While reading ArtsJournal I came across an article discussing a new publication, Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World, produced by Charlotte Gere (leading scholar of 19th-century visual culture) and Judy Rudoe (of the British Museum). The two volume catalogue looks at “the way in which [Victorian] jewellery… reflected the preoccupations and aspirations of its owners.” ( the art newspaper). This particular article struck my attention because I am always interested in the history and the stories behind artwork, and jewelry making is not only an art form, but many pieces are documented through portraiture. Who can forget The Girl With The Pearl Earring. Now known primarily for the Scarlett Johanson movie (which I have not seen), but it still offers an example of how a simple piece of art highlights the fashion of the time.
The publication is the result of 25 years of research focusing on the Hull-Grundy Collection which was donated to many museums in England, with the majority of the collection going to the British Museum. The collection highlights pieces from the 19th century, the time of Queen Victoria.
Although the emphasis is on Britain, its jewellery is placed in a much broader international framework. France plays a leading part both as competitor in matters of taste and as a powerful influence: the costume and jewellery wars between Victoria and the Empress Eugénie during state visits entertainingly epitomise the competitive friendship between their two nations. The development and use of jewellery in Italy, the US, Germany and further afield is studied by writers immersed not only in these artefacts but in the societies that produced them. – The Art Newspaper
One of the most well known designers in the 19th century was Fortunato Pio Castellani, and italian jeweler in Rome. His designs were inspired by ancient craftsman, most often Etruscan metalworkers. His studio became a go-to spot for visitors to the city. During the 19th century there was a rise in antique style jewelry along with those that were societally and culturally specific. As an anthropologist, I remember that this was a time when the strange and unknown was at the height of people’s interests. It is not so far of a stretch to think that jewelry that was foreign or exotic would catch the eyes of nobles as well.
It is just amazing to look through the images of some of these pieces, especially those owned by royals or nobles. You just don’t see jewels set the way they were in the past. Rarely do we see women wearing pieces that have been labored over by master craftsman. I am guilty of it too. Right now I prefer simple and delicate (and cheap, I am in grad school after all). But very few pieces I own mean something, or hold a symbolic place in my life. They don’t necessarily speak of my aspirations. But I like think that they represent a little bit of my personality. So perhaps jewelry today serves the same function, but on a smaller scale.
The large displays of grandeur have shifted from ornately crafted jewelry and garments weighing more than the women wearing them, to million dollar mansions and $100,000 cars. It seems that throughout history jewelry of some sort has held a special significance in society. An earlier post on early burials shows us that necklaces were one of many personal items buried with some of the first human remains. along with fabrics, metals and jewels have continued to show up in societies as symbols of status. I sometimes wonder who it was that one day thought “this somewhat shiny rock could be cut down into a thing of absolute beauty” or who realized that gold was precious.
I’ll continue to research and hopefully be able to provide more insightful and interesting posts on the topic. but for now I will leave you will leave you with this lovely Harry Winston
to read the full art newspaper article go here