Walking into the Museum of Miniatures in Prague, you might feel like you stumbled upon a science lab, rather than an art gallery. The walls are neatly lined with microscopes, and there's barely any art visible, at least to the naked eye. But peer into one of the microscopes, and you'll be rewarded with a tiny portrait on a poppy seed or a carving of a camel caravan in the eye of a needle.
All of the artwork in the museum belongs to the genre of 'microminiaturism.' It is a creative form in which artists try to create their pieces on the smallest possible surfaces, to be viewed solely through a microscope. It might be difficult to believe that such intricate works of art can exist on the wings of a mosquito or on a single strand of human hair, but the undeniable proof is right there in front of you at the museum.
Miniature art has a lengthy history, but the exploration of microminiaturism is much newer, due to the necessity of microscopes to properly display the work. A significant amount of technology also goes into the creation of the art. The instruments used vary from artist to artist, but their designs often are borrowed from other fields that require a steady hand and precise motions, like eye surgery. While the art itself can take quite some time to make, searching for and developing the perfect technology can take even longer.
Once the appropriate materials are acquired, the microminiaturists work in between heartbeats, as the slightest unintentional movement or tremor could result in a costly mistake. Because of the minuscule size of the surface materials, it's also easy to lose a work in progress entirely. The artists have to learn to not get too attached to their creations, as they might find themselves needing to start over without warning.
Russian artist Anatoly Konenko is one of the most prolific microminiaturists, and his work makes up much of the museum's collection. In 1996, he was awarded with a Guinness World Records certificate for what was then the smallest ever printed book. Konenko is also responsible for the world's smallest aquarium, which holds just 10 milliliters of water and a few tiny zebrafish.
One of the most common subjects for microminiature art is a flea with horseshoes, the inspiration stemming from a Russian folk tale by Nikolai Leskov. "The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea" tells the story of a craftsman who impresses a Tsar by putting tiny horseshoes on a flea. Both Konenko and another artist featured in the museum, Nikolai Aldunin, have completed such a feat in real life. On Aldunin's rendition, the flea is also equipped with a saddle and stirrups.
And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Another widespread example of microminiaturism places a caravan of camels within the eye of the needle. This idea comes from a biblical passage about the difficulty of a camel going through the eye of a needle. In order to be accepted as a microminiaturist, artists generally need to first demonstrate their skills by completing one of these classical pieces.
The Museum of Miniatures first exhibited its collection in St. Petersburg in 1996 and brought it to Prague one year later. It found a permanent home within the Strahov Monastery in 1998. The space is small, but with such tiny works of art, not a lot of room is required. In addition to the microscopic pieces, the museum also displays slightly larger works that are best viewed with a provided magnifying glass. The comprehensive collection is one of the largest of its kind, and it's a must-see for lovers of this art form and those who want to be surprised every time they look into the microscope.
Admission to the Museum of Miniatures costs about $6, and it's open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You'll find several other museums on the monastery grounds, as well as a brewery that dates back to the 13th century.
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