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Arts / Entertainment

European Portrait Miniatures

May 24, 2012

Exquisitely detailed watercolor portraits on vellum or ivory were widely popular in the 16h century through the mid-19th century. A collection of these paintings can be seen at the University Art Museum through June 9.

Richard Cosway, 'Portrait of Lady Augusta Murray,' 18th century watercolor on ivory, Courtesy of Hartford/Tandstad Collection.The exhibition, "Small Worlds: European Portrait Miniatures," can be seen at the University Art Museum through Saturday, June 9. This event is free.  

Museum hours/location

The museum is open 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

The University Art Museum is located on the first floor of the University Center for the Arts in the renovated old Fort Collins High School at 1400 Remington Street on the southeast end of the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

Popular for two centuries

The genre of the miniature portrait thrived in England and continental Europe from its birth in the 16th century through the mid-19th century, when the advent of photography led to its demise.

Today the word miniature is commonly understood as something that is exceptionally small, but the word originally meant the art of painting images in books with water-soluble pigment. The word miniature derives from minium¸ a red pigment used in manuscript illumination.

Portraits used for various purposes

In the 16th century a specialized group of painters developed the art of the portrait miniature. Their sources were the small scale paintings found in manuscripts and the tradition of antique portrait medallions revived in the Renaissance.

Typically created in an oval or round format on a vellum or ivory support, the portrait miniature became widely popular. Originally utilized by the English monarchy as a means of bestowing favor upon a subject, the portrait miniature’s uses blossomed. Worn as a sign of loyalty, as jewelry, or carried privately like a snapshot of a friend or lover, these exquisitely detailed images continue to fascinate today.


The exhibitions and programs at the University Art Museum are sponsored, in part, by the FUNd Endowment at Colorado State, the City of Fort Collins’ Fort Fund, the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Fund and Colorado Humanities.

Contact: Jennifer Clary
Phone: (970) 491-3603