

34Another form of dynastic claims, lineage and relationship is expressed in the portrait of Queen Maria Antonia Fernanda of Sardinia by Anton Raphael Mengs, probably commissioned on the occasion of her coronation in 1773. The full-length state portrait shows Maria Antonia sitting next to a table with her crown on a velvet cushion. She explicitly draws the onlooker’s attention by touching – with a pointed rhetorical gesture – the diamond-studded frame that holds the portraits of her two eldest daughters, the Countess of Artois and the Countess of Provence (figs. 15, 15a). 31

Fig. 15 Anton Raphael Mengs, María Antonia Fernanda of Spain, duchess consort of Savoy, princess of Piemont and queen consort of Sardinia holding the two portrait miniatures of her daughters, after 1773, oil on canvas 200 x 150 cm, Versailles, Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, © bpk | RMN - Grand Palais | Gérard Blot

35Maria Antonia was the youngest daughter of Philip V of Spain and his second wife Isabella Farnese. She had married Victor Amadeo III, Prince of Piedmont and Duke of Savoy, in 1750. The marriages of her daughters Marie Joséphine Louise in 1771 and Maria Theresa in 1773 to the surviving brothers of Louis XVI of France had significantly expanded her dynastic connections. Born Spanish Infanta, married Queen of Sardinia and mother-in-law to the two royal princes of the French House of Bourbon, Maria Anna is demonstrating in this portrait her powerful dynastic influence via the miniatures of her daughters.

Fig. 15a Anton Raphael Mengs, María Antonia Fernanda of Spain, after 1773, (detail), Versailles, Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, © bpk | RMN - Grand Palais | Gérard Blot

  • 32 A second version, also held by the Palace of Caserta, shows the princess with lowered right arm, th (...)

36Vice versa, lineage and family bonds could be also called on by children or grandchildren. In her portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs the Spanish Infanta Maria Josefa (1744-1801) is wearing a pearl bracelet with the portrait miniature of her mother, Queen Maria Amalia, on her left wrist while holding up a correspondent bracelet with the portrait of her father Charles II with her right hand (fig. 16).32

Fig. 16 Anton Raphael Mengs, Infanta Maria Josefa of Spain (1744-1801), after 1768, oil on canvas 104 x 75 cm, Palace of Caserta, © Cultura Italia / Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali (MiBAC)

  • 33 A second portrait by Mengs shows her wearing similar miniatures mounted on black velvet ribbons.

37The eye contact and the pointing gesture of the left hand operate as narrative elements, directly involving the beholder. As Maria Josefa remained unmarried, the bracelets were not a wedding gift, but they might be connected to the failed marriage negotiations with Louis XV of France in 1768. Nevertheless, these miniatures constitute a dynastic framework for the Infanta, defining both her wealth and lineage. They serve as emblematic signs of her royal status by simultaneously creating a family bond beyond time.33

38Such a bond could be also extended to past generations. Dynastic and sentimental commemorative aspects are linked in the portrait of Alexandra Pavlovna, who is wearing the eye-catching miniature of her grandmother Catherine the Great on her bodice. The portrait was painted by Vladimir Borovikovsky in the year of the Czarina’s death (fig. 17).

Fig 17 Vladimir Borovikovsky, Alexandra Pavlovna, wearing a portrait miniature of her Grandmother Catherine the Great, 1796, oil on canvas 72 x 58 cm, Gatchina Museum and Palace. Source Wikimedia Commons [public domain]

  • 34 For the likeness of Catherine see pin with image of Catherine the Great, The State Hermitage Museum (...)

39Another subtle allusion to a special bond may be intended in the portrait of Alexandra, Countess Branicka (1754-1838) (fig. 18). Branicka was lady-in-waiting to Empress Catherine the Great and was said to be her natural daughter. The bold display of the precious jewelled miniature of the Empress surmounted by the imperial crown, which she wears like a badge of honour in addition with the sash and jewel to the order of Saint Catherine, may underline her unique position within the Russian court.34

Fig. 18 Richard Brompton, Alexandra, Countess Branicka (1754-1838), 1781, Moscow, Museum of Tropinin and His Contemporaries, Source: Scarisbrick p. 223.

  • 35 Colin Jones, Madame de Pompadour. Images of a Mistress, London, National Gallery Company / Yale Uni (...)

