Loan Object
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Artist, attributed to: John Ramage, British, born Ireland, ca. 1748–1802, active United States, 1775–94

Romantic Allegory

ca. 1785

Watercolor on ivory

1 7/16 × 3/4 in. (3.7 × 1.9 cm)
Promised bequest of Davida Tenenbaum Deutsch and Alvin Deutsch, LL.B. 1958, in honor of Kathleen Luhrs
ILE1999.3.20

Love, the meaning of the two birds united on the altar in this allegorical miniature, is immediately intelligible more than two hundred years after its creation. Harder for modern viewers to decipher is the woman who crowns the birds with a floral wreath. The theme, possibly taken from “Henry and Emma,” by the popular English poet Matthew Prior, was a famous motif in the 1800s for the triumph of love. Emma’s sacrifice, offered to Hymen, the god of marriage, is a wreath made of flowers and her lover’s hair. The remaining hardware indicates that this oval miniature was at one time part of a bracelet.

Irish-born John Ramage, who worked as a miniaturist and goldsmith in Halifax in Nova Scotia, Boston, and New York, offered customers the option of expressing feelings in allegorical terms. Clients consulted sample cards, from which they chose motifs that were both widely understood and individually selected to express intimate sentiments. This miniature resembles an image at the top of Ramage’s sample card that would have been offered as a token of love. The use of allegorical devices is found on other early republican miniatures. Ramage also advertised “curious Devices in Hair,” decorations of hair, and watercolor painted on cards. By choosing one of the available designs, or a combination of motifs from several cards, a patron could express, in allegorical terms that were widely understood, individualized sentiments of love, loss, or longing.

Geography: 
Made in New York City, New York, United States
Status: 
Not on view
Culture: 
British
Period: 
18th century
Classification: 
Miniatures - Jewelry
Provenance: 

East Side Antiques Show, The Virginians; sold to Davida Tenenbaum Deutsch and Alvin Deutsch, LL.B. 1958, New York.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.