English School (c. 1825)
This miniature depicts the eye of ‘Madame Malibran’, the mezzo-soprano who became one of the most famous opera singers of the nineteenth century.
A twentieth century note discovered within the vinaigrette states that this miniature depicts the eye of ‘Madame Malibran’, the mezzo-soprano who became one of the most famous opera singers of the nineteenth century. Born in Paris into a musical Spanish family; her father was the Spanish tenor Manuel del Pópolo Vicente Garcia. He was tyrannical in his upbringing of his daughter, regularly beating her when he felt her singing was not perfect. She sang alongside him in 1816 at the age of eight in "Agnese" by Ferdinanco Paers. Her main debut was in 1825, when she sang in the choir at the King’s Theatre, London. Taking over the role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville, she thrilled audiences with her voice, her looks and her fiery personality.
After her successful London debut, María followed her family to New York, where she sang as part of her father’s operatic troupe. The family brought Italian opera to America for the first time and María sang the lead roles in eight operas over nine months. It was while performing in New York that María met her husband, Francois Eugene Malibran, who was 28 years her senior. It is not known whether she married to escape her father’s control or whether her father persuaded her for the financial benefits her new banker husband promised. Whatever the reason behind the match, Francois was declared bankrupt, the couple separated and María returned to Europe.
In 1828 she made her Paris debut as Desdemona in ‘Otello’. At this point she was internationally famous, commanding great attention and controlling her performances, often ignoring stage directions which she felt hindered her roles. In Paris she also met and fell in love with the Belgian violinist Charles de Bériot, with whom she lived and had a son in 1833. In 1836 she was able to annul her previous marriage. Malibran’s career was cut short by her tragic death, which came a few months after falling from her horse in July 1836. Although she appeared to recover and refused to see a physician, she died after performing in Manchester in September 1836.
Malibran made a great impression whenever she sang and was clearly a remarkable and memorable performer. She was particularly known for her performances in Rossini’s operas, and he clearly adored her; ‘Ah! That wonderful creature! With her disconcerting musical genius, she surpassed all who sought to emulate her, and with her superior mind, her breadth of knowledge and unimaginable fieriness of temperament she outshone all other women I have known....’.  Upon her return to the King’s Theatre, London, in 1829, a critic in The Spectator commented, ‘Nature has done much for her. The smart forward girl whom we remember to have seen four years ago has grown into a lovely woman. Her face is delicate. She has a beautiful soft eye, and a finely moulded forehead of intellectual expression.’
This eye miniature was last bought as a gift in 1929 with a hand-written note stating that it was the eye of Madame Malibran. It has not been possible to prove this, but the eye does conform to the singer’s colouring and expression as seen in contemporary portraits of her.
 C. Bartoli, "Genius, Scandal and Death: Maria — Singer and Diva", London, 2007, p. 8
 The Spectator, 2 May 1829, Page 8