40Finally, a different type of ‘bonding’ is shown in François Boucher’s well-known portrait of Madame de Pompadour at her morning toilet (fig. 19). The striking portrait gem of Louis XV mounted on a pearl bracelet which the maitresse en titre wears on her right arm cannot be overlooked. Ostentatiously, she is displaying it in front of her body, holding its next to her heart. By presenting the miniature in this way, she adapts an iconography reserved for royal consorts or princesses and indicates, literally spoken, her special bond with the king. As Colin Jones has stated, “she triumphantly performs the identity of a queenly person she has herself made up.”35

Fig. 19 François Boucher, Madame de Pompadour at her morning toilet, 1758, oil on canvas, 81.2 x 64.9 cm, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge MA, © President and Fellows of Harvard College

41

The miniature as central signifier

  • 36 M. Pointon, op. cit., p. 59.

42As outlined above, miniatures displayed in large-size portraits could become central elements within the overall composition, their relevance and meaning being diametrically opposed to their small size. As Marcia Pointon has noted, “the diminution of dimension serves to shift the signifying practice from the mimetic to the symbolic register”.36

43By integrating these small objects – as a picture in a picture – into large-scale portraits, they were directly contextualised with the sitter, publicly conveying personal and/or political messages, thus becoming interactive telling objects. Set in sumptuous jewellery they were worn as symbols of luxury and status as well as badges of sentiment, affiliation or propaganda. As objects of virtue they were shown and perceived as items of economic, material and symbolic value but at the same time could operate as hidden clues or dynastic emblems. In addition, the allusion to their origins as gifts or heirlooms, i.e. to the process of giving and receiving, as well as the open display of wearing, handling or regarding not only constituted a relation between sitter and object but also implemented a narrative structure into the depiction.

  • 37 Cited after J. Bepler and S. Norrhem, op. cit., p. 14.

44As Bjarne Rogan has stressed, “objects do not just provide a stage setting to human action; they are integral to it.”37 Furthermore, the interaction displayed between sitter and object via eye contact or gestures of pointing, holding and touching directly affects the perception of the viewer, thus ensuring an ever-lasting effect of sending messages, awaking memories and triggering emotions in perpetuity.

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Notes

1 See Jill Bepler and Svante Norrhem, Telling objects. Contextualizing the role of the consort in early modern Europe, Wiesbaden, Harrasowitz Verlag, 2018, p. 9-16.

2 See for example François Quesnel’s portrait of an unknown French aristocratic widow with her daughter, about 1585-1590, D. Scarisbrick, op. cit., p. 56.

3 To date the basic publication still is Friedrich Polleroß, ‘Des abwesenden Prinzen Porträt. Zeremonielldarstellung im Bildnis und Bildnisgebrauch im Zeremoniell’, in Jörg Jochen Barns (ed.), Zeremoniell als höfische Ästhetik in Spätmittelalter und früher Neuzeit, Tübingen, Niemeyer, p. 382-409.

4 In the course of the material culture discourse, also the interest in portrait miniatures has increased significantly in recent times. A concise summary of the current state of research is given by Isabel Rodriguez Marco, ‘Definición, usos e historiografía de la miniatura-retrato’, Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Serie VII Historia del Arte, 6, p. 331-348.

5 Diana Scarisbrick, Portrait Jewels. Opulence and Intimacy from the Medici to the Romanovs, London, Thames and Hudson, 2011.

6 I will focus on portrait miniatures executed in watercolours or enamel which were the favourite genre in the eighteenth century, whereas cameo or intaglio portraits and portrait medals were especially used during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and again became very popular in the nineteenth century. The geographical range of the portraits selected will cover examples from Great Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Russia.

7 See also Marcia Pointon, ‘‘Surrounded with Brilliants’: Miniature Portraits in Eighteenth-Century England’, The Art Bulletin, 83, 2001, p. 48-71, here p. 59.

8 This miniature, besides expressing her emotional bond with her father, is also intended to defend her hereditary rights to the Netherlands, which she ruled between 1598-1633. See https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/the-infanta-isabel-clara-eugenia/9d6ccdaa-42e8-4eff-8af4-bd9f28bad87a (accessed September 8 2019).

