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Title: Pleasing 'the common sort exceedingly well' : an interdisciplinary repositioning of the British portrait miniature, c. 1520-1650
Author: Cox, Lindsey
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis re-positions the portrait miniature within its original social and cultural milieu. To-date scholarship has focussed on the miniature within the homes of the nobility and has explored the role of the art form as a means whereby the owner and the viewer could create and maintain their own mutually dependant elite positions. This thesis, however, explores the position of the miniature within the lives of the middling sort. In order to do this, it examines a wider range of miniatures than has previously been explored and brings together a new set of visual objects referred to as 'small pictures' alongside the now better-known portrait miniatures. By considering the art form across a number of disciplines, including English literature, art history, history, and drama this thesis seeks to understand the miniature as both a material object and as a complex and shifting concept throughout the period from c. 1520 to 1650. To find out how miniatures were considered by their contemporary audiences I examine in chapter one what was written about them and the contexts in which writers positioned the art form. Building upon this, the thesis investigates who might have been interested in this written knowledge and will explore how the information could be used differently by artisans, scholars, heralds and leisured readers. This chapter, thereby, establishes the range of different audiences who had access to and defined how a miniature could be understood. The second chapter examines what a miniature looked like for contemporary audiences. It analyses the results of a study of over one thousand miniatures to determine the material characteristics and physical appearance of these objects. This miniature database is included as appendix 1 at the end of the thesis. The chapter includes well-known examples of the art form, now commonly referred to as 'portrait miniatures', which form approximately half of the database, alongside the new category of 'small pictures', which form the other half of the database. These small pictures share many of the same similarities as the portrait miniatures, but they are not all executed in watercolour on vellum as the portrait miniatures are, some are larger than 80 mm in length and could be considered cabinet paintings and some were not made by painters working predominantly in Britain. This re-establishes the wider range of miniature art which early audiences had access to but which has been absent from recent scholarship. This latter group of hitherto under-explored small pictures include those which represent the faces of now unknown sitters, those made by amateur painters, and those painters who were working in a different aesthetic from the now better-known courtly style. The chapter ends with an analysis of the similarities and differences between miniatures representing individuals of different degrees. The third chapter investigates who owned the miniatures. It analyses the results of over one thousand probate inventory records which detail the possessions of both nobles and non-nobles residing in Bristol, Ipswich, Chesterfield, Stratford-upon-Avon and Banbury. This informs a consideration of the reasons behind the growing fashionability of miniatures, the significance of the rooms in which small pictures were placed, and how individuals could have acquired these pictures. The second part of this chapter is a case study of Bristol, situated over one hundred miles from London, which highlights the access to visual culture in regional centres. By using the information in chapters one and two of the thesis it explores what the 'small pictures' may have looked like in the homes of the middling sort and how their owners and viewers may have considered them. The fourth chapter examines drama which features miniatures in order to understand how the art form was positioned conceptually. It focusses on three plays, John Redford's Wit and Science (c. 1540), William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will (c. 1601) and Philip Massinger's The Picture (1629) to explore the different discourses to which miniatures contributed. This final chapter also investigates how the ideas surrounding miniatures may have been interpreted differently by audiences, depending upon their individual familiarity with visual culture and how these ideas shifted over time and place.
Supervisor: Richardson, Catherine ; Thomas, Ben Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral