ca. 1660 (made)


Height: 2.7 cm, Width: 2.2 cm


Miniature with a gold, black and enamel frame, Germany ca.1660.

Oval portrait miniature in a gold and black rim frame depicting a nobleman shown three-quarter length looking to the right, with a long curly brown wig, armour and a red cravat. The reverse is enamelled with the coronet of a German prince, red heart, and skull and crossbones.

Enamel colours can be used in very different ways to create an image. Here the colours are applied in a bold, linear fashion. The reverse is enamelled with the coronet of a German Prince and also the motto, in French, 'The deceased are living here', around a red heart with skull and cross bones. In the 17th century, new techniques of painting enamels allowed delicate portraits resembling tiny oil paintings to be created. These enamel miniatures were first fashionable in continental Europe, but were particularly in vogue in Britain from the 1720s to 1760s. Painted enamels were made by firing finely milled glass which had been coloured with metal oxides onto a metal base, usually gold or copper. The colours had to be applied and fired in several stages, according to the firing temperature required by each colour. Incredible precision was needed for a successful enamel portrait, since each firing carried risks of cracking and bubbling. Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde formed one of the world's great decorative art collections, including silver, mosaics, enamelled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996.

Provenance: Countess Charlotte Sophie Bentinck. Christian Frederick Anton, Count Bentinck. By descent to Timothy Bentinck. Bentinck sale, Sotheby's London, lot 218, 30/06/1980. S.J. Phillips, London, 1980.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website