Much to Be Said by a Miniature: An Inside Look at the Duchess of Devonshire’s Miniature Portrait by Johann Heinrich Hurter

Miniature of the Duchess of Devonshire by Johann Heinrich Hurter. 1779.

Miniature of the Duchess of Devonshire by Johann Heinrich Hurter. 1779.

“The Duchess of Devonshire may be said almost to have produced a revolution in fashionable life…A kind of arbitress of fashion and of taste, she was approached with a sort of devotion” (Belle Assemblee). This excerpt  is taken from the Duchess’s obituary in the society pages of the 1806 Belle Assemblee publication and showcases the incredible authority Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), held over her mostly enthralled public in eighteenth-century England. It was a public that took to her fashion whims with a voracious appetite for imitation (Foreman 37). Her celebrity seemingly resulted in objects such as the miniature by Johann Heinrich Hurter, based on Angelica Kauffman’s oil painting of the young Georgiana. Such an object allowed the general public to collect fashionable portraits of celebrated figures (Victoria and Albert Museum). The miniature speaks to the growing trend of the emulation of the upper classes which sprung up within the consumer revolution, as well as the increasing fear of women seen within the public sphere.

Bell's Weekly Messenger. October 6, 1799.

Bell’s Weekly Messenger. October 6, 1799.

Hurter’s miniature was crafted in England in 1779. It was painted on copper with enamel and set in a gilt-bronze frame. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England purchased the piece from a Christie’s sale in Geneva in 1980. The painting is quite small, only 6.45 cm by 8.55 cm to be exact, which allowed the eighteenth-century public to afford a “miniature” version of a much larger, grander painting of a famous sitter. The Duchess is depicted in a pale yellow dress with a light purple ribbon in her hair held in place with a jeweled pin (Victoria and Albert Museum). Her hair is done in the fashionable style of the period with rolled curls on each side of her head. Georgiana was married to the enormously wealthy Duke of Devonshire and was a member of the fashionable and noble elite (Belle Assemblee 122-123). Bell’s Weekly Messenger, an eighteenth-century publication that chronicled London’s high society, discussed her in its Fashionables section in 1799. It states that the Duchess hosted a Public Breakfast on the Bowling Green with the nobility of the surrounding areas and looks “in most excellent health and spirits.” It also discloses when she arrived, who she was with, what she was wearing, and how she spent her time (318) —such details would only be offered about someone who held the public’s attention as a modern celebrity would now. Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, reveals that journalists loved writing about Georgiana and she loved creating stories for them through her trend-making fashion statements, infectious charm, and constant frivolities (38). Georgiana wore fantastical hairstyles heightened with pads of horsehair and decorated with ornaments including her signature ostrich feathers; as well as “a ship in full sail, or an exotic arrangement of stuffed birds and waxed fruit, or even a pastoral tableau with wooden trees and sheep” (37). It is no wonder that she was labeled the queen of fashion and that the masses were clamoring to imitate her cutting-edge fashions and were collecting miniatures of her visage.

Portrait Medallion of the Duchess of Devonshire. Wedgewood Factory. 1782.

The consumer revolution in England, which really got going after 1750, allowed them to do just that. The consumer revolution is defined as a huge expansion in the purchasing of consumer goods enabled by new production and manufacturing technology. Such an expansion also generated new wealth. People who never dreamed of buying luxuries for themselves could afford them like never before. This rapidly growing consumer population copied the nobility’s elegant styles in order to showcase their newfound affluence and purchasing power (Koscak 1.9.14). Since Georgiana was a noble tastemaker to be reckoned with, as well as a charming socialite, she was a clear choice for emulation. The Belle Assemblee wrote that the Duchess of Devonshire “…produced a revolution in fashionable life. The influence derived from her rank and fortune gave a kind of credit to her example” (125). The miniature by Hurter displays this newfound obsession with the fashionable elite and the insatiable desire to dress like them. Other collectable images of Georgiana were made as well, including a jasperware portrait medallion modeled by John Flaxman and made by the Josiah Wedgewood factory in 1782. It depicts the Duchess of Devonshire in profile with an elaborate hairstyle (Victoria and Albert Museum).