9 See https://www.museodelprado.es/coleccion/obra-de-arte/isabel-de-valois-sosteniendo-un-retrato-de-felipe/6a414693-46ab-4617-b3e5-59e061fcc165?searchMeta=sofonisba (accessed September 8 2019).

10 For the development of the different styles of framing see Céline Cachaud, Framing Renaissance portrait miniatures in Paris and London, https://theframeblog.com/2017/12/13/framing-renaissance-portrait-miniatures-in-paris-and-london/ (last accessed, 31 October 2018); Framing miniatures in the 17th century: The Golden Age of ‘la boîte à portrait’, https://theframeblog.com/2018/07/11/framing-miniatures-in-the-17th-century-the-golden-age-of-la-boite-a-portrait/ (last accessed 2 November 2018). Cachaud shows how the display of the framing was directly linked to the technique of the miniature. In the beginning, the fragile structure of watercolours on vellum required to protect the miniature in boxes, closed medallions or precious cases, whereas with the development of the enamel technique, the portrait could be openly displayed and set in jewelled settings like a boîte à portrait.

11 Other examples are: Louis-Michel van Loo, Elisabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain, 1739, oil on canvas 150 x 110 cm, Museo del Prado; Jean-Marc Nattier (school), Élisabeth Alexandrine de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Sens, c. 1750-1770, oil on canvas 81 x 65 cm,  Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon; Anton Raphael Mengs, Maria Louisa of Spain, c. 1764, oil on canvas 84,5 x 65 cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum and Maria Carolina of Austria, c. 1772, Madrid, Royal Palace; Pietro Rotari, Maria Josepha of Poland, c. 1755, oil on canvas 95 x 72 cm, Warsaw, National Museum.

12 Often the brides were shown with the insignia of their future status. See also Sofonisba Aguissola, Elisabeth of Valois holding a portrait of Philip II, c. 1561-1565, oil on canvas 206 x 123 cm, Madrid, Museo del Prado; Louis de Silvestre, Maria Amalia of Saxony, 1738, oil on canvas 260 x 181 cm, Madrid, Museo del Prado; Johann Georg Ziesenis, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Crown Princess of Prussia, c.1765, oil on canvas 149 x 110 cm, Potsdam, Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg.

13 See https://art.rmngp.fr/fr/library/artworks/jean-baptiste-andre-gautier-d-agoty_estampe-technique_maniere-noire (accessed October 13 2019)

14 See Ilsebill Barta and Hubert Winkler, ‘Portraitgeschenke am kaiserlichen Hof’, Kaiserliche Geschenke, exhib. cat. Linz, Schlossmuseum, 1988, p. 30-38; Sabine Weiß, Claudia de’ Medici. Eine italienische Prinzessin als Landesfürstin von Tirol (1604-1648), Innsbruck, Tyrolia Verlag, 2004, p. 68; Cordula Bischoff, ‘Presents for Princesses: Gender in Royal Receiving and Giving’, Studies in the Decorative Arts, Fall-Winter, 2007-2008, p. 19-45, here p. 21-23.

15 ‘Hierbey überliefern sie bißweilen das / Portrait des Hoch=Fürstlichen Herrn Bräutigams, / welches starck mit Diamanten besetzt, zum Unter= / pfand seiner Liebe, mit der Versicherung, daß er sich / selbst reservirte, bald im Original darzustellen […] Eines von den / Hoch=Fürstlichen Eltern hängt manchmahl mit ei= / gener Hand das von dem Herrn Abgesandten en / migniature überbrachte Bildnis des Herrn Bräu= / tigams der Princeßin an die Brust.’ Julius Bernhard von Rohr, Einleitung zur Ceremoniel-Wissenschafft Der großen Herren, Die in vier besondern Theilen Die meisten Ceremoniel-Handlungen, so die Europäischen Puissancen überhaupt, und die Teutschen Landes-Fürsten insonderheit […] zu beobachten pflegen […], Berlin 1733, I. Theil. X. Capitul‚ Von den fürstlichen Vermählungen §§ 8-10, p. 136-137.

16 Mathias Fuhrmann, Alt- und neues Wien, oder dieser […] Residentz-Stadt Chronologisch- und Historische Beschreibung von derselben Ursprung an biß au die neuen Zeiten, vol. 2, Vienna 1739, p. 1271.

