Renaissance to Restoration: Portrait Miniatures from the 1500s to late 1600s
The first portrait miniatures appeared in the 1520s at the French and English courts and they were particularly useful to the monarchy. Small enough to be given as gifts, they signaled a monarch’s favor when worn publicly.
Take for example Nicholas Hilliard’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, George Cumberland, Third Earl of Clifford. He is shown in his tournament armor with the cipher of Elizabeth, two E’s back to back (seen on the front of his armor) signaling not only his role at court, but also his devotion to the Queen. The miniatures on view in this rotation from some of the period’s finest artists reveal an early approach to the figure in what would become the predecessor to the selfie some 500 years later.
The Starr Collection of Miniatures in the Bloch Galleries
Presented to the Nelson-Atkins by Mr. and Mrs. John W. Starr in two major gifts from 1958 and 1965, and numerous additional gifts through the years, the Starr Collection of Miniatures illustrates the history of European portrait miniatures through more than 250 objects.
The exhibition of portrait miniatures in Gallery P24 changes every twelve months to highlight the variety of the collection and to limit exposure of the light-sensitive pigments.
Nicholas Hilliard (English, ca. 1547 – 1619), Portrait of George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland, around 1587. Watercolor and gold on vellum, 2 3/4 x 2 3/16 inches. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John W. Starr and the Starr Foundation, Inc., F58-60/188.