Saturday, May 11, 2013

Gifts of Grandeur: Portrait of an Unknown Woman, 1765

Portrait Miniature of an Unknown Woman
Enamel on Metal
Edward Shiercliffe, 1765
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The art of enameled portraits was first practiced in England in the 1630s by the Swiss goldsmith Jean Petitot who famously worked in the court of King Charles I. Within a few decades, the technique fell out of fashion, but it was reintroduced around 1680 by the Swedish Charles Boit and German Christian Friedrich Zincke--both goldsmiths by trade. 

By the early Eighteenth Century a number of miniaturists offered enamel portraits to their clients as an alternative to watercolor on ivory. While some artists preferred ivory as a medium, others excelled with enamel-work. Edward Shiercliffe, who painted the portrait above was known to have specialized in enamel on metal. This technique, actually, has proven to be more long-lasting than the ivory examples since, unlike watercolor, the color of the enamel does not fade when exposed to light.

The quarter-length portrait in miniature depicts an unknown woman wearing a white hat and gown with two pink roses pinned to the bodice. Pearl earrings and necklace denote her wealth and status. The piece was completed by Shiercliffe in 1765.

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