Eye Miniatures with Pearls on Display in Birmingham, AL

This rose gold oval ring from 1790 is surrounded by a blue enamel border containing 10 small diamonds and two large ones in a border of natural split pearls. (Birmingham Museum of Art)

This rose gold oval ring from 1790 is surrounded by a blue enamel border containing 10 small diamonds and two large ones in a border of natural split pearls. (Birmingham Museum of Art)

Eye Miniatures with Pearls on Display in Birmingham, AL


A hundred eyes, hand-painted and surrounded by pearls, gold and precious gemstones, will be on display through June 10. Dating from the late 18th to the late 19th century, each tells a unique story, from the grief of a child's death to the sentiments of clandestine lovers. Brooches, rings, pendants, bracelets and other objects became personalized expressions from those who commissioned artists to create them.

Called "lovers' eyes," the works are from the collection of Birmingham collectors Nan and David Skier. BMA curator Graham Boettcher said it may be the largest collection in the world.

"It is certainly larger than any institution that displays them," said Boettcher, who edited the accompanying catalog, "The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection." "As soon as the catalog hit the Internet, we had all kinds of attention. I've been hearing from people from all over the world and finding out about pockets of collectors of lovers' eyes as far away as Paris."

The tradition stems from a secret love affair between the Prince of Wales (later King George IV of England) and a widowed Catholic commoner named Marie Fitzherbert. Starting in 1785, the couple exchanged several miniatures depicting their eyes, and eventually were secretly married.

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