During the seventeenth century in Europe and England, expansion of trade and industry led to a period wherein costume was influenced more by currents in art and intellectual thought than by any other factor.
But love is blind and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit
For if they could, Cupid himself would blush*
King Charles II of England abandoned puritanical coldness following his restoration to the throne in 1660, revitalising both the English people and the economy.
It is not surprising Charles wanted to wear fashionable clothes. Following the years in exile he would have still had vivid memories of the Battle of Worcester in 1651 when he been forced to wear ‘nothing but a green coat and a pair of country breeches on and a pair of country shoes, that made him sore all over his feet that he could scarce stir’.
On his return from living abroad following the beheading of his father King Charles I and subsequent civil war in England he gave himself up completely to luxury and pleasure, adorning his stylish person with sumptuous textiles and jewels. It would have to be said he wore his fur trimmed breeches very stylishly indeed, especially in this portrait where he is receiving a gift that was not only very fashionable, but also very expensive – the ‘king of fruit’ the pineapple which took up to two years to grow in his greenhouse.
This love token shows Cupid about to fire an arrow from his bow. It is a relatively inexpensive piece of jewellery made from silver which weights little. In England jewellers made very similar lockets as a souvenir celebrating the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662. It seems Catherine had to endure a great deal in terms of infidelity to receive her love jewellery.
We know this through the detailed private diary kept from 1660 – 1669 by a Member for Parliament and English naval administrator Samuel Pepys. His eyewitness accounts of events, such as the Great Fire and Great Plague are a rich legacy from this period in history and also provide an insight into the intrigues surrounding the court of Charles II and how Queen Catherine was treated…
…’The court of the second Charles of England fluttered with dazzling and frivolous beauties. They obscured the softer light of other women who boasted only such trite and gentle virtues as womanliness, the fear of God, modesty, honesty and truth. Queen Catherine’s contemporaries detested her …and have left her portrait to posterity painted in malignant colours…
…Catherine lived in her husband’s court as Lot lived in Sodom. …she was one of the best and purest women who ever shared the throne of England. She had equal qualities of head and heart, and both were beyond the average. It has been a pleasant and wholesome labor to trace her blameless life, and to unfold the wrappings that have long hidden the character refined and ennobled by much unnecessary suffering’.
Luscious, lascivious and lovely ladies, many of whom were well known to Charles, were more than often painted by court painter Sir Peter Lely. They always wore pearls as they were considered the essential accessory for the loose state of ‘undress’ ladies of rank at this time generally wore.
Mid seventeenth century court etiquette demanded that only someone of a superior rank could receive a person of lower rank when in a state of undress. By way of contrast a person of inferior rank had to be fully and formally attired when attending a person of superior rank. Wearing a state of undress in a portrait then underlined the fact that the sitter belonged to a very exclusive group of superior people.
The format was so successful and so pervasive that within thirty years everyone, irrespective of rank, was depicted in a similar way so those currently ranked in the upper echelon of society were then forced, once again to change their style preferences.
When she was 23 Ann Maria de’ Medici (1667-1743) married the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm. The Medici workshops created an exemplary trousseau of works of art, which she took to Dusseldorf with her. However when she returned to Florence a childless widow she brought back an outstanding collection of jewellery now known as the ‘Electress’ Jewels.
They originally numbered just on 1000 objects. Today there are only a few dozen, with many pieces taken apart, melted down, or dispersed at auctions. She did her best to keep the family collections intact and her will clearly specified ‘that nothing was to be transported and removed from the Capital and the State of the Grand Duchy‘.
She was the last of the famous Medici family of Florence and her death in 1743 brought their dynasty to an end.
Introduced by the Venetian gem-cutter Vicenti Peruzzi at the end of the 17th century, the modern brilliant cut evolved slowly until the present round form came into use after 1919.
The original brilliant cut for diamonds had many facets of different shapes and sizes that were meant to increase its brilliance by minimising the amount of light that escaped from the bottom of the stone.
At the Ball of the Clipped Yew Trees at Versailles in 1745 the Queen of France wore the Regent diamond, which weighed in at 140.50 carats, in her hair.
