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The history of miniature art

THE ART collection displayed on the second floor of Bratislava Castle is a result of acquisitions from several generations of art historians. It contains sacral as well as secular works, primarily focussing on portraits from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Part of display, however, is a collection of miniatures.

THE ART collection displayed on the second floor of Bratislava Castle is a result of acquisitions from several generations of art historians. It contains sacral as well as secular works, primarily focussing on portraits from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Part of display, however, is a collection of miniatures.

Miniature, an independent art form, is basically characterized by its name - the Latin word "minus" means "smaller". Another source of origin is the word "minium" (Vermilion Red), the colour used in medieval book illuminations. To simplify things, miniature is defined as artistic works that can fit onto the palm of the average person's hand.

The beginnings of miniature can be found in the illuminated initials of medieval handwriting. Though there were no thematic limits, portraits were the most popular.

A miniature had various forms, depending on the materials and techniques used.

Like painting, miniature used oak tablets, a surface which remained popular until the late 17th century. Meanwhile, the discovery of a special enamel technique in the 15th century in the French town of Limoge, which enabled the rich use of colour, increased the popularity of personal medallions. Along with enamel, artists used oils or tempera to paint on copper or silver plate. Also favoured were the simpler, less durable and rare paintings on silk and parchment paper, which used the technique of gouache - opaque watercolours.

Until the 18th century, the painting of miniature portraits closely corresponded with the then main painting style. A change began to crystallize throughout the 18th century when miniature became an independent art form, one of grace and subtlety. In the second half of the century, with the arrival of rococo, the miniature style was also used in sculptured art, mainly porcelain.

The change was enhanced by the use of ivory as a painting base, which combined firmness and durability. The surface helped painters capture the period's ideals of beauty and promote artistic intricacy. Ivory especially helped emphasize gentle facial features by creating a special light effect, which was often enhanced by silver or gold foil support, or ochre colours.

Artists working at the royal courts were the ones that primarily set new trends. The most important centre of miniature painting in Central Europe was the Vienna court.

The popularity of the miniature was not affected by the revolutionary changes at the end of the 18th century. However, with the arrival of the new ideals of the French Revolution the celebration of aristocracy changed to topics of civic interest.

The decline of the miniature did not start until the 1830s. Although it survived the start of the 19th century it was pushed out by a new technical discovery - photography.

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