Art and antiques dealer Philip Rosenbach (1863-1953), the brother of famed rare book and manuscript dealer A.S.W. Rosenbach (1876-1952), purchased a collection of 450 portrait miniatures from English painter Talbot Hughes in 1928. The largest collection of oil on copper miniatures in the United States, it includes portraits painted by English, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and French artists. The titles and artist attributions used in this exhibition are predominantly Hughes’s own. In addition to the Hughes collection, the Rosenbach maintains a fine selection of American, English, and Continental miniatures in other media: watercolor on vellum, watercolor on ivory, enamel, and wax.
Portrait miniatures usually present only a partial view of the subject and often lack the more elaborate background and props of their larger counterparts, but they still have many stories to tell. Because we see their subjects from the chest up, the study of the historic development of neckwear is a particularly compelling exercise. Styles of neckwear both mirrored and shaped changing ideas about the male and female body; depending on whether the neck and chest were deemed to be expressive of strength, status, or sexuality, fashionable neckwear strategically emphasized or downplayed those areas. Neckwear also implied status, with the functional outfits of laborers defining their social standing and fine fabrics and confining styles announcing the wealth and leisure of the upper classes. Contact with foreign cultures introduced new materials and silhouettes, while patterns of political and economic power were reflected in the shifting influence of particular regional styles on international fashion trends.