17 Georg Christoph Dinglinger, Boîte à portrait with portrait of the Electoral prince Frederick Augustus II of Saxony. The portrait miniature was executed 1718, the pendant 1719, the bow and crown are later additions from around 1740-1750. Enamel on copper with gold and diamonds, 7.6 x 3.8 cm. See Elisabeth Mikosch, ‘Das diamantene Miniaturporträt des Kurprinzen Friedrich August – ein fürstliches Verlobungsgeschenk und Zeugnis der politischen Ambitionen Augusts des Starken’, Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden, 25, 1994, p. 59-67.

18 See Johann Christian Lünig, Theatrum Ceremoniale Historico-Politicum, Oder Historisch- und Politischer Schau-Platz Aller Ceremonien, Welche bey Päbst- und Käyser-, auch Königlichen Wahlen und Crönungen ... Ingleichen bey Grosser Herren und dero Gesandten Einholungen […] beobachtet werden, vol 2, Leipzig, 1720, p. 489.

19 Almudena Ros de Barbero. ‘Laurent Pécheux: pintor francés retratista de María Luisa de Parma, Princesa de Asturias’, in Miguel Cabañas Bravo (ed.), El arte foráneo en España: presencia e influencia, Madrid, CSIC Press, 2005, p. 407-416, here p. 407-408. In return a portrait of the Spanish prince might have been sent to the court of Parma; ibid. figure 2, p. 410.

20 Karin Schrader, Der Bildnismaler Johann Georg Ziesenis (1716–1776). Leben und Werk mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Münster, LIT-Verlag, 1995, p. 207-208, no. 149; Jane Roberts (ed.), George III & Queen Charlotte. Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, exhib. cat. London, Royal Collection, 2004, p. 16. The Royal Collection holds a charming copy of this portrait on ivory, mounted in a dark tortoiseshell snuffbox, probably executed by the artist’s daughter, Elisabeth, who was reported to be a skilled miniaturist; see RCIN 43892; J. Roberts, op. cit., p. 341, no. 392.

21 Richard Walker, Miniatures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. The Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. XV, p. 127 and pl. lxxvi. The current location of the original bracelet miniature is unknown; see Vanessa Remington, Victorian Miniatures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, 2 vols., London, Royal Collection Trust, 2010, p. 610. Apparently, there were two bracelets, one holding the centrepiece miniature, another the cipher and the hair of George III; see D. Scarisbrick, op.cit., p. 208; M. Pointon, op. cit. p. 58. Ziesenis did not depict the original miniature executed by Jeremiah Meyer (see https://www.rct.uk/collection/search#/1/collection/421851/george-iii-1738-1820). He probably knew about the bracelet but had not seen it himself and painted the king vaguely in coronation robes. R. Walker, op. cit. p. 208, unconvincingly suggested a portrait of her father, the Grand Duke Charles.

22 See Karin Schrader, ‘Between Representation and Intimacy: The Portrait Miniatures of the Georgian Queens’ in Bernd Pappe, Juliane Schmieglitz-Otten, Gerrit Walczak (eds.), European Portrait Miniatures. Artists, Functions and Collections, Petersberg, Michael Imhof Verlag, 2014, p. 27-37.

23 See Michael Yonan, Conceptualizing the Kaiserinwitwe: Empress Maria Theresa and Her Portraits, in, Allison Levy (ed.), Widowhood and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe, Aldershot/Burlington, Ashgate, 2003, p. 110-125, here p. 111; Szabolcs Serfözö, ‘Männlich’ und mächtig. Die Inszenierung Maria Theresias als Königin von Ungarn auf Staatsporträts, in Elfriede Iby e.a. (eds.), Maria Theresia 1717-1780. Strategin, Mutter, Reformerin, exhib. cat. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 2017, p. 107-110, here p. 107.

24 The splendidly done large enamel of 62 x 51 cm is one of the largest enamel paintings ever made. An oil on canvas version is held by the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick.

25 The process of the “solenne courtship” from 1736 is described in detail by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, ‘Maria Theresia. Die Kaiserin ihrer Zeit’, Munich, C. H. Beck, 2017, p. 35- 36.

26 An earlier version from 1742 by Schmiddeli is held by the Galéria mesta in Bratislava. See S. Serfözö, op. cit. p.109.

