A rare set of three mid-17th century polychrome-painted  mica miniature overlays, in their original leather case, English, circa 1650

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Lot 145
A rare set of three mid-17th century polychrome-painted mica miniature overlays, in their original leather case, English, circa 1650

Sold for £ 750 (US$ 967) inc. premium
Lot 108 - 167: The Property of a Gentleman of Spitalfields, London [Part II]
A rare set of three mid-17th century polychrome-painted mica miniature overlays, in their original leather case, English, circa 1650
The oval overlays painted as follows:

1. A female costume of black eye mask, silver earrings with pink ribbons, and green and white plumes;
2. A female costume of laurel wreath, an ermine cloak and an orb and sceptre [or sword?];
3. A male costume of a plumed hat, lace collar, dun-coloured doublet and red sash,

all three housed in the coral silk-lined original stamped leather case, the overlays approximately 6cm wide x 6.5cm high [2in wide x 2.5in high]; the case 7cm wide x 7.5cm high [2.75in wide x 3in high]

Footnotes

  • The mid-seventeenth century saw a vogue for an unusual type of miniature which could be dressed in a variety of different outfits by placing painted transparent overlays on top of the master image. Constructed from very thin slices of the mineral mica, these overlays included male and female outfits with appropriate accessories. When placed on top of the portrait, these semi-transparent discs transformed the costume and hairstyle of the sitter, creating a new composite picture, much like outfitting a modern paper doll. It seems likely that the purpose of such a set was to provide entertainment. Many of the fashionable accessories to the overlays can be identified in the engravings of Wenceslaus Hollar. It is thought that the sitters in the miniatures were supposed to represent either Charles I or Henrietta Maria.

    This set would once have comprised a portrait miniature and more mica overlays; some historians believe that a complete set included twenty-four different overlays. An example in the Royal Collection [RCIN 422348] includes nineteen overlays.

    Compare an example in the Victoria & Albert Museum [P.43 - S-1921] in which one of the overlays is painted with a mask very like the one in this lot. And see V & A [P.144 - Q-1931] for an almost identical case.
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