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Treasuring the Gaze

Intimate Vision in Late Eighteenth-Century Eye Miniatures

The end of the eighteenth century saw the start of a new craze in Europe: tiny portraits of single eyes that were exchanged by lovers or family members. Worn as brooches or pendants, these minuscule eyes served the same emotional need as more conventional mementoes, such as lockets containing a coil of a loved one’s hair. The fashion lasted only a few decades, and by the early 1800s eye miniatures had faded into oblivion. Unearthing these portraits in Treasuring the Gaze, Hanneke Grootenboer proposes that the rage for eye miniatures—and their abrupt disappearance—reveals a knot in the unfolding of the history of vision.
Drawing on Alois Riegl, Jean-Luc Nancy, Marcia Pointon, Melanie Klein, and others, Grootenboer unravels this knot, discovering previously unseen patterns of looking and strategies for showing. She shows that eye miniatures portray the subject’s gaze rather than his or her eye, making the recipient of the keepsake an exclusive beholder who is perpetually watched. These treasured portraits always return the looks they receive and, as such, they create a reciprocal mode of viewing that Grootenboer calls intimate vision. Recounting stories about eye miniatures—including the role one played in the scandalous affair of Mrs. Fitzherbert and the Prince of Wales, a portrait of the mesmerizing eye of Lord Byron, and the loss and longing incorporated in crying eye miniatures—Grootenboer shows that intimate vision brings the gaze of another deep into the heart of private experience.
With a host of fascinating imagery from this eccentric and mostly forgotten yet deeply private keepsake, Treasuring the Gaze provides new insights into the art of miniature painting and the genre of portraiture.

300 pages | 24 color plates, 53 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2012

Art: European Art

History of Science


“The selection of illustrations, including a set of fine color plates, is most enlightening. . . . Recommended.”


“Unflinchingly probing. . . . Grootenboer has produced a courageous book that deserves to be widely read for its penetrating analysis of what kinds of responses images elicit.”

Marcia Pointon | Art History

“With precision, clarity, and theoretical sophistication, Treasuring the Gaze builds almost symphonically to its masterful conclusion, offering its readers a profound and compelling meditation on questions at the very heart of visuality, representation, and the discipline of art history itself.”

Vittoria Di Palma | Art Bulletin

“Provides a rich account of the material that is quite literally fascinating. First and foremost, the book is a challenging contribution to the theory of vision and to psychoanalytical aesthetics in particular, which will be of interest to scholars of visual culture, of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art, of portraiture, and far beyond.”

Elsje van Kessel | CAA Reviews

“[A] fascinating book. . . . [Grootenboer] enables us to see afresh the complex problems posed by the structure of works of art in which an object that is in fact a subject is looking at its viewer who is also a subject.”


 “Grootenboer argues cohesively and persuasively for understanding the intimate gaze through visual perception and psychological analysis. Her case is built on a highly original investigation of the eye miniature. . . . Grootenboer deftly charts the gazing games played out by artists, lovers and mourners in this period of sentiment and Romanticism.”

Stephen Lloyd | Apollo Magazine

“Compelling. . . . By examining the eye portrait miniature, Grootenboer is able to raise questions over issues of public and private display, to examine the eighteenth-century cultures of mourning, to trouble the divide between subject and object, to probe theoretical frameworks such as gift giving, and finally, to develop a new theory of ‘intimate vision.’ These various aims . . . come together to provide an innovative interpretation of an emotional object that, until now, had been all but out of sight.”

Freya Gowrley | West 86th

“There are few books that bring their subject to light in the same way that a collector unwraps a hidden treasure by carefully disclosing it page by page, but Hanneke Grootenboer’s book certainly is one of them. . . . An amazing publication. . . . Grootenboer’s book is . . . a milestone in approaches toward a history of intimacy, because (or although) it uncouples the gaze from the eye.”


“Hanneke Grootenboer has fixed her art-historical gaze on a largely overlooked category of visual representation: the late eighteenth-century miniature eye portrait. Precious gifts of love and mementos of loss, the tiny portraits of individual eyes open onto a cultural archive of affective behaviors and practices of seeing that would otherwise remain largely invisible. Treasuring the Gaze stands as a revelatory new chapter in the history of visuality and visual culture.”

Lisa Saltzman, Bryn Mawr College

Treasuring the Gaze is a major contribution not just to a curious corner of art history but to a broad spectrum of visual theory. A thrilling blend of museum finds and conceptual findings, the argument that unfolds makes for one of the most steadily interesting works on visual practice and image culture I have read in many years. The dialectical reversals and counterintuitive surprises of the projected and introjected look are handled with full sophistication, rare clarity, and rich assurance. With an appealing modesty and a gathering magisterial force, Treasuring the Gaze achieves what it ventures:  the revisionary foundation for a psychoanalytical aesthetics.”

Garrett Stewart, University of Iowa

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction An Overlooked Episode of Vision’s History

Chapter 1 Intimate Vision: The Portrait Miniature’s Structure of Address
Chapter 2 Gazing Games: Eye Portraits and the Two Sexes of Sight
Chapter 3 The Crying Image: The Withdrawal of the Gaze
Chapter 4 Intimate as Extimate: The Gaze as Part-Object
Chapter 5 The Face Becoming Eye: Portraiture’s Minimum
Conclusion The Eye Portrait’s Afterlife



American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies: Oscar Kenshur Book Prize

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