Treasuring the Gaze: Intimate Vision in Late Eighteenth-century Eye Miniatures (University of Chicago Press, 2013)
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 mementos, 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.
Marcia Pointon | Art History
“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.”
Garrett Stewart, University of Iowa
“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. With an appealing modesty and a gathering magisterial force, Treasuring the Gaze achieves what it ventures: the revisionary foundation for a psychoanalytical aesthetics.”
Kenshur Prize Report | Erica Naginski, Harvard University
Astonishing here then, is how the complexity and reach of Grootenboer’s theoretical terrain—which, rather breathtakingly, encompasses Gaston Bachelard, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Lacan, Mladen Dolar, Gérard Wajcman, Joan Copjec, Norman Bryson, Adrian Stokes, Marcia Pointon, Jürgen Habermas, Georges Didi-Huberman, among others—metes out the lineaments of a psychoanalytic approach working to be held in balance with an art historical lens that is extremely tightly focused on circa 1800. Kenshur Prize Report, Erica Naginski (Harvard University)