One of the finest collections in North America, the CMA’s miniatures span six centuries, bridge eight European countries as well as America, and number nearly 170 objects. These intimate portraits were exchanged by friends, lovers, and family members as tokens of affection and often commissioned on occasions of departure, marriage, or death. Delicate paintings in watercolor on ivory and vellum or enamel, they might function as relics incorporating human hair, can be set in elaborate boxes or simple frames, and were worn on the body or tucked away in a pocket. This exhibition reawakens the spirit of these works, which are removed by hundreds of years from the hands into which they were originally placed.
Exhibited in its entirety for the first time in over half a century, the stunning collection is presented from a fresh perspective and features more than a dozen new acquisitions. For 600 years, miniature painters were deeply engaged with issues of death, likeness, memory, identity, privacy, and body-centered scale. The exhibition includes works by five prominent contemporary artists—Janine Antoni, Luis González-Palma, Tony Oursler, Dario Robleto, and Hiroshi Sugimoto—who are invested in exploring these same themes today. The contemporary works are placed in an unprecedented, intimate dialogue with the portrait miniatures, revealing new relationships and uncovering hidden secrets.