18th Century Portrait of a Beauty | Antique and Art Exchange


Long before cameras we see portraits. Paintings in ancient Egypt sometimes replace carved masks on mummies. They are done in “encaustic,” which is a kind of pigmented wax, and has allowed some painting remain brilliant even to present day. The Romans and Etruscan have beautiful fresco paintings that have miraculously survived for about 2000 years. The European Renaissance brings us painting as most of us think about it and know it today. An artist that wanted payment and more clients did what they could to flatter their subjects. At the turn of the last century some early paintings of elderly subjects where miraculously transformed by craftsmen artists to improve their value and appeal. Recently we acquired two small card sized paintings of suggestively young women. We suspect they are a kind of advertisement. 
My favorite portrait is one titled the “tender dwarf”.  It was painted about 250 years ago to memorialize a dwarf that died in a ferocious battle. He is dressed for bed and has his hand resting on a skull. A little known tradition is the painting of a lovers eye set into jewelry. This was done in the 18th and early 19th century. These are rare and beautiful. Small finely painted portraits were painted in fairly substantial numbers and are worth looking for. There is a large group of small portraits made for tourists about 100 years ago. These all have frames that are repurposed piano keys and almost always have the page of an old book pasted to the back. Probably best to avoid these unless they are inexpensive and amusing. It is also worth noting the ivory piano keys make the legal status of these pieces problematic. About 20 years ago, a local society lady had a portrait done at considerable cost as a gift for her husband. She asked him what he thought and he said the picture was very attractive but he did not know who it was. Happy hunting.


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