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Portrait Miniature Drawings

Miniature portrait drawings are prized for their historical significance as well as the exacting skill required for their production. Sometimes measuring as small as one by one and a half inches, miniature portrait drawings were developed from the techniques of diminutive portraiture employed in the creation of illuminated manuscripts.

During the 16th century, miniature portrait drawings were commissioned by royalty, used primarily as a type of trading card. The small size of miniature portraits allowed for easy transport across great distances and, at the time of their popularity, they offered the most convenient way for a member of the ruling class to see another’s face without meeting in person. A nobleman in Spain, for example, could send a portrait of his daughter to potential suitors in Hungary or Italy without having to pay a visit by horse and carriage.

The practice of miniature portrait drawings grew in popularity until the advent of photography in the mid-19th century. Though originally reserved for royalty, people of all classes from the regal to the working class enjoyed this art. Sailors and soldiers often took illustrations of their loved ones with them on their journeys abroad.

Quick Facts

  • During the 18th century, miniature portrait drawings often adorned jewelry and the covers of snuff boxes
  • The majority of miniature portrait drawings available today feature subjects who are unknown, offering an intriguing and mysterious glimpse into the life of someone in a completely different time in history
  • In September 2013, Christie’s auctioned off roughly 230 miniature portraits with estimates ranging from $1,600 to $800,000 each

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