(lat. minium — “red lead
”, red paint) is the modern name for the artworks of small sizes, portraits or landscapes. However, the term originally referred to small drawings or capital letters that adorned ancient manuscripts. They were separated from the text by a frame of red paint — minium, the red lead, hence the name “miniature”. In fact, these drawings were the first book illustrations. Nowadays, miniatures are called small-sized works of art — paintings, sculptures, graphic works.
The earliest surviving miniatures are the series of colour drawings created for the Ambrosian Iliad (3rd century AD). These images are quite realistic, in both figurative and landscape painting, and are reminiscent of the technique of the antique artists. No less famous are miniatures from the Vergilius Vaticanus, a Late Antique manuscript containing the fragments of Virgilэs Aeneid and Georgics (early 5th century). The images were made in layers: large figures were drawn on a completely painted background, and small details and contours were drawn on top. The Byzantine masters used the same principle, characteristic of icon painting. Their miniatures bore the imprint of church principles of stereotyped images of saints. Their distinctive feature was the richly gilded backgrounds and details of illustrations, which later found its reflection in the works by artists of the Western school.
Speaking of miniature illustrations of Western European countries, until the 11—12th centuries, book illuminations were mainly decorative, and the images of people and objects were rare. These were mainly images of saints and scenes from the Bible. With the beginning of the rapid development of art in the 12th century, book miniatures became more and more “free” in thematic and technical aspects, artists depicted historical and everyday scenes. Three main schools of miniatures stand out — English, Flemish and French ones. The size of the books decreased, the drawings decreased accordingly, the figures became even sharper and more graceful, and the images itself began to resemble paintings in their composition more and more.
By the second half of the 15th century, Flemish miniature reached the peak of its evolution. The works by the artists of this school are distinguished by softness and color depth, subtle elaboration of facial features, and detailing. In the Renaissance
, another school of miniature emerged, the Italian one. The artists used thicker and richer pigments while maintaining the outline sharpness and depth of the drawing.
In the countries of the Orient, miniatures have been used since about the 10th century. Indian artists adorned Buddhist manuscripts with illustrations, inspiring masters in Tibet and Nepal to create their own examples of this art. In Persia, by the 13th century, artists created special collections of miniatures, murakka, which contained scenes from the Quran, historical or mythological scenes. Despite the Quran’s prohibition of portraying people, the murakka albums were personal, very expensive collections of miniatures, and were only shown to a close circle of friends.
After the invention of paper and the beginning of the mass production of edition-bound books, the art of book miniatures was superseded by engraving and woodcuts. Having slightly changed, the art of creating small paintings became more intimate, more benevolent to portrait and landscape. Painterly miniatures were created on porcelain and stone, bone and metal. The decorative and applied direction of technology developed. Small items were decorated with miniature painting: caskets, snuff boxes, fans, pendant inserts, brooches, mirrors.
Especially popular were portrait medallions inserted into expensive frames and worn on a chain or ribbon. Miniatures also replaced commemorative photographs: people took them on trips, placed them on their office walls, placed them on desktops to remember the close and dear ones. Miniature portraits of royalty in precious frames were an expensive and coveted reward for special state services.
Modern masters working in this technique believe that modern miniature is a work of pictorial art that can fit in your palm, and its area should not exceed 100 square centimetres.Famous artists who painted miniature
:The Limburg brothers
, Nicholas Hilliard, Isaac Oliver
, Rosalba Carrera
, Hans Holbein the Younger
, Jean Honoré Fragonard
, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun
, Jean Fouquet
, Jacques Augustine, Peter Edward Stroehling, Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder
, Vladimir Borovikovsky
, Dmitry Evreinov
, Ivan Aivazovsky
, Orest Kiprensky