A large number of miniatures do not offer any elements to identify their subjects, neither names, dates or places, uniforms or insignias. They however capture concrete elements of character and appearance during the last two decades of the eighteenth century in France, essentially from the nobility or the bourgeoisie, even though the range of customers of miniaturists was expanding. A variety of styles were possible, from the hardened glance, to seriousness, while some even dared to smile, contrary to a long established tradition. The fourth character here is the only one identified specifically by name, as Antoine Anne Gaspard Balthasar De la Croix de Castries, born on 14 February 1760. Despite his fancy look he was Prior of Aiguetines (Aude), Vicar General of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, and, after the Revolution, almoner of King Charles X (1824-30).
Four possible characters: the hardened butcher with creased clothes and without wig, the young, serious and elegant, the Viveur after a night out, and the dandy priest.
Miniature portraits of women also cover different social classes, ages and levels of ambition. The first image is a later copy of a self portrait of Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun embracing her daughter Julie, painted in 1787 or 1789, in a situation of family intimacy, openly displayed. The incredible career of Vigée Lebrun, between the courts of Versailles, Naples, Vienna and Saint Petersburg, was reconstructed in an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2015, using this self portrait as the poster for the exhibition. Pre-revolutionary France in several respects offered women of the elite (by birth and in some rare cases by merit) a more substantial freedom than the age of the Code Civil of Napoleon (1804), which subordinated wives to their husbands even more than before. Even less prominent women than Vigée Lebrun, Germaine de Staël or Juliette Récamier wanted to be represented as being part of the République des lettres, as is the case with the second portrait here shown, with a smiling lady intent in writing and painting, while elegantly dressed and adorned with pearls.
Portraits represented also older women, sometimes in a fashionable way, as the austere wearer of a dress with blue and white thin stripes, carrying a hat with a nature morte of flowers in white, while sitting on a luxury chair with violet silk coverings. The final image, difficult to date, shows the more common aspect of an older woman of the people, enveloped in many layers of unfashionable clothes, probably a widow, given the black veil above the white headset.