“Lovers’ eye”, eye miniature on ivory, c. 1830s. Hand-painted miniature of a left hazel eye on ivory in heart-shaped pendant.
Eye miniatures or Lovers’ eyes were Georgian miniatures, normally watercolour on ivory, depicting the eye or eyes of a spouse, loved one or child. These were usually commissioned for sentimental reasons and were often worn as bracelets, brooches, pendants or rings with richly decorated frames, serving the same emotional need as lockets hiding portraits or locks of hair. This fad started in the late 1700s.
Eye miniatures are believed to have originated when the Prince of Wales (later George IV) felt the need to send the widow Maria Fitzherbert a token of his love. This gesture and the romance that went with it, was frowned upon by the court, so that a miniaturist was employed to paint only the eye and thereby preserve anonymity and decorum.