Posts Tagged ‘ miniature portrait ’
Our photo expert, Jayne Shrimpton, analyses your family photos.
Helen Shimitras sent us her miniature portrait and asked:
‘I have attached a miniature for you to provide some clues on, please – possibly the date, what the clothes tell us and perhaps the country of origin. This miniature was in the possession of my great-great-grandmother, Mary Agnes Fitzmaurice, who was born in Ireland around 1835. She ended up in Australia somehow around 1850 – I’m still trying to work out why, when and who with and who her father was. We know her mother (or maybe her grandmother) had a highly decorated brother, Major Roche Meade, and among her possessions there was another miniature of him in his scarlet army uniform. That portrait has now gone missing, but he did not look like the same person as the one in this miniature. The wording on the back of the box in which the brooch was kept is wrong – just an assumption by a relative. I hope you can help.’
‘It’s always interesting to work on a painted portrait. Most family historians have mainly photographs in their picture collections, but now and again an original artwork surfaces. Having a portrait painted became increasingly fashionable in the late 18th century and by the early-1800s more of our ancestors commissioned such pictures. This displayed their wealth and social status, although ordering a hand-crafted likeness in the pre-photographic era was a luxury that few could afford. Even a small painting like your miniature typically cost at least a guinea – equal to around six days’ wages for a craftsman in the building trade in 1800. It was mainly our affluent forebears, therefore, who are depicted in hand-painted heirlooms, such as landed gentry, professionals, businessmen, successful tradesmen and military officers, and their close relatives.
Thousands of portrait artists worked during the late-1700s and early-1800s in Britain, wider Europe and the colonies – anywhere where there was demand and a prosperous community. Apart from the most accomplished and well-known painters, few signed their work and their portraits were, unfortunately for today’s researchers, rarely dated or their subjects identified. Miniatures were very popular because they were relatively economical; tiny versions could be fitted into items of jewellery such as lockets or brooches, as in your case, and they were highly portable, often travelling across continents. Unless a picture displays strong national features it is hard to tell where it was painted, so I’m afraid that I can’t confirm the country of origin of your portrait.
In these circumstances the best that we can do is to date your image, so that you can consider which ancestor the young man may have been. We only have a small head and shoulders view to go on, as was usual in a miniature. During the first quarter of the 19th century men’s appearance remained fairly standard in terms of hairstyle and upper garments. Here we see a smart dark frock coat with a high collar, worn with a fine white shirt, the starched shirt collar resting on the lower jaw and swathed in a white cravat – all characteristic details of elegant male fashion in the era popularly termed ‘Regency’.
His hairstyle is also of the time, worn with faint sideburns that later became more pronounced. Based on fashion clues, the date range is most likely c.1800-1820 – just possibly as late as 1825. This ancestor looks very young and may perhaps have sat for this portrait to mark his 21st birthday. In view of the picture’s timeframe, he would have been born between about 1780 and the turn of the century. He, therefore, hails from an earlier generation to your 2 x great grandmother: perhaps he is connected to Major Meade, who was, it seems, portrayed at a similar date.’
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