The V&A museum in London has a comprehensive collection of portrait miniatures. They are of particular interest to me as the novel I am working on features female court painter Levina Teerlinc as a main character and renowned miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, to a lesser degree. Both artists were experts in the limning form: watercolour miniatures painted on vellum pasted to card (often a playing card which added a further layer of symbolism). The limning is a very private art form, designed as keepsakes for lovers and intimate friends but were occasionally used in other ways. For example the image of Catherine Grey and her son (below) was probably used as propaganda by those who championed the baby as the next protestant King of England to further their cause – something I explore in the novel.
The museum displays the miniatures in such a way as to show the development of the form from its beginnings in the early sixteenth century to its zenith in the eighteenth and nineteenth but also shows unfinished limnings alongside painters' equipment as a way of illustrating the technique. You can see the single hair brushes, the animals' tooth scrapers and the mussel shells used for mixing paint. My only criticism of the display is that some are so darkly lit (presumably for preservation purposes) as to be almost impossible to see and also it is frustrating that there are other miniatures elsewhere in the museum and I would have loved to have them all in one place, though this did lead me to the rather magnificent Early Modern English displays, which are definitely wroth a visit.
For me to see certain images, in the flesh as it were, was rather moving as I felt myself face to face with the protagonists of my novel.
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