The intimate portrait miniature, an artistic tradition imported from England, reached its height of popularity in America in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Born in Rhode Island, Edward Greene Malbone sought clients in cities from Boston to Charleston. His fine likenesses on ivory of James Bowdoin III, the College’s founder, and his sister Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple reveal his talent as the leading miniaturist of his time. A costly material prized for its creamy color, natural beauty, and translucence, ivory was thinly sliced from tusk or whalebone. With advances in sea trade, elephant ivory was exported from East Africa in ever increasing amounts. Harvesting elephant tusks was slave-dependent and hundreds of thousands of Africans are believed to have died in this trade. As demand for ivory continued into the 1800s, it decimated the African elephant.
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