Lace, pearls, sumptuous velvets and tissued silk (a hugely time-consuming process of pulling through individual silk threads into raised loops to form a foamy pattern on the surface of the silk) were used to fine affect. The ruffs, standing collars, cuffs and sequined gauze displayed in Elizabethan and Jacobean courts could never have been worn by anyone who had to do anything practical like wash a dish, or serve a meal, or heaven forbid… rush through the rain. Rain was anathema to lace and silk.
Anne of Denmark adored jewellery and used her accessories to emphasis her own dynastic importance separate to that of her husband, James I. The diamond studded ‘S’ on her collar (dark stones in Elizabethan and Jacobean paintings are most likely diamonds not garnets, as the facets weren’t as many in those days and not as reflective) is a reference to her mother, Sophia. Her silk skirt is worn over a drum-shaped farthingale – which she insisted on wearing at court even though it had passed out of fashion – and must have given the impression of her hovering rather than walking. I suspect these are the pearls given her by Elizabeth I.
In the portrait of Henrietta Maria ( married to Charles I) van Dyck includes details like the spiky cuffs and the cuts in the bodice that produce a wavy effect in the lustrous silvery-blue silk, with the coloured ribbon adding warmth to the coolness. Her large teardrop pearl earrings (not shown) match the drop at her throat. The pearls in the earrings are known as the Mancini pearls and still survive today.
Simple ruching caught with pearls on the gold dress in Lely’s 1662 portrait of Frances Stewart, whom Charles II wanted as his mistress, show the sheen and lustre of the cloth.
While the riding habit of Mary of Modena shows a coat densely embroidered with gold and silver and has a striking resemblance to the coat her husband, the Duke of York wore at their wedding two years earlier.
Three-tiered lace wrist cuffs perfectly starched and curled so that edges appear almost as leaves of acanthus, are set above finely crumpled doeskin gloves and contrast sharply with the sumptuous black velvet of the Queen of Bohemia’s (Elizabeth Stuart) dress.
Then there are the clothes of the masque. Mary, Princess of Orange wears a feathered cloak of the type worn by the Tupinambá people of the Amazon. The cloaks were being brought into Europe from Brazil at the time. The pearled shoes below this are those of an unknown lady at a masque who is supposedly dressed as a Persian.
And then there are the embroidered fabrics like this delightfully fresh gown with slips of flowers worn by this young girl.
The three below show the Spanish gown worn by Margaret of Austria, embroidered with castles, lions and a double-headed eagle and is the one she wore at her wedding to Phillip II of Spain. Notice the wrist ruff with bracelet above.
The portrait of Agatha Bas painted by Rembrandt shows a black gown intensified by the lace-trimmed linen accessories of cuffs and kerchief, with a tightly tied bodice and a folding fan recently adopted from the East.
You’ve still time to see the exhibition, which runs until 6th October. If you visit IN FINE STYLE at the Queens Gallery at Buckingham Palace, spare a thought for the laundry maids who had to starch the lace, making sure the starch wasn’t too thick to clog the holes or cause the lace to crack and yet sufficient to create the perfect rolls around the ruff and the beautifully curled edges of the wrist cuffs. It’s a ravishing feast of texture and sheen and all the pretty things worn by ladies and gentlemen of leisure.