BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
I have a soft spot for small things.
Babies, of course. Scale models of period rooms — there's a lovely group at the Naples Museum of Art that I drool over — and the fabulous re-creation of a circus made with meticulous detail by Howard Tibbals at the Ringling Museum of Art's Tibbals Learning Center in Sarasota.
And, annually, I look forward to the large collection of tiny paintings and sculpture organized by the Miniature Art Society of Florida, which opens Sunday at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art. It offers more than 800 works by more than 200 artists from across the United States and beyond.
Miniature to us means "small," but the name and genre initially had a different connotation. The word "miniature" derives from the Latin "minium," the red lead in pigment used to color illustrations in medieval manuscripts.
Because the illustrations were usually small, the word became associated with size rather than a material or technique. And long before the medieval illuminations, artists in other cultures through the centuries worked on small-scale paintings, most notably in Persia.
But the term miniature came to be associated with smallness in a widespread way starting in the 16th century, about 100 years after handmade manuscripts became obsolete with the invention of a moveable-type printing press. That's when small portraits became popular, portable likenesses that could fit into the palm of one's hand.
You can guess where that genre went. Another invention, photography, made the miniature obsolete once again.
Today its popularity is strictly aesthetic; like all art, there is rarely a practical need for it. So you'll find a wide range of styles and subject matter from representational to abstract in this show.
Mediums vary, too: mostly paintings, though there are also examples of ceramics, drawings, mixed media and scrimshaw carving.
The works will look like those created in larger sizes, but to achieve that effect, artists often must use different techniques. Several will be at the museum every day, beginning Tuesday, for demonstrations and questions.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.