Eye of the Beholder

 Lover's eye portrait pin with seed pearls, circa 1810

Since writing my first post about miniature eye portraits  (September 2008) or "Lovers Eyes" as they are often called,   I have managed to get even a bit more obsessed with them, and even succeeded in finding one for my very own (above) via Tail of the Yak in Berkeley, one of my favorite sources for inspiring things.

Last year I started restoring a family collection of miniature portraits and have spent many hours looking closely at how they were painted.
I like to paint at very large scale, and in so doing I closely examine and celebrate details and moments in paintings that would otherwise just be accents.  Perhaps because of this examination, these intimate little gems really enthrall me, and I have been researching the techniques involved in creating them. Usually miniature portraits were painted with gouache or watercolor on ivory, and later cellulose nitrate, also known as ivorine.  Lover's eyes  were nearly always mounted into jewelry:  pins, pendants, and sometimes rings.   Mourning jewelry sometimes took this form as well.
In my research I found a number of artists  from the 20th century who were working in this medium, as well as contemporary artists who are reviving this art in their own fashion.
Tabitha Vevers has painted some beautiful lover's eyes based on portraits by Simon Martini, Ingres,  and even Man Ray.
The image at left is one of Vevers' lover's eye miniatures, painted in oils after a Bronzino portrait.

Mona Connor has recently started a series of miniature eye portraits using  egg tempera, and has even started a blog about this project.

Eye portrait of Erling Wold,  250% of life size, oil on panel ©Lynne Rutter
I might continue to work larger than life, but I am so inspired by these tiny tributes, and the methods used to create them, that I may be launching a new project of my own soon.


  1. Well, you know how I feel about this subject! More,please!!! Great post Lynne.

  2. Me too!

  3. This is exquisite! And I do think you are onto something in delving into miniature eye portraits further.

    I just discovered that we are in the same part of the world so I will be making my way to Berkeley to see Tail of the Yak.

  4. If you're interested in 20th century miniature painters, you may enjoy Elizabeth Berdann's site at You may also enjoy a public site from a collector of eye miniatures, at The miniatures that you inherited fall into the category of decorative miniatures, which were painted for a commercial market, quite often of earlier "celebrities" such as Marie Antoinette, or as copies of larger famous portraits. "Fine" portrait miniatures were commissioned, and painted by academically trained artists from life. You can find further information on miniatures as well as a reading list and links to museum collections at my website:

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