A Memento Mini

If you visit Charleston, South Carolina there is a fascinating and unique permanent exhibition at the beautiful Gibbes Museum of Art that is comprised of a prestigious collection of American portraits in miniature proportions.

Painted during the 18th century colonial period and continuing through the early 20th century, these little paintings are stunning in their fine details, vivid colorations and exacting skill of likeness. Using watercolor on thin disks of ivory, the paintings were commissioned to honor loved ones who had passed, commemorate a birth, engagement or marriage or even memorialize a beloved pet.

In a size small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand, the pieces could be carried around in pockets, converted to lockets worn around the neck or placed in small frames, still petite enough to keep on one’s person. They were especially important before the advent of photography, when there were few methods of documenting a person for posterity.

My favorite!

The miniatures at the Gibbes Museum are simply charming. With over 600 works, they show that human connection remains unchanged throughout history. People have always found ways to keep loved ones close and these diminutive paintings are an interesting precursor to our technology of today: smartphones that keep a catalogue of tiny images on an app, to be accessed and viewed any place, at any time.

A portrait in miniature keeps the heart at full size.