Small Talk Tag: Miniature

Going Further Beyond

maria jose santos

Artist Maria Jose Santos began creating ornate porcelain miniature figurines almost two decades ago in mountainous Asturias, Spain. Since then, she has captured the light and whimsical moves of dancing ballerinas as well as the intricacies of ethnic and period dress.  In addition to T/m, her work can be seen in the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, Switzerland’s Puppenhausmuseum, in Spain’s El Mundo de las Muñecas.

Santos was inspired by a historical painting by Julius Victor Berger when she created the 1:12 scale figures Emperor Charles V of Spain, and Queen Isabella of Portugal and her maid. Queen Isabella even holds two miniature documents; one of which was handwritten by Santos indicating that the miniature work was “put in the care of” The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.

The title of the miniature trio incorporates Emperor Charles V’s motto, “Further Beyond,” which stems from the Pillars of Hercules – structures the Ancient Greeks once believed marked where the physical world ended. By the time the Emperor gained power, however, sailors knew you didn’t just drop off the edge of the earth at the horizon, so the leader leveraged the phrase as motivation to push boundaries and explore. That’s something we can support as we head towards the our reopening next year!

An Artful Tradition

lee ann chellis wessel egg tempera

Like last year, we’re going to take a look at a work by Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel that commemorates the holiday season. Although her miniature version of The Virgin and Child by Italian painter Lippo Memmi was created nearly 700 years after his, Chellis Wessel has stayed true to the original media: egg tempera with gold leaf on a panel. Memmi’s trademark lacy halos and flattened gold patterns and trim within Mary’s robe all carry an intricate amount of tiny detail. We wonder how Chellis Wessel must have felt replicating those details in fine-scale miniature!

As a special treat this year, Chellis Wessel’s version is on display at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art next to the original work that served as her inspiration. Visitors can view it as well as others scattered throughout the Nelson-Atkins’ galleries as part of the exhibit, Highlights from the Collection of The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures on view now through February 22, 2015.

The Adorned Thorne Rooms

thorne rooms christmas

Have you ever wanted to peek into the delight and spirit of holiday seasons gone by? Well, we have good news. One of the most festive holiday traditions at The Art Institute of Chicago is the annual decking of the Thorne Rooms’ halls. Some of the tiny period rooms don long garlands and dainty, dangling mistletoe. In the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, for example, a miniature Christmas tree sits atop a small table, complete with tall red candles on its limbs and a set of dolls resting beneath its bottom branches. In the modern-era California Hallway, a tiny blue menorah sits on a coffee table next to a box holding a dreidel.

In addition to regional, historically accurate décor in several other period rooms, this year’s special display also includes new decorations in honor of the Chinese New Year, a 15-day celebration marked by the lunar calendar. Common commemorative accents in the display will include tiny lanterns, floral arrangements, and banners inscribed with traditional Chinese sayings and idioms.

Photo: Mrs. James Thorne. English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, 1840-70 (detail), c. 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Dashing Through the Snow

carol hardy miniatures

It’s the time of year for wintery carriage rides and festive carols! Written in 1857, “Jingle Bells,” one of the most popular songs of all time was, originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh.” It’s been sung the world over, and was even the first song performed in outer space. We like to think that this miniature Victorian sleigh is the one from the famous carol.

Artist Carol Hardy steam-bent pieces of wood to create the graceful curves of the runners and dash. The leg supports were fashioned from gleaming German silver. The sleigh’s body consists of black-painted cherry wood and the seats are upholstered in luxurious burgundy suede. Oh, what fun it would be to ride in this miniature open sleigh!

Renaissance Woman

lee ann chellis wessel ceramics

A large portion of Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel’s work focuses on re-creating Renaissance masterpieces in miniature. Like a modern day Renaissance woman, Chellis Wessel not only excels at painting miniature renditions of egg tempera masterworks like this version of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, but also Renaissance period maiolica (or majolica or mayólica, depending on where it’s from) ceramics.

Much like her egg tempera work, Chellis Wessel’s miniature maiolica is made using the same process as full-scale pottery. First created in the ancient Middle East, maiolica  is made by covering a clay vessel with a white glaze that has been made opaque by the addition of tin. The white glaze provides a blank canvas for the metallic oxide designs that are layered on top and become fused to the background during the firing process. The results are the same whether in full-scale or fine-scale miniature: a beautiful multicolored piece of pottery.

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