antique miniatures

10

It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Today we are discussing another very specific piece of fashion history: Lover’s Eye Jewelry. Much like hair jewelry (which I discuss here) while the concept may seem very foreign to us today, these pieces were highly valued and treasured keepsakes.

The concept of lover’s eye jewelry, known in it’s time as eye miniatures, is pretty obvious. Lover’s would commission miniature portraits of just their eyes. The portraits would be incorporated into all types of jewelry, such as brooches, necklaces, and bracelets. They were seen as much more intimate than a typical portrait. Since the portrait focused solely on that one feature, only those closest to the portrait’s subject would be able to identify to whom the eye belonged. This meant that eye portraits were rarely turned into lockets, as was common with typical miniature portraits. The anonymity of eye portraits also caused these miniatures to develop a bit of a reputation of being exchanged between forbidden loves, whether the star-crossed lovers, those in the midst of scandalous affairs, or even men and their mistresses.

Eye miniatures were also seen as especially intimate because of how personal eyes themselves are. As we have all heard, “the eyes are the window to the soul.”

Such a romantic piece of jewelry deserves an equally romantic story to accompany it. While no one is certain where eye miniatures got their start, it was the tale of a forbidden love between a prince and a commoner which sparked the trend’s popularity. In the 1780s, the future King George IV fell head over heals in love with commoner Maria Fitzherbert. She was 6 years his elder, twice widowed, and, most controversial in Britain at the time, Catholic. Both knew that the relationship would never be approved of by the King, George III, and so Maria resisted. Yet the Prince of Wales (George IV) persisted, and Maria fell for him in return. She presented the Prince with an eye miniature pin, which it was rumored he wore hidden under his lapel. The two were wed in secret, yet the marriage was never recognized as valid by the British government. Likely due to the rejection from King George III, the two separated in the 1790s. George went on to marry another (the full story is fascinating- I recommend reading up on it.) However, on George IV’s deathbed, he requested to be buried along with Maria’s eye miniature, a wish that was granted.

Eye miniatures remained popular through the early Victorian Age. Mystery shrouds most surviving examples, as it is nearly impossible to identify the eye without solid provenance. Though they fell from popularity, lover’s eye jewelry never disappeared completely, and are still created on the rare occasion today.

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The Telegraph:

The smallest English dictionary in the world has been discovered by West Country book shop owner Graham York. Although only 1x3/4inch the tiny book’s 384 pages contain thousands of words, and even comes with a lens in its case for surreptitious study when challenged by a lack of diction. Printed by David Bryce & Sons in Glasgow in 1890 it’s thought only a handful of the mini books were made to show the printer’s skills. Graham said, ‘it would have been the perfect tool for a Victorian quiz or Scrabble night, just like a smart phone is today. Although you would have to be blessed with 20/20 vision to use it.’ Graham is now taking his miniature discovery to the Chelsea Book Fair in November where the tiny book is expected to generate huge interest.

Picture: Phil Yeomans/BNPS