Before photography, the only way family and friends could have an image of a loved one, was to have it painted. Naturally, only the rich could afford this. 

The portrait miniature was a unique watercolor style was developed during the reign of Henry VIII of England. Monarchs would also have their images painted and the miniatures given away as political or diplomatic gifts. 

The size made it portable especially when fitted inside lockets or under watch covers.  The artform then spread to other European nations and in America in later centuries. 

This wonderful Victoria & Albert Museum video shows how the earliest portrait miniatures were painted on vellum (calfskin) stretched over playing cards.  The amazing delicacy of the painting is evident right down to how the artists used colored resin to simulate rubies. See the V&A's collection here

Antique French Portrait Miniature brooch from SparklingRomance

Lovers' Eyes or eye miniatures came to being during the Georgian period (1714 - c. 1837) in the UK. These miniatures were watercolor paintings on ivory showing just the eyes of a loved one.  They were commissioned so they could be worn framed ornately as brooches, bracelets, pendants and rings. These were sentimental pieces in a time before photography. Locks of hair were also kept much for the same reason. 

Why just the eye? This variation of the portrait miniature was thought to have been started by King George IV (1762-1830)  when he was the Prince of Wales.  He had secretly married a widow, Maria Fitzherbert. This was an invalid marriage (royal marriages have to be approved by the reigning monarch) so just the eye was painted for a love token which preserved the secrecy of the union. 

There are still artists today who paint such miniatures. Etsy artist, Michelle Christensen of  MyLittleBelleVille offers custom hand painted eye miniatures as lockets and rings. She also does pet versions!

Custom hand painted Lover's Eye locket by MyBelleVille

Custom eye miniature by MyBelleVille

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM