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Art a very small painting, esp a portrait, showing fine detail on ivory or vellum



a very small, finely executed work of art. The term “miniature” also refers to some literary and musical works. Among the various types of miniatures are independent paintings and graphics, including engravings. Portraits are common. Another type of miniature is painted in lacquer, oil, or tempera on the surface of a small, varnished artifact.

One of the most important types of miniature painting is illumination, which includes drawings or multicolored illustrations executed on manuscripts in lacquer, gouache, tempera, and other types of paints, as well as the representational and decorative elements in book design, such as initials and borders. Illumination was practiced in ancient Egypt. The version of the Book of the Dead that dates from the New Kingdom contains pen-and-ink drawings and two-dimensional paintings on papyrus in opaque paints. The late classical miniatures of the fourth through sixth centuries (gouache or pen-and-ink drawings on papyrus scrolls and parchment codices) are notable for the accuracy with which the figures and the light are captured (Homer’s Iliad c. 500, Ambrosiana Library, Milan).

In Byzantine art, especially in religious manuscripts, late classical methods of miniature painting were used until the tenth century (the Paris Psalter, tenth century, National Library, Paris). Conventionality, two-dimensionality, and expressive gestures prevailed in Byzantine miniature painting, although there are several examples of politically polemical scenes drawn from life (the Khludov Psalter, ninth century, State Historical Museum, Moscow).

There were many local schools of miniature painting in the West during the Middle Ages. During the Merovingian period (fifth through eighth centuries) a two-dimensional style developed, distinguished by unique ornamental designs of birds and fishes (the Gelasian Sacramentary, mid-eighth century, Vatican Library). Irish and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts of the seventh through ninth centuries were decorated with full-page miniatures in which expressive depictions of the Evangelists were enclosed in stylized decorative frames and the margins of the pages were completely covered with abstract, interlace designs imbued with life and energy (the Book of Durrow, seventh century, Trinity College, Dublin).

Like full-page miniature paintings, which imitated late classical models (the Ada Gospels, early ninth century, City Library, Trier), the manuscripts of the Carolingian Renaissance were decorated with dynamic, expressive pen-and-ink drawings (the Utrecht Psalter, ninth century, Library of the State University, Utrecht). At the end of the tenth century, miniature painting in the West began to show the influence of the Byzantine style. Its iconography was enriched by scenes from the Gospels and the lives of the saints, the artistic expression became more conventional, and the images of the saints became intensely expressive (the Bamberg Apocalypse, c. 1020, State Library, Bamberg).

The flat, disembodied figures of the Romanesque miniatures of the llt h and 12th centuries were integrated into clear-cut compositional schemes. At the same time, elements of folk art were introduced into miniature painting (St. Gregory the Great’s Moralia in Job, 1109–33; the Municipal Library, Dijon). Gothic miniatures of the 13th to 15th centuries sought to represent nature realistically. The illustrations complemented the text, providing a commentary on it, and the figures were more lifelike than the Romanesque. The landscape, the interior, and the architectural framework of the scenes were very important. Great miniaturists emerged, such as A. Beauneveu and Jacquemart de Hesdin, who worked in France. Characteristic of the work of the Limburg and van Eyck brothers were broad, incisive observation and the depiction of actual scenes (the Tres Riches Heures du Due de Berry, the Limburg brothers). In the second half of the 15th century, J. Fouquet and S. Marmion introduced elements of linear and aerial perspective into miniature painting, re-creating the rural and urban landscapes of France bathed in light and air (the Book of Hours of Etienne Chevalier, Fouquet, 1450–55, in various European museums).

Miniature painting in 11th-century ancient Rus’ imitated By zantine models (Ostromir’s Gospel, 1056–57, M. E. SaltykovShchedrin Public Library, Leningrad). In addition to full-page miniatures resembling contemporary frescoes and icons (the Khitrovo Gospel, late 14th-early 15th century, the Lenin Library, Moscow), animated, unconventional marginal drawings developed from the 12th to 15th centuries. The initials of the Novgorod manuscripts of the 12th through 15th centuries, for example, are characterized by an interlace design and both fantastic and realistic figures. At the end of the 15th century secular subjects (particularly historical ones) and themes drawn from everyday life were introduced into miniature painting (the Illustrated Codex of Chronicles, manuscript chronicles, 1540’s through 1560’s, various libraries in the USSR). A particularly bright, evocative kind of miniature painting originated in the Ukraine (the Peresopnytsi Gospel, 1556–61, the CPSU State Public Library of the Ukrainian SSR, Kiev). Miniature painting of the 17th century abounds in historical subjects, portraits, and allegories (the Siisk Gospel, 1693, the Library of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Leningrad). The Pomor’e manuscripts, which were created between the 17th and 19th centuries, are decorated with rich, lush, but somewhat crude baroque motifs (for example, the Gospel, 1678, the Armory at the Kremlin, Moscow).

