Perhaps your first thoughts are miniature doll houses and furniture, or even a small painting, but it’s none of these. Miniature Art is a fine art form, including paintings, engravings and sculpture. Paintings are completed with extreme detail, typically showing all the tiny brushstrokes or pencil marks. However, all the same elements of a larger painting, such as strong composition, tonal value and exquisite colour must exist.

In terms of composition, for a painting to be regarded as a miniature, the actual subject cannot be larger than 1/6 of its natural size. Therefore, a human head cannot be larger than 38mm, which is 1/6 of the actual size of a human head. Where this is not possible, with subjects that are already very small, such as certain insects or flowers, the “spirit of Miniaturism” must exist.

This quotation from Paul Kernick, who wrote in the Hilliard newsletter on “Modern Miniatures”, perfectly sums up a miniature painting. “It would seem therefore that the fundamental factor which links all miniature paintings is the need for ABSOLUTE attention to detail and sharpness of line in very small areas of a painting which is limited in size. It must stand close inspection and ideally the skill of the artist must be breath-taking.”

Miniature Art Societies

There are various societies for miniature art, and annual exhibitions are held every year. Miniature paintings and sculptures are displayed from all over the world. Each society has its own guidelines, with a maximum image and frame size. In summary, a miniature painting is an extremely detailed painting that can fit in the palm of your hand.

“Because of their origins as illuminations, they are also painted to have as smooth of a surface as possible. A miniature usually takes as long or longer to produce as a large piece of art. A fine miniature can be magnified many times and it will still hold together as a fine work of art of much greater size. Most artists can work large, but few have the skill and discipline to work miniature.” (

It is interesting to note that the actual word miniature does not refer to size but comes from the terms ‘minium’. This was the red lead paint used in illuminated manuscripts. ‘Miniare’ is the Latin word  ‘to colour with red lead’.

History of Miniature Art

Miniature Art was popular from the 16th and 17th Century, but it goes even further back to the 200 – 400’s, where Lala of Cyzicus specialised in portraits etched into ivory. The illuminated manuscripts which were beautifully illustrated by monks’ date back to the 800’s. The most famous of these being the Celtic Book of Kells and England’s Lindisfarne Gospels. Miniature illustrations were important during this time, as they told the stories of that time for those who could not read.

Illustrated manuscript

Holbein the Younger

In the 1500’s miniatures started to appear as paintings in their own right and not part of manuscripts. Jean Clouet is acknowledged to have completed the first independent portrait. Hans Holbein was regarded as the first miniature painter in England. Henry VIII enjoyed miniature art and therefore Holbein became the official court painter. He is also regarded as the first master of miniature painting. It is believed that Henry VIII commissioned him to paint a portrait of a potential bride, so that he would know what she looked like. Miniature art was known as limning and that the actual word miniature was used in the English language around 1586.

As a result of Holbein’s influence, a long tradition of miniature painting in England was established. These portraits were finely executed and were being painted on vellum, copper and ivory and could be carried in a locket or pocket. Nicholas Hilliard, who was one of Holbein’s pupils became the first English master of miniature painting. He adopted the oval form, which had recently become fashionable on the continent of Europe in preference to the circular form.

Ann of Cleves – Miniature painting by Holbein the Younger

Queen Elizabeth I also commissioned miniatures of herself, and others and Hilliard served as her miniature painter for more than 30 years. His apprentice, Isaac Oliver, was a more refined artist and introduced shade into his work, achieving a more natural feel. Samuel Cooper earned the reputation as the greatest English miniature artist. This is due to his “presentation of character and tight, effective brushwork”. It was claimed that his work was “life-sized work in little”. Before photography, portrait miniature artists were commissioned to paint small portraits similar to wallet-sized photographs we use today.


Miniature art was very popular in the 1700’s, but due to photography in the 1800’s, there was a drastic decline for miniature artists. Some miniature artists switched to photography to earn a living, but during the end of the nineteenth century it revived. The Society of Miniaturists in England was formed and out of this developed the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers (RMS). The American Societies are The Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers Society (MPSGS) in Washington DC and The Miniature Art Society of Florida (MASF). MASF has the largest membership of about 500 members. Fortunately, miniature art flourishes today.  

Today there are many collectors and buyers of miniature art. Check out my miniature artworks, and you too could be a collector or buyer of miniature fine art.