This amazing gem had been found by a slave in an Indian mine in 1698 and concealed inside a large wound in his leg.
Stolen by an English sea captain it had an exciting journey until it joined the collection of jewels belonging to the Royal Family of France, which was then stolen in 1792 at the time of the Revolution, some of which has been recovered and has been on display at the Louvre since 1887.
However brilliant The Regent diamond was, it could not stop Louis XV from leaving the ball for a secret assignation with the Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the lady who became the mistress of his heart for twenty years.
Jeanne Antoinette Poisson gained the title of the Marquise du Pompadour.
Love is many things, an emotion of strong affection, personal attachment and also about the virtue attached to kindness, compassion and unselfishness.
Jeanne was all of that.
She successfully attended to Louis every need while leading a society, whose parties co-existed easily with the intellectual ardour of the philosophes, who were endeavouring to give birth to an age of enlightenment and reason.
Louis gave this mistress of his heart a superb cameo of himself, which was carved by a jeweller from Marseilles, Jacques Guay for this the love of his life.
Diamonds and emeralds surrounded it and she wore it on her bracelet.
A cameo was originally a gemstone having layers of different colours (eg. Sardonyx and cornelian) carved to show in relief the design and background in contrasting colours.
Originating in Roman times the cameo regained its popularity during the Renaissance in Europe when Italian gem engravers working for prominent connoisseurs and collectors such as Lorenzo de Medici and his family started producing them once more.
Since then, with intervening periods, they have been made and mounted in articles of jewellery.
This cameo pendant is inset with an onyx carved head of Dionysus in a gold surround set with amber, turquoises and rubies; the back engraved.
From the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V & A) at London the cameo is 1st century AD; the setting probably German.
(The deeper the relief the more expensive these jewels were and they would reach their optimum in the second half of the 17th and 18th centuries when they were collected by many an English gentleman on his Grand Tour because they were not only very desirable but also easily transported.)
After the Marquise de Pompadour died the King was inconsolable. The Queen Consort was also dying, and so the story goes, Louis XV was passing through the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles one day and among the crowd who came to see him, or sought to petition him, he caught sight of a young woman standing tall and straight, looking him full in the face and daring to smile.
At their first meeting there is a story, more than likely apocryphal but it’s great anyway, ‘that the beautiful lady curtsied three times as required by protocol and then went straight up to him and kissed him full on the mouth’.
Whatever, the truth of the meeting it certainly had an extraordinary effect on the extremely sad Louis and Jeanne Bécu became his last Mistress, and the infamous Comtesse Du Barry.
Visitors crowded into Paris during the years 1784 and 1785 to buy luxury goods when the harvest yielded more than enough wheat. One Charles Bohmer was appointed jeweller to her Majesty.
He desired to sell the most opulent piece of diamond jewellery he had ever made to King Louis XV for Mme du Barry.
He had collected 647 brilliants weighing 2800 carats and assembled it into a four-tier necklace; but the King died before he could conclude the sale.
He then tried to sell it to Marie-Antoinette, who refused to buy it and so not to be outdone, he tried again through a distant relation of the now Louis XVI, not knowing that this particular lady had an axe to grind with the Bourbons.
Jeanne de la Motte was so dazzled by the galaxy of diamonds spread before her she conceived a plot, which became the most audacious swindle in French history.
It brought undone a great many people, including the King’s Cardinal and damaged the reputation of the monarchy, who became pawns in the ‘affair of the necklace’… (Movie starring Hilary Swank and Australian Simon Baker (The Mentalist).
France and Italy had both developed successful silk trades during the sixteenth century and by this time silk was one of France’s biggest industries centred at Lyon.
Louis XIV had also established a manufactory of luxury goods that supplied all the other royal courts of Europe that was also thriving.
Marie Antoinette was, as are all first ladies of state even today, looked upon by the court and country as a leader of style.
Her attitude toward the luxury trade threatened France’s economy, employment and all those who relied on Royal Patronage. On the other hand the general populace wanted the royal family not to live in luxury but to share their wealth.
