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At the age of twenty-seven, Maria Fitzherbert was twice widowed and just coming out of mourning into London society when she met the Prince of Wales—the future George IV—who was then twenty-one. He was immediately enthralled. Never mind that she was both a Catholic and a commoner, two big strikes against her. As art historian Hanneke Grootenboer relates in The Art Bulletin, Fitzherbert soon received a letter from the prince, which included a curious token: a small painting of a single eye. He wrote, “if you have not totally forgotten the whole countenance. I think the likeness will strike you.” Grootenboer explains that it “was a very small miniature painting of the prince’s right eye created by his friend the celebrated miniaturist Richard Cosway.” Shortly after, Fitzherbert returned to England and secretly married the prince, later giving him a matching painting of her own gazing eye. Their marriage was not considered valid due to the lack of royal consent, but the lore around the eye paintings endured, inspiring a fashion for such tokens. While miniature portraits were already popular in eighteenth-century England, they were often private objects viewed solely by the wearer. Yet an eye portrait could be worn boldly on a bracelet, ring, stickpin, pendant, or brooch, with the identity of the subject a mystery. Similar to exchanging locks of hair, the eye portraits helped keep a person close, even when separated by distance or the decorum of Georgian courtship, which limited public romantic gestures. They also channeled a desire to be seen. Art historian Marcia Pointon explores this context in The Art Bulletin, noting that the “word gaze in this period denotes a fixity of looking or staring that implies a degree of self-consciousness on the part of the looker and the looked at.” Read more in “18th-Century Lovers Exchanged Portraits of Their Eyes.” Link in our bio. #jewelry #eyes #love #jewelrydesign #portrait

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Keeping a distance