Fragility of Human History
There are portraits of 800 individuals in the collection and on average, each of the portraits was painted around 150-180 years ago. Thus, in a cumulative sense, the sum of the individual ages of the portraits represents 120,000-150,000 years of human history! Although, it may appear meaningless in itself, this figure does give a sense of the how much history is involved, as most sitters are ancestors of people alive today. Note also that 140,000 years is what many anthropologists regard as the length of time since our descent from Mitochondrial Eve, the common ancestor of modern man, see Mitochondrial Eve - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In fact, in January 2007, scientists have determined the first migration of humans out of sub-Saharan Africa occurred less than 50,000 years ago. Thus taken another way, if it were realistic to assume a 60 year life span for each individual represented in this collection, the sum of their lives would represent the time since their ancestors first left Africa. Yet a further example would be if each of the 800 individual portraits in the collection were assumed to be in a single line of descent, with a generation gap of 15 years between each parent and child. This would cover the period from today, back 12,000 years to the first discovery of agriculture! Human history is brief.
Update January 2008 - An interesting article in the news is that scientists have determined that all blue-eyed people can trace their ancestry to one person who probably lived in the Black Sea region about 10,000 years ago. The scientists evaluated a sample of people with blue eyes and found that 99.5% have the same genetic mutation.
This indicates that all sitters in these miniature portraits who have blue eyes, have a common ancestor from no more distant than 10,000 years ago.
History of the Collection
The collection has developed over a period of time, very much on a trial and error basis, and as the subject has gradually been understood a little better. The interest followed from collecting postage stamps, which itself created an awareness of differing portraits on postage stamps and the history associated with the people and events depicted.
The collection commenced largely by accident. My eldest daughter had been required to undertake a genealogy project at school. This created a desire to record and preserve our own family history. Then, when attending an antique auction, a group of family miniatures by William Douglas was seen being split up as individual lots. This prompted us to try and save the family by purchasing as many as we could afford. Hence the name of the collection "Artists and Ancestors".
Focus on Quality and Interest
Early purchases were fairly indiscriminate and ill-informed, with many items acquired just because they were small pictures, and many mistakes were made. Later there was a focus on signed or attributed works. More recently, there has been more focus on acquiring miniatures of named sitters.
The size of the collection has now stabilised at around 800, with disposals tending to match acquisitions. The aim is now to improve the quality and have fewer items titled "Unknown artist - portrait of unknown man".
If visitors to the site seek information about miniature portraits they own, they can send me an email at the address mentioned in my profile and I am happy to comment on them without charge, although a polite expression of thanks would always be appreciated, even if it is regretfully necessary to advise that a treasured miniature is not a great rarity.