Regency,  Research

Eye Jewelry

Mrs. Fitzherbert’s Eye Miniature by Richard Cosway

The first eye miniatures were said to have been painted by the celebrated miniaturist Richard Cosway who, in 1786, was commissioned by the Prince of Wales (later George IV) to paint the eye of his morganatic wife, Mrs Fitzherbert. However his claim to being the first is now disputed.

The book, Perfect Likeness: European and American Portrait miniatures from the Cincinnati Art Museum, gives us this history of the Eye miniature:

Not only was the eye traditionally regarded as the “window of the soul” but in a more romantic vein, love was said to enter through the eyes, which first caressed and then possessed the object of desire.

While many eye miniatures were undoubtedly intended as love tokens others … were meant as memorials, as indicated by a black enamel border and a commemorative inscription to the back of the piece.

The black border indicates that this is mourning jewelry

Engleheart’s book records several such commissions including a 1783 painting of “Mrs Quarrington, her eye” which would refute the claim that Cosway’s of Mrs Fitzherbert was the first of the genre.

eye-miniatures-fobMost eye miniatures are unsigned, making attribution of these diminutive and intriguing works difficult if not impossible.

George IV was buried wearing Mrs. Fitzherbert’s eye miniature-a fact verified by the Duke of Wellington who took a peek.

I’m particularly enamored of the fob pictured here that has (I think) five eye miniatures attached.  Who shall we imagine wore this?  A doting father? A much-widowed aristocrat? A gentleman with an active love life? What a story this would make.

For a quick look, here’s a YouTube video from The Georgia Museum of Modern Art and the University of Georgia  for the exhibition “The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection,” organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art.

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Carolyn Jewel
8 years ago

This is interesting. And creepy.

Or is it just me?

8 years ago

I agree, Carolyn. They are both interesting and creepy. But I can’t help thinking that one would look great on my lapel.

Elena Greene
8 years ago

I find the first one (the Mrs Fitzherbert) more creepy than the others because there’s room for the rest of the face but it isn’t shown. The others I find touching somehow.

Diane Gaston
8 years ago

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Georgia Museum of Modern Art to see the Lovers Eyes exhibit. It is fascinating. What struck me – and was only evident in your photo of the fob – was how tiny the eye portraits were.

I bought the exhibit’s catalogue that had tiny short stories written by Jo Manning to accompany some of the images.

8 years ago

This is all new to me .and some what strange and weird to me.

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