Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Noblewoman, profile to the right, wearing white dress, red Kashmir shawl and pierced ribbon bandeau 

Louis Marie Autissier (1772-1830)

Portrait miniature of a Noblewoman, profile to the right, wearing white dress, red Kashmir shawl and pierced ribbon bandeau, Louis Marie Autissier
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 5 1/2 in (140 mm) high
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This impressive ‘cabinet miniature’ is by Louis Marie Autissier, one of the leading European miniaturists of the early 19th century. After training at the École des Beaux Arts (which Leo Schidlof states began at the precocious age of 12 ) and serving briefly as a soldier, he settled in Brussels where his reputation as an outstanding portraitist was formed. Autissier’s work was disseminated by his travels through Europe, and he exhibited in Ghent, Antwerp and Paris. His work caught the attention of the aristocracy and royalty and he was awarded the title of court painter to Louis Napoleon, the French ruler of the Netherlands.

The size and format of this miniature relates to his famous ‘type portraits’ or ‘fancy pictures’, which were most unusual for a portrait miniaturist. They must have been extremely popular, as Autissier exhibited many of these, showing idealized subjects with allegorical references. This profile, however, is more likely to be a true portrait of a noblewoman. It displays typical characteristics of Autissier’s work, including his strong sense of composition and vibrant colour.

The profile portrait was a fashionable format for the early nineteenth century as neoclassicism dominated the arts. The profile head instilled a sense of dignity with its allusion to ancient Greek and Roman marbles and coins. The sitter’s loose curls, headband and draped dress are all classical in style and particularly suitable for a noblewoman of this period. Autissier may have been influenced by interest in the profile as a particularly ‘truthful’ representation of the face. Artists such as Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770-1852) were making hundreds of profile drawings using tools such as a physiognotace, which were extremely popular and often turned into engravings.

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