Monday 26 August 2013


Can you guess the owner of this bosom? Who knew better than the Tudors and Stuarts how to use visual effects, heightened by the play of light on textures and surfaces in movement, through day-lit and candle-lit spaces?

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.

Glossy gold silk tassels add drama to the plum-coloured damask breeches above the softly creased leather of Charles I’s boots.
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.

 A detail of Lady Bowes (1630) bodice shows panes of fabric held together by contrasting ribbons. Spangles – sequins punched from sheets from precious metal – add highlights to the fabric.

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.

I’m ending with a drawing done by Holbein the Younger, in coloured chalks that I would have loved to take home with me. It depicts Cicely Heron, the youngest daughter of Thomas More with loosened bodice revealing her yellow kirtle beneath to accommodate her changing girth in pregnancy. Lovely and informal and natural. (try to ignore the reflections)

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.


Sue Purkiss said...

Gorgeous! So much exquisite detail - thanks, Dianne.

michelle lovric said...

sumptuous! I want those boots!

Penny Dolan said...

These look so beautiful! Thank you for gathering this post of fine things and sharing it, Dianne.

(ps.I clicked on the last picture to get a better view and found I'd reached the thread - or whatever you call it- of all your fine images. Some seem even more clearly exquisite there - though I did then have to re-enter the blog.)

Joan Lennon said...

So much skill - makers, maintainers, painters - thanks for posting these!

Theresa Breslin said...

Stunning post! Thanks Dianne.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Yes, the boots are very desirable, Michelle. My son's partner is a designer and she loves the very fine black bracelets that Anne of Denmark and Henrietta Maria are wearing. (I suppose in truth diamonds???)

I was really sorry not to have had a proper camera with me. They are very generous with allowing photography at the Gallery... just no flash. I took these with an iPhone so some detail has been lost.

Petrea Burchard said...

Gorgeous paintings and wonderful information, thank you. I didn't know about the Mancini Pearls so I Googled and found an interesting post about their history, with more luscious paintings. For those interested:

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Petrea thank you for your lead to this other post. I googled the Mancini pearls when I was writing the blog but didn't find this one. It's fascinating! Loved the bit about the Burtons. But it was brilliant seeing the Mancini Pearls being worn by various ladies of the Court. A big thank you! That's what I love about this blog. There are always leads to distract you from your work!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

PS I savouring your blogs as well! Living Vicuriously! Wonderful.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thank you, Dianne! It's wonderful, isn't it - a question comes up, you google the answer, and you're down Alice's rabbit hole on an adventure.