Portrait Miniatures. New Acquisitions. New Discoveries. New Perspectives.

Nationalmuseum possesses not only the world’s largest collection of portrait miniatures, but also one of the most notable. See over 230 of the 5,300 works, including the latest acquisition: a portrait of Queen Elisabeth I by Nicolas Hilliard.

Pictures: Portrait of a Man, Rosalba Carriera. Mrs Georgina Maria Grenfell g. Glyn (cropped) Robert Thorburn. Karl XI, Arvid von Karlsteen.

Portrait of a Man, Rosalba Carriera. Mrs Georgina Maria Grenfell g. Glyn (cropped) Robert Thorburn. Karl XI, Arvid von Karlsteen.

The exhibit presents works acquired over the past two decades alongside pieces from the older collection. Visitors can view over 230 of the collection’s 5,200 portraits, grouped by various themes such as technique and function, individual artistry, self-portraits and collectors.

Biggest and best

Nationalmuseum’s collection of portrait miniatures is the world’s largest and one of the finest. The collection came to prominence after Hjalmar Wicander, an industrialist, had gifted more than 650 important works to Nationalmuseum in 1927. A year later, the museum’s portrait miniature exhibit opened and soon became one of its leading attractions.

The works were exhibited in expensive, specially designed display cases. Over time, it became apparent that these provided inadequate security and climate control, which forced the exhibit to close temporarily in 2003.

Significant additions

Since a couple of years we again have the pleasure of presenting a selection of our most notable portrait miniatures, the emphasis now is on acquisitions from the past two decades rather than the old collection. Thanks to the legacy that accompanied Hjalmar Wicander’s gift, which was later added to by his son, Carl August Wicander, Nationalmuseum has been able to expand the collection with significant acquisitions, primarily at major international auctions.

The latest addition to the collection is a spectacular portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. The artist behind the portrait was the official court miniaturist and the first grand name in English miniature painting, Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619).

In a collection of this size there are, of course, many collections within the collection. These include historical collections that once belonged to royalty and to renowned individual collectors.

Picture: Elizabeth I (detail), Nicolas Hilliard.
Elizabeth I (detail), Nicolas Hilliard.

Nothing small about miniatures

There is a common misconception that miniature painting means small paintings. This is because, long ago, the Latin words minium, meaning red lead, was misinterpreted into meaning something small. The French word miniature refers not to the painting’s size, but to the technique of painting with red lead.

Portrait miniatures are by technical definition always painted in water colour or gouache, on parchment (vellum) or on ivory.

Popular gifts

Many miniatures are indeed small, but this has more to do with their function and purpose. They were often used as keepsakes – portraits or decorated boxes given by princes to their subjects.

More about the portrait of Elizabeth I. 


Art Library and Museum Archives,
Holmamiralens väg 2,
Skeppsholmen, Stockholm 

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