Back to Top

Tag Archives: Jo Manning

I have a new “guilty pleasure” book for you. The Look Of Love: Eye Miniatures From The Skier Collection, the catalogue of the Birmingham (Alabama) Museum of Art’s exhibit of eye miniatures dating from the 1780s to the 1820s.

Jo Manning, author of My Lady Scandalous, the biography of famous courtesan Grace Elliot, and of many fine Regency romances, contributed fictional vignettes about certain eye miniatures, imagining the circumstances of the creations of the jeweled pieces of art. The addition of these vignettes to the catalogue seemed an inspired idea, because the identities of most of the subjects in the collection are unknown.

Apparently it was George IV, then Prince of Wales, who commissioned the first eye miniatures. When the Prince secretly married the Catholic widow, Maria Fitzherbert, they exchanged miniatures of their eyes, painted on ivory and set in jewels, as tokens of their love. Soon it became the fashion for lovers and loved ones to bestow these tiny portraits of a single eye, made into brooches, pendants, even rings, on their favored ones. It was the perfect love token for clandestine lovers–one eye was enough to spark the memory of the person, but not enough for another person to identify whose eye it was.

Some eye miniatures were not secrets. They might be gifts between husbands and wives, mothers and sons, betrothed couples. Some were sad mementos of a loved one who died. But the identities of so many miniatures that were gifts from secret lovers are lost to us.

What remains are beautiful, sometimes spooky, images set in gold, surrounded by gems, or decorating tortoiseshell boxes. Some of the jewelry include woven locks of hair on the underside of the miniature. One includes the miniature of a hand; others, inscriptions such as “Esteem the giver.” One of the most unusual settings is a tiny image of an eye on a toothpick box. Another, in the book but not in the exhibit, is an eye painted onto a porcelain teacup.

These were gifts whose only purpose was to convey love. What an inspiration for romance writers and readers!

Read Jo Manning’s guest blog on the exhibition at Number One London.
Here’s an article on the exhibition from Vanity Fair.
More information on eye miniatures from Antiques Roadshow.
Preview of a scholarly article from Jstor.

I found an artist who will paint an eye portrait, but I think one of us (Amanda???) once found someone else who accepted commissions for eye miniatures.

Have you read (or written) about eye miniatures in any Regency Historicals?


Last March I blogged about The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier collection exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art. I had heard of the exhibition and its catalogue book from Jo Manning, author of My Lady Scandalous and several wonderful Regencies and frequent guest blogger at Number One London. I considered myself lucky to purchase the catalogue, because I didn’t have a prayer at getting to Birmingham to see the exhibit.

Then a couple of days ago I saw this at Number One London. The Look of Love exhibit was at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, GA. And guess what?? I was IN Georgia! The dh and I took a detour during our Georgia visit so I could see the exhibition.

Eye miniatures were a brief phenomenon during the late 1700s to early 1800s, started when the Prince Regent, then the Prince of Wales, commissioned eye portraits for him and Mrs. Fitzherbert, his secret, but not legal wife. It became the fashion for lovers to exchange portraits of only the eyes, so that they had a remembrance that no one else could identify. Because of this secrecy, whose eye is depicted on most of the pieces in the exhibit is unknown. In the exhibit catalogue, Jo Manning wrote brief vignettes of how certain eye portraits might have come to be.

I’ve known about eye portraits for some time, but have only seen photos, never the real thing. The first thing that struck me was how tiny most of them were. The smallest ones were set in rings which were worn with the eye-side in, so the lover could gaze upon the image without anyone else seeing it. It is amazing that so many rings survived, because the miniatures were painted by watercolor on ivory and could be very easily damaged. The images were so tiny that the artist must have used brushes with only one hair. And yet the images are amazingly detailed and distinctive.

In addition to rings the miniatures were made into brooches, often encircled with tiny pearls or gems. One was a tiny gold heart pendant. There was also a bracelet, stick pins, and even toothpick boxes. Some of the later items were meant to be mourning jewelry and some also contained locks of hair.

We could not take photos, so the images here are taken from the exhibit’s brochure.

The gift shop sold these button souvenirs of the exhibit. Comment on this blog today for a chance to win one of these little buttons!

Have you seen this exhibit? Have you seen eye miniatures elsewhere?

A big thanks to Number One London for blogging about the exhibition and making it possible for me to see these wonderful treasures!

I do not at all pretend to be scholarly and I am way too boring to be scandalous, but I’ll use these words to write about what has captured my interest these last couple of days.

First, take a look at this article in the New Haven Register, They’re Teaching a Romance Novel Course at Yale But It Is Not What You Think

The course is being taught by our Regency Pals and Yale alumni, Andrea DaRif (Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott) and Lauren Willig.

Description of the course from the college syllabus: The Regency romance tradition from the works of Jane Austen to modern permutations of the genre. Discussion of novels in textual, historical, and sociological context through examination of changing tropes and themes.

The romance community has known about this course for some time (follow links in Andrea/Cara’s website), but it is fun to see it getting wider press. A Google search shows that lots of sites are picking up on the Register article.

Sarah at Smart Bitches mentions the course, as well as a documentary film in progress about the making of romance novels being made for PBS’s American Experience (Can’t wait to hear more about that one!).

One of the things I love about the Yale course is that it is focussing on REGENCY Romance, which I think is a first in the small but growing trend to include study of romance novels in Engligh programs. It is the first Ivy League school to have such a course. Apparently 80 people tried to sign up for the course, which only had 18 spaces.

I was an English major in college and I would have loved to take such a course. I always thought reading my way through my major was the cushiest way to earn a degree, but it would have been even better to read what I loved. Even more, it would have been a delight to discuss the books I love in a serious, scholarly way.

We’ll have to check in with Cara and Lauren at the end of the course to see how it went.

While we are on the subject of academia, I also learned about a blog by a George Mason University Jane Austen scholar about Grace Dalrymple Elliot, the subject of Jo Manning’s wonderful biography, My Lady Scandalous. Moody both lauds Jo’s achievement, yet is dismayed by the book’s title and presentation, which seems to me to be designed for popular consumption.

Moody particularly objects to the use of the word “scandalous” in the title, making the point that it depreciates Elliot as a strong woman of her time by defining her in terms of her sexual history rather than her own achievements. I’m sure I’m not representing her opinion accurately, but it was an interesting blog and and interesting debate with Jo Manning in the comments section.

I do think it a truth that women of the late 18th-early 19th century who wound up as courtesans were considered scandalous at the time. Freedoms we modern women take for granted – being able to leave destructive marriages, having the freedom to have a sexual life, the right to earn a living and keep custody of our children – were not available to women in Regency times. Yet strong women like Grace Elliot still existed and managed to live amazing lives.

If you were designing a course in Regency Romance what authors would you have the students read?

Do you have a pet peeve about how historical women are viewed by us today?

Visit Risky Regencies this Saturday, Feb 6, when our own Cara King returns to tell us about her Regency Ball!

Check my website for my latest news, like the fact that The Wagering Widow, re-released in a double book, Regency High-Society Affairs Vol. 12 (free shipping from Book Depository and a discount, too). Plenty of time to enter my contest for a chance to win two copies of The Marriage Bargain, my Diane Perkins book.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 30 Replies
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By