“Political Affection.” Etching on paper. 1784.

“Political Affection.” Etching on paper. 1784.

Hurter’s miniature of the Duchess of Devonshire also sheds light on the concern of women in public, or the public sphere, in the eighteenth century. If Georgiana’s miniature was being produced and collected, then she was most certainly in the public sphere. Her family was a longtime supporter of the Whig political party and she went out in public to campaign for votes as well as stood on the hustings—or election platforms—to champion her candidate Charles Fox (Koscak 1.14.14). The Belle Assemblee considered her “a zealous advocate of the Whigs” (124). However, many saw this as unnatural and unfeminine since instead of staying home and looking after her children, she was involved in politics—traditionally a masculine pursuit. Many satirical prints were produced, lampooning her involvement and the neglect of her children. One such print titled “Political Affection” shows Georgiana nursing an aptly-chosen fox cub—signifying her connection to candidate Charles Fox—as her own child cries on the floor (The British Museum). The ideal of separate spheres—a private one for women and a public one for men—was very important to many in eighteenth-century England and Georgiana’s political zeal offended this notion. Many believed if women did not act appropriately then social disruption would ensue. Moreover, the country was already anxious about the growing freedom women had due to urbanization. Women were increasingly going to work or going out for entertainment, both within the public sphere. England was also concerned about the loss of control over its American colonies and it did not want embarrassingly unfeminine women making matters worse (Koscak 1.14.14).

Hurter’s miniature of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, symbolized the growing trend of emulation spurned on by the consumer revolution and added to the concern of women in the public sphere in eighteenth-century England. It also signifies that much can be revealed by a miniature.


“The Duchess of Devonshire,” in Belle Assemblee; or, Court and Fashionable Magazine (April 1806): pp. 122-29.

“Fashionables” in Bell’s Weekly Messenger. 6 October 1799. Issue 180. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 4 March 2014.

Flaxman, John and Josiah Wedgewood. “Duchess of Devonshire.” 1782. Jasperware. Victoria and Albert Museum. C.120-1956.

Foreman, Amanda. Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire. London: Harper Collins, 1998.

Hurter, Johann Heinrich. “Miniature.” 1779. Enamel on copper, gilt-brass frame. Victoria and Albert Museum. LOAN:GILBERT.263-2008.

Koscak, Stephanie. “The Great Renunciation: Commercialization, Politics, and Gender.” University of Los Angeles, California. 9 January 2014.

Koscak, Stephanie. “A Revolution in Fashionable Life: Radical Whigs and Radical Fashion.” University of Los Angeles, California. 14 January 2014.

“Political Affection.” 1784. Etching on paper. The British Museum. J,2.128.


The Man Behind the Masquerade: Official State Portrait of Louis XIV (Virginia Baldwin)


State Portrait of Louis XIV
Date: 1701
Artist: Hyacinthe Rigaud
Location: Louvre Museum, Paris
Materials: Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions: 277 cm x 194 cm

 “He imbues kings with an image of His majesty, so that they must imitate his goodness. He raises them to a level where they no longer desire anything for themselves.”  

The above images shows the front cover of Bossuet's book Politique tiree des propres paroles de l'ecriture sainte, which is where the quote is derived from.

This image shows the front cover of Bossuet’s French book (1709), from which the epigraph is derived.

