As the name suggests, portrait miniatures are hand-painted likenesses of the smallest and very smallest size with heights ranging from less than a centimetre to around fifteen to twenty centimetres and occasionally even larger. From the middle of the 16th century to the time of the discovery and spread of photography in the mid-19th century, they fulfilled the task of providing the most life-like facsimile of a loved one that could be worn, or furnishing an impression of the appearance of a person that one did not know, but with whom one was to become acquainted (if the countenance in the picture rendered this prospect appealing).
Of the almost 300 miniatures in the Liaunig collection, a representative selection of 100 items painted in Europe between 1590 and 1900 is shown in a generous display case landscape. The range spans from the Elizabethan period with Hilliard via Cooper, Smart and Cosway up to the early 19th century. Continental Schools comprise masterworks by Petitot, Liotard, Füger, Isabey and Daffinger, the leading miniature painter of the Viennese Biedermeier period.
Numerous portraits depict historical sitters such as the Habsburg Emperors and their descendants including Marie-Antoinette up to Empress Sisi, but also their political opponents such as King Friedrich II of Prussia and Emperor Napoleon of France. Many of the French Bourbons are also present with numerous miniscule portrayals of Louis XV and his successors, right up to the last French king, Louis-Philippe from the House of Bourbon-Orleans. Europe’s rulers also liked to distribute valuable (advertising) gifts, frequently in the form of orders encrusted with diamonds or precious gold snuffboxes, which were decorated with a tiny portrait of the potentate.
Furthermore, the Liaunig collection of miniatures contains an especially large number of likenesses from the politically turbulent times of the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th century, as well as numerous portraits from the years of the French revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars between 1790 and 1815.
The portrait miniatures are documented scientifically in a catalogue written by Dr. Bodo Hofstetter.