I recently read a blog post about an exhibit, Look of Love, at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, that reminded me of the most fascinating objects I had encountered at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, "eye miniatures". On the second floor of the museum, in Gallery 296 there is a small display case that is lined up with a series of eye miniatures.
The tradition of giving miniatures as keepsakes, love charms or presents was on old one but in late eighteenth century a new trend of sending the beloved a miniature of one's eye was started. Mrs Fitzherbert was supposed to have sent the Prince of Wales (later George IV) a miniature of her eye on the occasion of their secret marriage in 1785. Since they could not get married without his father's consent, their whole affair had to be clandestine so the Prince had his eye painted in return and had it set in a ring for her. The enigmatic quality of these works must have been very appealing since these quickly became a rage among the upper echelons of society in France as well as England.1
I have always found miniatures to be a sweet, romantic notion but the idea of giving someone the likeness of your eye seems bizarre somehow... Curious subject matter notwithstanding, eye miniatures are precious artifacts that are alone worthy of a trip to the Philadelphia Museum.
1 Philadelphia Museum of Art