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All dressed up - a 17th-century portrait in disguise

Oil on copper miniature with 27 mica overlays
Oil on copper miniature with 27 mica overlays
Miniature portrait with overlay
Miniature portrait with overlay

In the collection of 148 miniatures held at Amgueddfa Cymru, this portrait is unique. It has a number of very thin transparent layers. Each layer is painted with different costumes and guises that can be placed over the portrait, 'dressing up' the sitter in a variety of styles. One even has a moustache!

Dress up your own 17th-century miniature

The 27 costumes are displayed here for you to drag and drop onto the main portrait. You will see that some layers are in poor condition. By making this activity available online, the portrait can be enjoyed as intended, with no harm to the original.

Using your mouse, drag and drop as many layers as you want onto the portrait to create different looks. Click on the up and down arrows to display more disguises.

When you are happy with your costume, you can print it out as a keepsake to carry round with you — just like its owner did 300 hundred years ago.

NMW A 25950
Oil on copper miniature with 27 mica overlays
Height 87mm x width 74mm
Late 17th century/early 18th century

This type of miniature came into fashion after 1650. It was an early form of a paper 'dress up doll'.
We do not know who painted the image or who the sitter is, but it was probably painted in the Netherlands. The lady's dress has been dated at about 1640, but the miniature was painted after this date. The overlay costumes look medieval and are typical of those worn by nuns and monks.

The overlays are painted on 'mica' - a soft mineral that can be split into thin, clear sheets. They are the same size as the miniature and all would have been kept together in a small leather case.

This miniature was given to the Museum in 2002 as part of a collection of miniatures that belonged to the Nicholl-Carne family from Llantwit Major.
Over the hundreds of years since they were painted and used, the mica overlays have now become damaged and brittle. They are very fragile indeed.