My love of all things small is well documented, and extends to miniature portraits painted on ivory. After my first trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, all else was eclipsed by the miniature portraits, running all the way from Elizabethan courtiers through Georgian nobles. Quite a sight. But nothing caught the imagination more than eye portraits:
They have an interesting story ...
Apparently they developed "... when the Prince of Wales (to become George IV) wanted to exchange a token of love with the Catholic widow (of Edward Weld who died 3 months into the marriage) Maria Fitzherbert. The court denounced the romance as unacceptable, though a court miniaturist developed the idea of painting the eye and the surrounding facial region as a way of keeping anonymity. "
"The pair were married on December 15, 1785, but this was considered invalid by the Royal Marriages Act because it had not been approved by George III, but Fitzherbert’s Catholic persuasion would have tainted any chance of approval. Maria’s eye portrait was worn by George under his lapel in a locket as a memento of her love. This was the catalyst that began the popularity of lover’s eyes."
"From its inception, the very nature of wearing the eye is a personal one and a statement of love by the wearer. Not having marks of identification, the wearer and the piece are intrinsically linked, rather than a jewellery item which can exist without the necessity of the wearer."
And "focusing on only the eye, often represented with eyebrow and lashes. A wisp of hair, the suggestion of sideburn or the bridge of a nose would hint at the owner’s identity but never reveal it."
"A border of clouds frequently encircled the image, further accentuating the mystery surrounding it. Such portraits appeared between the 1790s and 1820s in the courts and affluent households of England, Russia, France and even, quite rarely, America. In all, Weber estimates that fewer than a thousand were produced."
What an expression of love. And you can order your own beautifully made example, here. (Though I would suggest having it fit into an old locket or broach.)