It's All in the Details
Two of my favorite activities growing up were browsing the Where’s Waldo books and the Highlights Magazine. I loved flipping through the pages searching for the hidden objects and spotting the differences between the images. For as long as I can remember, I loved looking at the details; picking out the nuances and uncovering the small “extras” that most people would overlook. As an adult, not much has changed. I enjoy going to museums, taking my time to visually dissect the paintings and discover the story on the canvas.
In May, I took a vacation to visit my Dutch roots. I spent many childhood summers in the Netherlands, so it was great to revisit as an adult. This time around I could appreciate the Dutch Renaissance architecture, the local food, and overall beauty of The Hague. Best of all I revisited a few museums I hadn’t been to in years. One of my favorite museum’s is The Mauritshuis. It has an incredible collection of paintings – especially portraits of men and women donning marvelous jewels. Of course, I had to take a closer look.
Many of the paintings I observed were from the Renaissance (1400 to 1600) through the Dutch Golden Age (1588 to 1672). Many great Renaissance artists began their careers in goldsmith workshops to learn about accuracy of line and clarity of style, thus explaining the excellent depiction of jewelry in Renaissance portraits. They also created a secret language about the sitter with the distinct placement and the types of jewels worn.
I was immediately drawn to two paintings by Holbein for their frames alone; very realistic painted hard stones encased the portraits. I really had to study them to make sure the stones weren’t real! The Portrait of a Nobleman shows him flaunting two stacked pinky rings – a signet ring and a red colored gemstone ring. The signet ring symbolized both his status and the importance of family. While the red stone ring illustrated his high position in society as nobility. In the Tudor era, red was the color only allowed to be worn by Royalty, Nobility and members of the Council. No wonder this guy was flaunting it.
The other, was the portrait of Jane Seymour. Instantly my eye was drawn to the very large gemstone initial monogram of “HIS.” A demonstration of her devotion to religion, the letters are believed to have come from the Greek word for “Christ.” Her left hand prominently sports three rings. Jane’s ring finger features a simple gold ring and a red (royal!) gemstone ring on her left finger. A finger which has historically been associated with romance and signified attachment to another person in an intimate way. In her case, being the third wife of King Henry VIII of England. A green gemstone ring is worn on her index finger, which matches the jewelry trim on her dress and headpiece. Worn on the most dominant finger, her green ring is a symbol of power and authority. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed wearing a ring on my index finger. My newest favorite to put on is the bold petrified parrot fish jawbone set in a warm 18k white gold – it gives a solid and sturdy feel, making me confident and instantly able to command a room
Wandering into the next gallery, I spot the portrait of Princess Ernestine Yolande of Ligne (1618) shown dripping in natural pearls – a precious and expensive gem that only the very wealthy could own back in her day. The multitude of pearls convey her robust financial status. The glimmering gem indicates Ernestine as a person in position of power and authority (one would have to be to access such rarities). Further demonstrated by the orange blossoms in her hair next to her special pearl tiara. Indeed, she came from one of the oldest Belgian noble families that dated back to the eleventh century, and Ernestine married into an extremely powerful Dutch Family, as well. The pearls were also meant to communicate Ernestine’s purity, godliness and femininity – an association and symbolism made popular by Queen Elizabeth I in the previous century. I don’t currently use many pearls in my jewelry, but the vibrant Spring Earrings use shaped mother of pearl “cabochons” countered with bright green and soft peach for a dignified (and dare I say Queenly) look.
While today, we may not get our portraits painted anymore, jewels are still worn to indicate status, our character and style. They show off our individuality and can remind us of a personal connection or memento. I am always looking at people’s jewels to see what they want to express to the world. Even if we’re not sitting before Dutch Renaissance Masters, we all have a statement to make and story to tell. So, what is yours?
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