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British School, 17th century

Set of mica overlays and miniature of Henrietta Maria (1609-1669) c.1650?

Oil on copper; mica | RCIN 422348

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The mid-seventeenth century saw a vogue for a curious type of miniature which could be dressed in a variety of different outfits by placing painted transparent overlays on top. Constructed from very thin slices of the mineral mica, these overlays included male and female outfits with appropriate accessories. This set is one of only about 45 surviving examples. This miniature has traditionally been identified as Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. Many of the sets held in other collections have been similarly identified – they appear to have been produced as commemorative items after the king’s execution in 1649, although whether designed to propagate the royal couple as martyrs or for purpose of ridicule remains to be determined. The overlays show a wide variety of costume, ranging from seventeenth century fashionable garments, armour, and official robes to forms of dress specific to different countries. Interestingly, ten of the nineteen overlays depict male rather than female dress. The engravings of Wenceslaus Hollar appear to have been an important source of inspiration. Some overlays can be linked to identifiable figures, for example the well-known portrait of Cromwell in armour.