In Hyacinthe Rigaud’s state portrait of King Louis XIV (Louvre Museum), our eye immediately becomes entranced by the golden scepters and sparkling diamonds cloaked in velvet, as the monarch’s aging 63-year-old body is often overlooked. In the quote (above) taken from his posthumously-published book Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Holy Scripture (1709), Court Priest and Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet warned against tyrannical abuse of divine right absolutism, which is when a king derived his power from God. Bossuet warned that since kings should have no personal “desire” for themselves, they must use God’s imbued “goodness” for the people of the kingdom. The painting’s inclusion of luxurious fur and diamond-encrusted silk shoes disregards Bossuet’s warning of greed, as Louis XIV certainly desired many things for himself that would not be directed towards the “good” of the French people. The popular contention that clothes seem to ‘make the man’ is true regarding Louis XIV’s representation in this portrait, since only after the Enlightenment and eruption of the French Revolution in the late 18th century would artificiality in clothing begin to be criticized. Ranging from the king’s bald head resting underneath a pile of curls to the toothless gums hiding behind his sly smirk, a deeper examination behind the wardrobe and symbols present in Rigaud’s artwork highlights the relationship between Louis XIV’s royal portraiture and inauthenticity, ultimately rendering this painting as a site of disorder and deceit, rather than glitter and glory.

Robert Nanteuil's printed bust of Louis XIV.

Robert Nanteuil’s printed bust of Louis XIV entitled Ludovicus Decimus Quartus Regum Maximus (1670).

According to the Louvre Museum website, Rigaud’s portrait was issued by the state as a gift to King Philip V of Spain, yet it was never sent to him because it was so highly regarded by Louis XIV. Standing nearly 9 feet tall, this painting remained at the French court of Versailles so that any scheming nobles or menacing courtiers passing by would be reminded of Louis XIV’s ubiquitous power. Rigaud’s portrait confirms how Louis XIV disobeyed Bossuet’s warnings against selfish monarchial “desire” through its inclusion of the royal Fleur-de-lis – the floral monarchial symbol – on the king’s cape, as Louis XIV was literally cloaking himself in the French nation. Other examples of divine right symbolism present in Rigaud’s painting include the golden scepter, crown and sword. The same manipulation of divine right rule in artwork is visible in Robert Nanteuil’s print of Louis XIV, which is shown above (British Museum). Nanteuil’s print symbolizes abuse of absolute rule in not only its glorification of military power through the king’s suit of armor costume, but also through its wide circulation. As Historian Peter Burke regards in The Fabrication of Louis XIV, “Reproductions magnified the king’s visibility. … ‘Prints’, on the other hand (woodcuts, etchings, copperplates, steel engravings, and even mezzotints), were cheap. They were reproduced in thousands of copies and could therefore make a major contribution to spreading views of Louis as well as news about him” (16). Burke illustrates how circulation of royal images through prints and other sources of cheap media contributed to the glorification of Louis XIV, as both the print and Rigaud’s portrait prove how visibility was directly linked to power in Louis XIV’s regime.


William Thackeray’s 1840s satirical print Rex. Ludovicus. Ludovicus Rex.

Along with the portrait’s visual recognition of Louis XIV’s artificial respect towards Bossuet’s warnings about abuse of power, another inauthentic aspect of the portrait is the physical portrayal of the king’s body. Louis XIV’s hollow cheeks and toothlessness are sharply defined by Rigaud’s use of shading. As confirmed by Professor Colin Jones in “The King’s Two Teeth,” Rigaud purposefully sought to highlight the king’s poor dental care in order to illustrate the lack of attention given to development of modern healthcare at Versailles (80). There was a growing disparity between the antiquity of Versailles and modernity of Paris, since advanced medical discoveries – such as tooth transplantations –flooded Paris (91). As Jones argues, “new forms of facial behaviour were achieving a legitimacy which made the royal court not the leading edge of innovation … but the last bastion of an outmoded aesthetic” (91). This is especially important as it renders Louis XIV as nothing more than just a common toothless Frenchman, masked by velvet and diamonds in his cloak of artificiality. Additionally, even though Louis was an aging 63-year-old monarch crippled by gout – an arthritic disease – at the time of this portrait, his defined muscles and upright posture harkens back to his days as a young ballet dancer (79). William Thackeray’s print Rex. Ludovicus. Ludovicus Rex (above right) directly attacks Louis XIV’s inauthentic appearance through the depiction of the king as an elderly, hobbling man forced to use a cane (British Museum). This illustration dates to 1840s non-absolutist Victorian England, which indicates that Thackeray was not only attacking the ridiculous costume of the king, but also harsh tenets of French absolute divine right monarchy. Along with mocking the king’s posture, Thackeray’s print highlights the king’s baldness, which was masked by a full-bottom wig in Rigaud’s portrait. In his article “Big Hair,” Historian Michael Kwass defines wigs in Louis XIV’s age as “positional goods,” which means that people used wigs to artificially adopt higher social status in a court where everyone was vying for the king’s attention (643).


