Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Necklaces through Portraiture and their Popularity - Part 1

Necklaces Through Portraiture and Their Popularity - Part I
by Kimberly K. Walters

     This is the first part of a three-part study of portraits and prints focusing specifically on necklaces from the 15th to late 19th centuries. The main goal is to educate you when deciding on what type of necklace to wear. Studying portraits and prints for inspiration helps me design, make, or find jewelry for you to wear for your living history or costuming needs. It also can help you make decisions when creating an outfit or interpreting a specific person. 

     I know I have said this before, but the details are important! In addition to looking at portraiture, I have also looked at books on the topic, museum descriptions, and articles, in order to see whether they confirm what is seen in portraits. I am also very careful when I take information from another website or blog as I prefer original source materials if I can find them.  It is also important to make sure that what I am looking at is not a caricature or cartoon of the day.  I don't believe that portraiture is the be-all, end-all of what was available, as sometimes it was the wearer's best or an artist's fabrication, but I do like using them to recreate jewelry.  While I study original pieces, many of them have been altered over time so it isn't a good idea to copy them exactly.  

     Many of my favorite portraits are shown on my Pinterest page and are linked to their original sources (not in all cases, but in most). There can be a lot going on in these, so trying to focus on one aspect takes a bit of discipline as I get sidetracked looking at the clothing and other accessories.  

     With that said, there are many styles of necklaces coming in and out of favor or fashion over the centuries. It really is all about the fashion or even what was allowed in society in the earlier centuries. If you look closely, you can also see that with certain styles of clothing, the necklaces are worn in certain ways - from a choker, to just at the base of the neck, and hanging lower on the chest.  Just as we have our own tastes in jewelry today, so did those who came before us. There are common themes in what I have found, but by no means is this an exhaustive or scholarly work, as I do not have access to every single portrait or scrap of information out there.

Portrait of Mary Magdalene by Unknown Painter, circa 1457-82
Courtesy of

     We will start with a portrait from the 15th century showing a black ribbon, a pendant, and a teardrop pearl.  This portrait is supposedly Mary Magdalene and would be an artist's rendition; however, I like to think that it shows the represented fashion of the day, which included jewelry and ornamentation.  By this time, certain techniques and materials were being tried or were available to make "new" jewelry not seen before.  However, the Gothic era of the 14th and 15th centuries saw England following the French in that laws were passed forbidding commoners to adorn themselves with precious jewelry.  Few necklaces from this era have supposedly survived, and it seems that little information is available regarding their style or use, but what she is wearing is simple and elegant.     

     The 15th century gives us a few more examples of simple adornment around the neck with beads and ribbon.  This style is also seen in later centuries.  There was supposedly an official ban on a "display of the neck and shoulders" with the neckline steadily falling during the last decades of this era until the full décolletage became universal.  I have not really come into too many portraits during this time that show this, but I am sure they are out there.  With the ban being lifted or ignored, we see jeweled, ribbon, and beaded necklaces and chokers.

Portrait of a lady by Fra Filippo Lippi, circa 1440

Portrait of a Woman by Sandro Botticelli, Circa 1485

Portrait of a Lady by Domenico Ghirlandaio, second half 15th century

Portrait of a Woman by Bastiano Mainardi, 1480, Florence School

     We transition into the 16th century and see more lovely necklaces made with pearls, chain, jewels combined with pearls, metal pendants with pearls, and lovely bead combinations. Pearls had been available in Europe earlier as seen in portraiture, but by the mid-16th century, exploration, travel, and trade by explorers rendered them available in much larger quantities than before. The fashion for pearl, chain, jewels or a combination thereof—including those that were very long and wound around the neck several times, or swagged and pinned in place across the bodice.

