These hand-painted miniatures of paramours’ eyes were once set in jewelry and given as secret keepsakes of affection.
Lover’s eyes are a type of portrait miniature, which in the eighteenth century became popular throughout Europe. The miniatures were painted on small sheets of ivory rather than on vellum, the traditional material for such portraits. The ivory’s luminous surface allowed a freer, more expressive style and encouraged transparency and lightness of color. The dainty portraits were mounted in gold lockets, brooches, and bracelets, becoming cherished and intimate mementos. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, scores of European miniaturists came to America, where both they and native-born painters contributed to a thriving market.
The fad for eye miniatures began in the late eighteenth century and remained in vogue for several decades. They were likely meant to be admired by the beloved in private, portraying just the eye(s) to protect the giver’s identity. Even today, the names of most of these clandestine subjects remain a mystery. The lover’s eyes depicted in the Rock Center windows are from the Met’s outstanding group of American portrait miniatures, the world’s most comprehensive collection.
To celebrate love’s timeless spirit we are pleased to offer a selection of romance-inspired gifts, from charming heart lockets and items featuring Klimt’s The Kiss to a reproduction of Rodin’s tender Eternal Spring.