The Miniature: An International Conference

When and Where

Thursday, March 10, 2022 9:00 am to Saturday, March 12, 2022 1:00 pm
Online via Zoom


Maria Anastasiadou, University of Vienna
Anya Burgon, Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Jack Davy, Morley College, London
Rachel Dewan, University of Toronto
Andrew Hamilton, Art Institute, Chicago
Ethan Matt Kavaler, University of Toronto
Carl Knappett, University of Toronto
Elizabeth Legge, University of Toronto
Elizabeth R. Mattison, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College
Mark Morris, The Architectural Association
Oliver Pilz, University of Jordan, Amman
Verity Platt, Cornell University
Giles Spence-Morrow, Vanderbilt University
Claudia Swan, Washington University in St Louis
Achim Timmermann, University of Michigan


As Gaston Bachelard said: “le minuscule, porte étroite s’il en est, ouvre un monde”. This quote captures some sense of the paradox of the miniature. On the one hand, tiny, easily overlooked, ignored, or dismissed, banal, playful, to be taken lightly. On the other, expansive, liberating, ‘un catalyseur d’imaginaire’ (Thoizet and Roussel-Gillet 2018). They can be both derivative of prototypes, and themselves the prototype from which the ‘real’ springs. Indeed, this quality of the miniature as both real and unreal is essential to its disputed status. It is this feature upon which we would like to focus in this conference.

Despite a resurgence of interest in miniatures across multiple domains—such as literature, art history, anthropology, archaeology and philosophy—we feel that some key dynamics in miniatures and miniaturization remain elusive. What we would particularly like to explore is the connection of this real-unreal tension with the imaginary, with wonder, with reverie, and with storytelling. How is the individual transported into distanced contemplation through engagement with miniature artefacts and/or microcosmic scenes? What is it about the reduction of scale that moves us into “the infinite time of reverie” (Stewart 1993)? How does linear narrative compete with other spatial and spatial-temporal concepts in apprehending miniatures? And how is it that in some miniatures we see realism, even heightened realism in the execution of detail, while in others we see quite the opposite, a form of abstraction or loss of detail? What do these different strategies achieve in combination with their unreal scale? Even while the miniature draws us in, its scale places limitations on intimacy—we can never fully take part in these unreal scenes. This emotional distance saves us from interaction and preserves the authority of the reader or viewer—a quality which we might then speculate is linked to the capacity of miniatures to prompt us into storytelling to account for their appearance and arrangements.


Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies, Department of Art History