Local schools of miniature painting emerged in medieval Armenia in the sixth and seventh centuries. Characteristic of the Armenian style are rich decorative and ornamental elements, a clearly defined composition, and intense colors. In addition to dynamic graphic miniatures associated with folk art, such as the Lazarus Gospel (887; the Matenadaran ancient manuscript depository, Yerevan), miniatures in a grand, monumental style lavishly decorated with gold were created during the ninth and tenth centuries (the Echmiadzin Gospel, 989; the Matenadaran, Yerevan). The most important of the 13th- and 14th-century schools is the Cilician. The miniatures by its foremost artist, Foros Roslin, who lived in the second half of the 13th century, are distinguished by psychological expressiveness, soft, accurate outlines, and richly developed ornamentation.

Georgian miniature painting of the ninth and tenth centuries, which followed local traditions, was outstanding for its linear qualities and bright colors (the Mtskheta Psalter, tenth century; the Institute of Manuscripts of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR). The Byzantine style of miniature painting adhered to the technique of multilayered painting and the use of gold (the Gelati Gospels, 11th century; Institute of Manuscripts of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR). Secular book illustration developed in the 17th century. A particularly fine example is S. Rustaveli’s The Hero in a Tiger’s Skin.

Medieval Arab miniature painting absorbed the styles of several schools: the Egyptian, which was stylistically linked with Coptic art; the Syrian, which was strongly influenced by the Byzantine; and the Iraqi, which created splendid scenes of court life as well as terse, precise illustrations for learned treatises, such as Dioscorides’ De materia medica (Pharmacology, 1222; in various museums throughout the world).

The Iranian, Afghan, Central Asian, and Azerbaijani styles of miniature painting, which reached their peak in the first half of the 15th century, were organically related to the overall artistic , design of the manuscript. Their decorative and figurative structures are distinguished by lavish designs, lyric landscapes, a fine linear rhythm, and elaborate color combinations (the Herat, Tabriz, and Isfahan schools, for example). In the 16th and 17th centuries portrait miniatures came into fashion in Iran and other countries. At the same time, medieval Indian miniature painters abandoned flat, stylized representation and a clear calligraphic line for an exact treatment of detail and a careful portrayal of the human face. However, they preserved the flat schematic character and decorative qualities of the traditional style. Heroic historical subjects were common (the Babur-nama, end of the 16th century; State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow). Among the newer genres were portraits and animal paintings.

Miniature painting was an art form in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, where drawings were done on palm leaves. The confident, bold, richly colored drawings of the Aztecs, Mixtecs, and the Maya are reminiscent of picture writing (the Mixtec Codex Borgia, 14th-16th centuries; Vatican Library).

Portrait miniatures are small paintings or engravings (1.5–20 cm) on snuffboxes, watches, rings, and medallions. They were executed in gouache or in watercolor on parchment, cardboard, paper, or ivory; in oil on metal; in ceramic paints on china; or in enamel. The portrait miniature, which developed as a separate genre during the Renaissance, was stylistically and technically related to book illumination (for example, the work of the 16th-century Italian artist G. Clovio) and to the general development of realistic art. Portrait miniatures created by H. Holbein the Younger in Germany and in England, where his pupils N. Hilliard and I. Oliver worked, were distinguished by accuracy and by documentary qualities, as well as by intense, lucid psychological insight. In 16th-century France outstanding portrait miniatures were created by Fouquet, as well as by L. Limosin, who specialized in enamels. In the 17th century the Swiss artist J. Petitot painted miniature enamel copies of oil portraits. S. Cooper’s miniature watercolor portraits of the leaders of the revolution in 17th-century England are known for their tremendous verve and their strong portrayal of self-reliant characters.

The portrait miniature reached its peak in the 18th century. The Italian woman artist R. Camera introduced the technique of painting in gouache on ivory against a colored background. Among the portrait miniaturists of the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th were J. B. Masse, J. H. Fragonard, J. B. J. Augustin, and J. B. Isabey (France); R. Cosway, J. Smart, and N. E. Plimer (Great Britain); and M. M. Daffinger and H. F. Fiiger (Austria).

In Russia the first accurate (that is, not overly flattering) portrait miniatures, most of which were enamels, were done in the 18th century (G. S. Musikiiskii, A. G. Ovsov, D. I. Evreinov, and P. G. Zharkov, who was the head of the class of miniature painting at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg from 1779). At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th subtle, soulful portraits were painted by G. I. Skorodumov, V. L. Borovikovskii, and A. Ritt. Other Russian artists who specialized in miniatures were N. I. Argunov, A. K. Golovachevskii, M. I. Terebenev, P. O. de Rossi, K. P. Briullov, O. A. Kiprenskii, and P. F. Sokolov. Portrait miniatures were superseded in the mid-19th century by daguerreotypes and photographs.


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Svirin, A. N. Miniatiura drevnei Armenii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
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Lowe, E. A. Codices latini antiquiores, vols. 1–6. Oxford, 1934–53.
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Darmon, J. E. Dictionnaire des peintres miniaturistes. Paris [1920’s].



(in Russian, miniatura), a genre of small-scale works in literature, the theater, the circus, and in variety shows. A miniature may be a short story; a short play; a vaudeville act; an intermezzo; a sketch; a scene containing dialogue, dance, or music; a variety act; or a circus clown act. The repertoire of special “miniature” theaters is based on this genre.

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