27 Ibid., p. 107.

28 See E. Mikosch, op. cit. p. 65. The huge life-size painting was dominating the audience chamber at Bratislava Castle together with a correspondent portrait of the Emperor.

29 For the importance of miniatures for Maria Theresa as well as the interrelations between large-scale portraits and miniatures in her iconography see Stephanie Linsboth, ‘From large-scale paintings to precious miniatures – Maria Theresa’s portrait miniatures’, in Bernd Pappe, Juliane Schmieglitz-Otten (eds.), Portrait Miniatures. Artists, Functions and Collections, Petersberg, Michael Imhof Verlag, 2018, p. 88-97.

30 Michael Bregnsbo, ‘Danish Absolutism and Queenship: Louisa, Caroline, Matilda, and Juliana Maria’, in Clarissa Campbell Orr (ed.), Queenship in Europe, 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 344-367, here p. 358.

31 The miniature portraits of the sisters are very similar to the large-scale portraits of the two duchesses by Drouais, who worked also as miniature painter; see Laurent Hugues, ‘Miniature Portraits of the French Royal Family at the Court of Louis XV and Louis XVI based on Archival Documents’, in B. Pappe e. a., 2014, op. cit. p. 47-51, here p. 49.

32 A second version, also held by the Palace of Caserta, shows the princess with lowered right arm, thus presenting only the bracelet on her left hand, with the image of her mother.

33 A second portrait by Mengs shows her wearing similar miniatures mounted on black velvet ribbons.

Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mengs_-_Infanta_Maria_Josefa.jpg

34 For the likeness of Catherine see pin with image of Catherine the Great, The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, D. Scarisbrick, op. cit. p. 222.

35 Colin Jones, Madame de Pompadour. Images of a Mistress, London, National Gallery Company / Yale University Press, 2002, p. 78; 81. At the same time she might reinvent the image of the king by herself, as the miniature is said to show her own copy after Guay’s work, ibid.

36 M. Pointon, op. cit., p. 59.

37 Cited after J. Bepler and S. Norrhem, op. cit., p. 14.

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Table des illustrations

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Titre Fig. 1 Miguel Jacinto Meléndez, Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766), c. 1718-1722, oil on canvas, 82 x 62 cm, © Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
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Titre Fig. 7 Louis de Silvestre, Maria Anna of Saxony, holding the miniature portrait of her husband, Elector Maximilian III Joseph of Bavaria, 1746, oil on canvas, 146 x 116.5 cm, © Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, photo: Bastian Krack
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Titre Fig. 11 Jean-Étienne Liotard, Maria Theresa wearing a diamond studded portrait of her husband Francis Stephan, 1747, enamel on copper 62 x 51 cm, ©Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
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Karin Schrader, « ‘Telling Objects’ – Miniatures as an Interactive Medium in Eighteenth-Century Female European Court Portraits »Études Épistémè [En ligne], 36 | 2019, mis en ligne le 23 avril 2020, consulté le 27 mai 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/5399; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/episteme.5399

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Auteur

Karin Schrader

Karin Schrader is a freelance art historian and researcher, specialising in European portraits and portrait miniatures from the 16th to the 19th centuries. She obtained her PhD in 1991 from Georg August Universität Göttingen with a dissertation on the German portrait painter Johann Georg Ziesenis (1716-1776). In the last years her research interest has focussed on early modern female portraiture, in particular on Caroline of Ansbach, consort of King George II. She is especially interested in the display, function and usage of portraits with regard to their dynastic representation and political implication. Furthermore, she is intrigued by the correlation of the different portrait media such as medals, prints, paintings, sculpture and applied arts. Her latest publications include “Taking the Veil: Miniatures of Royal Widows from the 16th to the 19th Centuries”, in Bernd Pappe, Juliane Schmieglitz-Otten, (eds.), Portrait Miniatures. Artists, Functions And Collections, Petersberg 2018, S. 98-106, and “‘Je me vois toujours dans votre souvenir et amitié’, – Leibniz’ Einfluss auf Carolines Selbstdarstellung und Kulturpolitik”, in Wenchao Li (Hg.), Leibniz, Caroline und die Folgen der englischen Sukzession, Studia Leibnitiana 47, Stuttgart 2016, S. 115-134. For more information and publications see http://www.karin-schrader.de.

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