In real life Marie Antoinette preferred to wear simple muslin dresses and very little jewellery at all. As Queen she wore diamonds and silk on state occasions, including those given to her by Louis XVI as a token of his love.
An avid gardener she particularly loved the rose, which was sacred to Venus and stood for love which is nearly always accompanied by the danger of hurt.
Mme du Barry was known for her refined and lavish taste and famous for the fabulous love jewels given to her by Louis XV, which she buried in her garden during the Reign of Terror.
She refused to tell her accusers where they were until they said they would let her go if she did.
She and Marie Antoinette both paid the ultimate price, the so-called ‘Wages of Beauty’ (check out the novel by Joan Haslip).
At the turn of the eighteenth in England and Wales three quarters of the population was still living in the countryside and also had a residence in town.
The success of the English Grand Tour meant that an increasing amount of gentlemen were exposed to a range of influences as well as other cultures.
The pride and prejudices of the English Milordi were reflected in how they dressed, dined, performed and were entertained in a selection of social settings.
English eighteenth century literary wit Horace Walpole commented on his return from his Grand Tour in 1741.
“I perceive… there is peculiar to us middling houses; how snug they are” ‘Middling houses’ were lived in by country gentry who were busy cultivating an ambience of politeness with a keen, though one must say ‘delicate sense and sensibility, well balanced by common sense’.
The age of light and elegance in the decorative arts and mind was lit by candlelight, and advances in mirror plate technology and its reflection encouraged the creation of lavish interiors and stunning jewellery.
I would imagine Miss Tilney in Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey”, who inherited “a very beautiful set of pearls” from her mother, wore them for special occasions.
Just as Mrs Elton did when she arrived at the ball in Emma “as elegant as lace and pearls could make her“, and boasted … “I see very few pearls in the room except mine”.
What she would have seen was an extravagant display of necklaces; brooches and stomachers all set with coloured stones and diamonds like those reproduced for Keira Knightly to wear in The Duchess, the story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Garnets are lovely gemstones and come in many colours however at this time the blood red variety was exceedingly popular. For those who were superstitious they were meant to have healing powers and for the romantics they were often exchanged as gifts between friends to demonstrate their affection for each other.
In the eighteenth century foil backings were still being used to enhance coloured gemstones that were shaped and polished as opposed to being faceted.(cabochon). The rose cut of diamond was popular before the advent of the brilliant cut. It had a flat base with two horizontal rows of facets rising to a point. These lovely earrings have superb cabochon garnets surrounded by rose diamonds, which came into more regular use during the nineteenth century.
The most dramatic love jewels of this period were set in the form of arrows, an obvious reference to Cupid’s dart….a great many have survived made of paste, although hair ornaments were set with emeralds and diamonds and flat cut garnets. The amount and variety of precious materials available to make jewellery in the late eighteenth century by the time of the French Revolution was now expanding rapidly due to expeditions across the ocean to the New World.
The ideology and reality of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror would affect the western world for hundreds of years to come. The reign of Terror exacted an enormous price on the leading intellectuals, the aristocracy and the economy of France, as well as those seen to have supported them and for a time jewellery production would go into decline.
The symbols of love are the theme for this delightful piece of Love Jewellery, another stunning brooch in the V & A Museum at London made from gold set with cornelian, pearls and emeralds. It contains Cupid’s bow and arrows (two loose and three in the quiver) which are arranged with a pair of kissing doves; two hearts on fire and a hymeneal torch (named after Hymen, the Greek goddess of marriage. They all form a diagonal composition of great elegance and effectiveness.
Carnelian (also spelled Cornelian) is a reddish-brown mineral commonly used as a semi-precious gemstone. Its use in the decorative arts is known from the Bronze Age and it was widely used in Roman times for setting into seal rings to imprint the insignia of the wearer on wax seals used for important documents and letters.The reason being wax did not stick to it.
Like most jewellery produced in France soon after the Revolution of 1789, the brooch is made of thin gold and contains few precious stones. The design is pleasing, with at its heart the colour red, the colour of passion symbolising both revolutionary blood and romantic love.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2009 – 2014 – 2017
NB: This is Part 2 of 4 posts