Design for Jewelry by Arnold Lulls (1585-1640)
47 graduated pearls
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum Collections
for educational purposes only

Maso da Portrait of Elena Gaddi Quartesi, by Maso da San Friano, circa 1550

Jeanne d'Albret by Francois Clouet, 1570

Maria de Medici by Angelo Bronzino, 1551

Portrait of a Lady in a Black Robe attributed to François Quesnel 16th Century

Design for Jewelry by Arnold Lulls 1560 (made) 
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum Collections
for educational purposes only

     The 17th century ushered in some new styles and innovations. A new type of construction was being done by using ribbon to thread together precious stones in their settings. This technique was supposedly the start of the necklace known as the "Riviere." We can see in the 16th century that they were threading pearls this way (as well as in later 18th century portraits - here), with what looks like thread. More elaborate necklaces also had a series of cluster pendants suspended from a chain or cord and tied around the neck.

(As an aside, Memento Mori jewelry with coffins, skulls, skeletons and other macabre themes also came about during this time.  Miniature portraits were also being favored.)

Enameled Necklace of the Cheapside Hoard
Courtesy of Museum of London

     One of the most significant finds in the early 20th century was what they call "The Cheapside Hoard." This stash of jewelry was made in the 1600-1640 time frame. A significant amount of gold jewelry was found under a house in Cheapside, London near St. Paul's Cathedral. The “hoard” is now in museums (the Museum of London and The Victoria and Albert Museum) and is surmised to be part of a jeweler's stock. Only a few items of the finest court quality were found; much of it would have been suited to the purses of the lesser nobility and the successful late Tudor or early Stuart merchant class—the type of jewelry that could have been melted down and reworked as fashion changed. The unique styles and shapes discovered included openwork enameled gold pendants with rose-cut gems and, to focus on neckware, there was a garnet and sapphire pendant, as well as 35 different chains, 83 other pendants, and unmounted gems (semi-precious and paste), intaglios, and cameos. If this jewelry was for the merchant class, just imagine what was being made for the nobility! Enameling was also used to enrich the colors to give a light and delicate effect with a white background. 

     In America, jewelry included diamond and pearls.  Most of the jewelry was still fashioned abroad and imported.  By the end of the century, American-made jewelry started to be seen. There was also evidence in inventories of amber necklaces owned by women like Elizabeth Tatham of New Jersey, which was thought to have therapeutic qualities (and supposedly burned to cleanse the air for the sick).  

     In general, jewelry worn had a utilitarian aspect to much of what was worn in the British colonies during this time possibly due to the effects of the Reformation and Civil War in England.  Dutch colonists had a particular fondness for diamonds due to their sparkle.  The Puritans had greater restraint in what they owned, but Mrs. Ursula Cutt of Portsmouth, New Hampshire owned agate pendants and a seed pearl necklace in 1674.  There is a very elaborate gold and pearl necklace with a pear shaped pearl drop suspended from the knot of Elizabeth Eggington's hood in a portrait painted in 1664.  The necklace looks to be a combination collar and festoon necklace.  The portrait is copyrighted but can be found here

Portrait of Catherine de Medici,Queen of France circa 1600

Princess Elizabeth, aged about 10 years old by Robert Peake the Elder - circa 1606

Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, unknown artist, 1613

The Countess of Shirley by William Larkin circa 1620
Courtesy of The National Trust of Scotland

Portrait of Anne of Austria by Daniel Dumoustier 1620

Portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici III, by Justus Sustermans, Flemish School, 1642/43

Catherine Barthe by Jacob Ferdinand Voet, 1660-1700
Courtesy of

Marguerite de Valois (1553-1615)
Image Courtesy of The Lost Gallery, Flickr

      Part two will focus on the 18th Century.

Jewelry in America 1600-1900, by Martha Gandy Fales, Antique Collector's Club, Ltd., 1995
The History of the Necklace, Antique Jewelry University
7000 years of Jewelry, edited by Hugh Tait, Firefly Books, 2006
The Cheapside Hoard London's Lost Jewels, by Hazel Forsyth, Museum of London 2013
Victorian and Albert Museum Collections on-line