Are Miniature Portraits Really Done on Pure Mammoth Ivory Sheets?

Though ivory has been a preferred material for hand-painted miniature portraits since the late 1700s, even today there is a demand for thin sheets of ivory.  The first time ivory sheets were used in place of vellum as material for hand painted miniatures was done by R. Carriera, a Venetian artist.

Initial sheets had the saw marks but within a few years, the process of cutting thinner sheets by scraping ended the marks of the saw. The surface was then fine tuned with the use of abrasive as ‘tooth’ was needed by the artists. Another degreasing process was used to make it more versatile for hand paintings. Originally, ivory was treated with vinegar and garlic, but later more sophisticated products were used.

Though elephant ivory was used in the 1700s through the early 20th century, in 1977 the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Animals banned elephant slaughter and later trade and use of elephant ivory was made illegal.

Mammoth ivory has filled in the gap that was created by the ban on elephant ivory. Buried under the permafrost in Arctic regions, the bones and tusks have been found and as these ivory tusks are quite similar to those of elephant ivory, it became a favored material for artists. Ivory is cut into manageable pieces and outer surface is removed before the sheets are cut or odd pieces are cut. Fine sheets are carved for artists to continue hand painting the delicate portraits, scenic beauty and other floral patterns. Check out some of the mammoth ivory art products at

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