William Hogarth’s drawing entitled The Five Orders of Periwigs, from 1761.

However, it is important to note that this use of wigs in the early 18th century differed from the use of wigs at the end of the century. The mid-18th century Enlightenment, which was an intellectual movement that emphasized rationalism, permeated fashion as it sought to replace the masquerade with natural authenticity (Koscak Lecture, Feb. 18). According to Kwass, “Superseding conspicuous display, the concept of convenience endowed post-Louis Quatorze wigs with a utilitarian purpose that signified the material and moral advances of the present day. Perfecting the natural appearance of wigs distinguished them from the artificial styles of the past and rendered them suitable for an epoch that placed a premium on authenticity” (657). Proving the changing role of wigs during the Enlightenment, William Hogarth’s print (above left) is a satire of English society’s utilization of wigs as tools of self-expression (Metropolitan Museum of Art). The variety of wigs worn at the coronation of King George III and Queen Charlotte in 1761 inspired Hogarth to classify wigs based on “orders,” as the ridiculous appearance of wigs becomes visibly apparent in the print (Metropolitan Museum of Art). This satire also links the nature of wig consumption as artificial tools in both England and France, proving the spread of inauthentic fashion modes beyond French borders.

In conclusion, inauthenticity was explicitly connected to royal portraiture in Rigaud’s rendering of Louis XIV. Rigaud’s inclusion of small, realistic details helps to chisel the outer facade of regal display into serving as an example of deceit, which ranges from Louis XIV’s blatant disregard of Bossuet’s warnings about selfish “desire” of kings to the clever masking of his aging body. Overall, the painting’s display of the artifice of fashion and clothing’s tendency to ‘make the man’ was deeply rooted in the revolutionary Atlantic world of the 18th century, especially considering how fashion will always continue to be a site of crisis due to its unique ability to take on variant new meanings.



Burke, Peter. “Persuasion,” in The Fabrication of Louis XIV. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. 14-37.

Jones, Colin. “The King’s Two Teeth.” History Workshop Journal 65. Oxford University Press, 2008. 79-95.

Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” American Historical Review. June 2006. 631-659.


“Atlas Database of Exhibits.” Louvre Museum Website. 7 March 2014. <>.

Bossuet, Jacques-Bénigne. “The Nature and Properties of Royal Authority.” Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Holy Scripture. Paris, 1709. Vol. I, 133 – 149;180 – 188. Taken from Liberty, Equality and Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution. Web. 8 March 2014. <>.


Bossuet, Jacques-Bénigne. Politique Tiree Des Propres Paroles De L’Ecriture Sainte. Book Cover. Bibliothèque Nationale De France. Web. 8 March 2014.<;.

Hogarth, William. The Five Orders of Periwigs. 1761. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Met Museum of Art Online Collections. Web. 8 March 2014. Museum Reference Number 32.35(116). <;.

Nanteuil, Robert. Ludovicus Decimus Quartus Regum Maximus. 1670. British Museum, London. British Museum Online Collections. Web. 8 March 2014. Museum Reference Number1874,0711.2062 <;.

Rigaud, Hyacinthe. State Portrait of Louis XIV. 1701. Louvre Museum, Paris. Louvre Online Collections. Web. 8 March 2014. Museum Reference Number 7492.<;.

Thackeray, William. Rex. Ludovicus. Ludovicus Rex. 1840. British Museum, London. British Museum Online Collections. Web. 8 March 2014. Museum Reference Number 1961,1012.335 <;.


Koscak, Stephanie. “Enlightened Dress.” UCLA. 18 February 2014.