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This unusual miniature may be a romantic allegory, of the kind exchanged during the late 18th and early 19th century to commemorate secret love. Yet the remarkable intimacy in this scene is not between the male and female figures. Rather it is between the woman and her dog, who appear to be gazing intently into each other’s eyes. A dog is a widely utilized symbol of fidelity, and images of women with dogs are rather common, yet this is an exceptional image. The reference here may be to the literary figure of Maria, a minor yet celebrated character who appears with her dog Sylvio in two of Laurence Sterne’s novels, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. The latter was published in 1768, and widely known, including in America. Maria’s melancholy figure quickly became a frequent subject for artists.


Miniature depicting a seated woman, a dog, and a man in a garden. The female figure is draped in white neo-classical attire, with a white collar or shawl. Her long waves of auburn-brown hair are adorned by a turquoise hairband and she wears a matching waist sash. The same pigment colors her eyes. A single black slipper emerges from under the hem of her dress. A black bracelet or band encircles the wrist of the visible proper left hand, while the other hand presumably strokes her canine companion. The white and red-brown coloration of the dog suggests a spaniel, and it wears a striated yellow collar. The male figure, appears to be walking into the scene behind a tree. His proper left hand is outside of the frame. He wears a brown coat with black lapels and buff waistcoat; a lace shirt edge protrudes beyond the proper right jacket sleeve. His eyes have been painted in two different colors, one blue and one dark.

The stippled, landscape includes a round neoclassical temple with two Corinthian columns framing the female figure. The column at proper right has tendrils of greenery cascading around it. The woman is seated on a brown bench, and just behind her are pink rose bushes. At the base of the scene is perhaps an indication of a stream or garden border.

The narrow front of the gold alloy casing is simple, flat, and unobtrusive. The verso has a patterned border of groups of incised lines and dots; it is otherwise undecorated. There is one original affixed loop at the top edge; the second attached to it is likely 20th century, and in a different metal.

There is a red leather case for the miniature.





Watercolor on ivory, gold alloy, glass. Case: leather


Overall (Miniature): 1 7/8 in. × 1 5/16 in. (4.76 cm × 3.33 cm)
Other (Case): 2 5/8 in. × 1 3/4 in. (6.67 cm × 4.45 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Katherine Merle-Smith Thomas, 2010


On interior of case, on green leather, left to right, (ink?): 50 cr(?) or cs(?).

Object Number


Colors (Beta)

Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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