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Small portraits painted on ivory or other precious materials are known as miniatures both for their modest size and for their development from medieval book illumination. As exquisite tokens exchanged by family members, friends, and lovers, these diminutive likenesses demonstrated an intimacy between the sitter and the recipient. Unlike full-length portraits, which were intended for public display, miniatures were worn as bracelets, brooches, and rings or housed in small cabinets for private contemplation. Intentionally portable, miniatures were carried or sent across Europe and America as a bond between friends and families.
A special installation in the American Art galleries celebrates the recent gift to the museum of a group of portrait miniatures from the collection of the late Jeannette B. Stern Whitebook. An enthusiastic collector, lecturer, and writer on miniatures, Mrs. Whitebook assembled an engaging and diverse collection of American and European miniatures. The Whitebook collection contains works painted on ivory, parchment, porcelain and copper that span more than four centuries and includes important miniatures by Robert Field, Jean Baptiste Isabey, Edward Greene Malbone, James Peale, and Christian Friedrich Zincke.