Prior to the invention of photography, the miniature enabled people to carry important images with them at all times, wherever they happened to go. Based on techniques used in medieval illuminated manuscripts, miniatures were often rich in sentimental value, with many people preserving portraits of deceased family members or mementoes of loved ones, on their own, in lockets or on jewellery or snuff boxes. They also served a more public function as tokens of political allegiance, while monarchs often gave them as personal gifts, symbols of favour. It is in this latter category that the Ruzhnikov collection excels, with numerous miniatures depicting the most important figures in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian society, from Tsars to military generals.
In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russia, portraits of the royal family gained great popularity. These delicately composed works, as their name indicates, resembled miniature paintings. Highly sophisticated in their execution, these artworks came complete with their own decorative frames. Rather than the traditional wood, however, miniature frames were commonly made from gilt bronze, while the portraits might be painted on ivory or vellum. Although usually painted in watercolour, they often imitate the rich colours of oil paintings. The miniatures of this period combine the aspects of fine art and jewellery in beautiful, portable objects. Royal family members tend to be portrayed in ceremonial dress, often adorned with an array of orders and medals.
Among the highlights of those available to view on our website are exceptional miniature portraits of Alexander I (1777-1825), Nicholas I (1796-1855), Alexander II (1818-1881), and a magnificent carved ivory relief of Catherine the Great (1729-1796).
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