Small, detailed painting, usually a portrait, executed in watercolour on vellum (parchment), prepared card, copper, or ivory that can be held in the hand or worn as a piece of jewelry. The name derives from the minium, or red lead, used to emphasize initial letters in medieval illuminated manuscripts. Combining the traditions of illumination and the Renaissance medal, it flourished from the early 16th to the mid-19th century. The earliest datable examples were painted in France by Jean Clouet the Younger at the court of Francis I; in England H. Holbein the Younger produced masterpieces in miniature under Henry VIII and inspired a long tradition of the practice, known as “limning.” Nicholas Hilliard served as miniature painter to Elizabeth I for more than 30 years. In the 17th–18th centuries, painting in enamel on metal became popular in France. In Italy Rosalba Carriera introduced the use of ivory (circa 1700) as a luminous surface for transparent pigments, stimulating a great revival of the medium in the late 18th century. By the mid-19th century miniature paintings were regarded as luxury items and rendered obsolete by the new medium of photography.
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