A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
THE SCHOOL OF MINIATURE PAINTERS

IN describing, in the first chapter, the rise of art in England, we pointed to our miniature painters as the first native artists 'who attained eminence, and instanced Nicholas Hilliard (c. 1547- 1619), in the reign of Elizabeth, followed by Isaac (c. 1556- 1617) and Peter Oliver (c. 1596- 1647), John Hoskins, and later, Samuel Cooper (c. 1609- 1672), as highly distinguished in this favourite art; and we have in the preceding chapter described the processes of the early miniaturists in relation to the origin of water-colour painting. English art, in fact, began in portraiture. We trace, in its earliest efforts, the desire which has always existed to possess such remembrances as art could supply to gratify love and affection, or to retain the memory of great and distinguished men.

Miniature, perhaps, lends itself more to the affections than any other class of art. Cultivated since the days of Elizabeth, no other has, to our time, found such steady encouragement. Its intrinsic beauty and elaborate finish are charms which address themselves at once to all, and all can comprehend and esteem its merits.

It is not our purpose to include here as miniaturists those artists, briefly mentioned in the following chapter, who in early times drew highly finished heads of a small size in pencil, or with the pen, and slightly washed them in with Indian ink, usually on vellum; but to consider the term miniature as strictly applying to portraits executed in water-colours on ivory, or in enamel on copper, in some few instances on silver or gold; these materials fixing an absolute limit to the size of the work, and being those solely used by artists to whom the term miniaturist may be most correctly applied. We have said 'fixing absolutely', for though the diameter of the tooth determines the surface of ivory which can be obtained from it, attempts have been made to unite the pieces without apparent joint, or to turn, and afterwards flatten, a plate from the circumference of the tooth, so as to form large surfaces; and also in enamelling, experiments have been tried to vitrify large plates; yet the success has been doubtful, and even if obtained would destroy the peculiar character of miniature art.

Miniature painting on ivory is practised with the ordinary transparent water-colours, with occasionally a little opaque colour for the

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