A very small painting, particularly a portrait that can be held in the hand or worn as a piece of jewellery. The word is applied to manuscript illuminations as well as portraits and derives from the Latin minium, the red lead used to emphasize initial letters, decorated by the miniator.
Since the 17th century, the term has been applied to all types of manuscript illustration on account of a mistaken etymology: the word was connected with `minute' (small). What we today call a `miniature' was called historia in the Middle Ages and the portraits painted by Hilliard and others were named `limnings' or `pictures in little' by the Elizabethans. They were painted on vellum or occasionally on ivory or card, and in the 17th and 18th centuries there was a vogue for miniatures done in an enamelling technique. The portrait miniature developed from a fusion of the traditions of medieval illumination and the Renaissance medal and flourished from the early 16th century to the mid 19th century, when photography virtually killed it as a serious art form.
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