Next up we have the famous "Rainbow" portrait of Queen Elizabeth. This may not be THE most famous portrait of the Queen, but it is my favorite. Usually when I think of Queen Elizabeth's most iconic portraits I think of the Armada and Ermine Portraits, which more strongly evoke the "Virgin Queen" aesthetic which conveyed strength and almost a cold demeanor ... an aloofness that no one could touch.
The Rainbow Portrait by contrast, shows a more feminine countenance with soft curls cascading behind her head, a lower bodice revealing the beginning of her bosom, a hint of a smile with a knowing gaze upon her face and a filmy, lacy ruff that frames her upper torso. In her hand, she holds a rainbow symbolizing peace and a promise to her kingdom to always love them and care for them.
The pearls in this portrait are large and numerous; indeed every portrait of Queen Elizabeth I has her draped from head to toe in pearls (because they symbolize virginity and purity - get it?!). From the pearl drops suspended from her headdress and hair, to the long rope of pearls (probably over 100-inches!) looped around her neck and knotted in the front, to the pendant featuring a very large tear-drop shaped pearls suspended from the bottom to her matching pearl earrings and bracelets on each wrist, the Queen is practically robed in pearls.
The Rainbow Portrait, 1600 oil on panel (Hatfield House)
I included this portrait of Eleonora de Medici (known as Leonora) because of its striking vibrancy and cheerful color palette - very unusual for a Renaissance-era portrait. And then I got the pleasure of going down the rabbit hole in finding out just who Leonora de Medici actually was. Leonora de Medici was born in Florence in 1553, and was shortly orphaned after her mother died just 5 weeks later and her father, Don Garzia di Toledo, never returned after being sent on his tour of duty as a naval commander-in-chief for Spain. Somewhat adopted by her extremely famous and rich uncle, Cosimo I de Medici, and his wife Eleanora di Toledo, the young Leonora was doted upon and spent her youth learning all the ways of a Medici princess at court.
In this portrait, Leonora is seen dressed in a peacock blue dress with gayly striped, bright yellow sleeves and accents. Her jewelry consists of a large pearl necklace, pearl earrings, a pearl and gemstone head ornament and matching belt and neck chains ornamented with large natural pearls and sparkling, colorful gemstones. Even her lace collar is studded with small seed pearls. Gorgeous!
Leonora was betrothed to Cosimo's youngest son Pietro, at 15 years old and was later married to him. Tragically, the marriage was loveless and Pietro spent most of his time with his mistresses. Leonora was allowed to move back to the Medici court, and began spending most of her time with her vivacious cousin, Isabella de Medici who herself was in a loveless marriage. In order to amuse themselves, the Medici women devoted themselves to holding salons, throwing parties and promoting the arts in the city of Florence. Both women also began to take lovers of their own (what's good for the goose, eh?), which while Cosimo I, their protector and benefactor was alive was allowed as a minor indiscretion as long as both maintained appearances and decorum.
Unfortunately Cosimo de Medici died in 1857, and after his death another Medici became the family patriarch - one who was less willing to turn a blind eye to the indiscretions of the married Medici women. As a consequence, both Leonora and Isabella were brutally murdered by their husbands within weeks of each other, and neither was held responsible for their tragic deaths.
Eleonora de Medici, Alessandro Allori, 1571
No post about pearls and fine art would be complete without The Girl With The Pearl Earring! This portrait features a young woman wearing a large single drop-shaped pearl earring, with her hair completely covered with a blue and tan turban / head scarf. The young woman in the portrait is unknown.
The Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, 1665
Turning to modern times one of my favorite new fine artists is Piotr Topolski a Polish artist born in 1960. His specialty is portraits done in an older style, specifically the Old Masters, always with a dark background and luminous, realistic figures.
This particular artist is painting stunning portraiture TODAY, and he auctions his work each year on his site. I want one so badly, but my favorites always sell out before I even get the notification the paintings are ready for sale. I will likely feature more of his work in my next Pearls in Fine Art installment. I chose this particular piece to follow the Vermeer because it's so similar, yet even more captivating.
Now that we're firmly in the modern era, I wanted to include some photography and immediately found this iconic picture of Hollywood actress Louise Brooks wearing a long white pearl necklace against a stark black background. Brooks was a star during the silent film era of Hollywood, an "It Girl" of the time. She was known for her striking bobbed haircut which inspired women across the United States to adopt the look at the time ... it almost looks like she started the 1920s "Flapper Girl" style all herself!
The photographer who took this particular portrait was Eugene Robert Richee, one of the most prolific and celebrated photographers of his time. He worked for all the major film studios, but made his mark working for Paramount Pictures. He photographed Ms. Brooks numerous times, but this particular portrait became immediately "Iconic" and has remained so for nearly a century!
Louise Brooks by Eugene Robert Richee, 1928
While I was looking at photography, I couldn't resist including this one! Done by Alfred Cheney Johnston, a very famous photographer of the 1920s and 1930s, this picture depicts one of the famous Ziegfeld Girls, Muriel Finla, draped in nothing but a long rope of pearls, fur and sequins. Love this photo, although searching through Johnston's body of work turned up tons of wonderful examples of similar photographs.
Ziegfeld Girl with Pearls, Alfred Cheney Johnston, 1920s
I started looking around for some sculpture to feature in my little Newsletter and found this arresting gem that I absolutely fell in love with at first sight. Composed of a bronze torso wearing a collar of large Freshwater Baroque pearls held together with metal links (similar to a Tin Cup Necklace!), the bottom of the sculpture is a skirt flowing with pheasant feathers and Silver Dollar branches.
I appreciated what the artist had to say about her creations: "In Celebration of Mother Nature . . . I “dress” the naked form of the torso to represent nature using feathers, branches, leaves, and gemstones. I use semi-precious and rare stones, formed over millions of years. Ancient science tells us that each stone has a symbolic meaning and our eyes detect the unique beauty of what lies within each."
That's it for this new Pearls in Fine Art edition of the newsletter. Did you like it? I hope so! I hope you saw something inspiring, fell in love with some art or a new artist, learned something new about an historical figure perhaps ... The world of Art is never-ending due to how amazingly creative we human beings can be. I know I'm ready to break out my sketchpad and do a little illustration now!
Which piece was your favorite? Do you have any suggestions for an artist or a picture to feature next time? Drop me a line and let me know!
Until next time ...
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