August - A new book and a question about damage

New Book on Miniatures
A kind visitor has just told me about a new book on an Italian collection of miniature portraits.

It is by Elisabetta Accrescimbeni, and is titled Il colore della memoria. Ritratti in miniatura della Collezione Barocchi or The Colour of Memory. The Barocchi Collection of Portrait Miniatures, Livorno, 2009.

The size is 27 x 24 cm, soft-cover, 176 pages, 150 colour photos including several close-up enlargements. All texts in both Italian and English.

In this catalogue, Elisabetta Accrescinbeni discusses 127 fully illustrated miniatures from the collection of Carlo and Lucia Barocchi from Florence, on loan to the Museo degli Argenti in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence.

The collection includes masterworks by Isabey, Smart, Engleheart, Rosalba Carriera, Quaglia and Gigola.

The exhibition in Florence will start in October, 2009

The book can be ordered from: the editors, Sillabe in Livorno, Italy: + 39 0586829931 or at

ISBN 978-88-8347-459-0
Price: 27 € + postage and handling

A Question on Damage
Every week I get several emails asking about miniatures, and do not mind commenting upon images. However, I do prefer any images to be of modest size, as otherwise it is hard to view them. Also, as my software is very old, I am unable to unzip files.

I have been asked to comment on how scratches and cracks affect the value of a miniature? This is not an easy question to address, as it largely is influenced by the expression; "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Also, by the artist, the sitter, and, importantly, the funds available to the collector.

In a general sense, a common view is to say cracks and scratches should be avoided, especially on run of the mill, cheap miniatures of unknown sitters, by unknown artist.

However, to be categoric on that is unfair to any people who are not well-off and would like to collect some original art.

In fact, I could imagine an attractive collection being assembled, which contained only cracked or damaged miniatures. It would be useful for art or social history scholars who wanted to compare painting styles, to compare and date, costume and hair styles, or examine miniature casework.

Thus the answer to the question, really needs to be answered by each collector in terms of what their collecting aim is, and what will bring them pleasure.

A wealthy perfectionist should avoid damage, but a social historian should not worry too much. A good test is; will you ever find a better example? For unknown sitters by poor quality artists, the answer is probably yes, so do not buy it.

But for a damaged, but genuine portrait of Henry VIII, by an artist like Holbein, or a genuine damaged portrait of William Shakespeare, each with impeccable provenance, the chances of finding another are zero, so damage is irrelevant.

Apart from anything else, the average of a miniature portrait in a collection may be 200 years old. Now, what other items of that age are perfect? - books, large oil paintings, furniture, and ceramics etc. will all show some, or much, signs of use and age.

For furniture cracks, scratches, and stains are often regarded as part of the patina; as signs of being genuine, and evidence of loving care and use by a single family. Large oil paintings are often cleaned or retouched, can have replacement frames, and many have holes repaired.

A crack in a miniature can be obvious or not obvious, very short or very long, at the edge or through the face of the sitter. Thus, in my own opinion, too much attention is paid to damage and I think it is not possible to say that a crack affects the value by x%.

If you like a miniature, and it is not too expensive, buy it. You will learn a lot from owning and studying it. Then if you later find a better example of what you are seeking you can sell the damaged one.

I am reminded of the story of the man who never married. Asked why not, he replied. "Well, I have been like a horseman riding through a forest, looking for a perfect branch to make a switch. Every now and again, I would come across a very good branch, but then thought if I went a bit further, I might find an even better branch. Which I repeated several times, as I rode along. Then, before I realised it, I was clear through the forest."

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