Eyes have been thought of as the 'window of the soul'. The symbol has been used by the Masonic Order, during the French Revolution, and in the 18th and 19th century as a love token in the form of a miniature painting.


The latter, a fad c.1790-1820, promoted the idea that the eye was recognizable only to the token’s recipient and hid a lover's identity.

Painted in watercolor on ivory or gouache on vellum, eye miniatures were set into women’s jewelry and items like snuff boxes for men. A decorative border surrounded the portrait and a hair compartment was often on the reverse.


A theory to the origin of the eye miniature dates to the late 18th century when the Prince of Wales was refused permission by his father, King George III, and British law to wed a widowed Catholic, Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. In order to keep his romance with her secret and present his proposal, an eye miniature was painted by Richard Cosway, a court miniaturist. The gift led to a secret marriage. Cosway then painted the bride's eye and British nobility followed the Prince's lead spreading the fad to the continent.


Alternate theories say eye miniatures came from France, or that ledgers of prominent miniaturists list eye paintings earlier than Cosway’s.

Queen Victoria gave eye miniatures as gifts with portraits of her children, friends and relatives.


In the early nineteenth century eye miniatures were a form of memorial jewelry ('tear jewelry’). Their purpose was transformed from secret love to remembrance. Depicted with a tear or as gazing through clouds, they evoked powerful sentiment and usually incorporated hairwork.