Would you recognize a loved one’s eye—singular—without any other context? No hair, no mouth, no decolletage? More importantly, would anyone else—like her spouse?
Opening May 16 at the MIA is “The Look of Love,” a fascinating and quirky exhibition that reveals a forgotten trend among the royals and upper class of England in the late 18th to early 19th-century: carrying painted close-ups of single eyes set in jewelry, mostly the eyes of secret lovers but in some cases the recently deceased, or possibly both—so far yet so near. The exhibition features nearly a hundred of these portraits, like the one at right, along with the intriguing, often scandalous stories behind them, from the Skier Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art (Mr. Skier, as it happens, was an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon).
In honor of the opening, a quiz: how many artworks in the MIA collection can you identify based solely on the eye closeups below? Answers are at the end.
1) “Lucretia” 2) “Veiled Lady” 3) “Portrait of a Boy” 4) “Your Dog” 5) “Der Postagent Hausler” 6) “Guanyin” 7) “Doryphoros” 8) “Little Servant Girl” 9) “Elephant Attacking a Feline” — that’s right, the eye of the tiger.
6 to 9 correct: Make a lot of eye contact, do you? Congrats on peering into others’ souls.
3 to 5 correct: Quick, what color are your spouse’s eyes? Yeah, didn’t think so.
0 to 2 correct: Hey, buddy, my eyes are up here!