A red coral and pearl necklace inspired by the style worn in renaissance Italy
(or “How I nearly lost my eyesight, sanity and two cats in one day.”)
by Lady Ydeneya de Baillencourt
Firstly I must start by thanking you, the reader, for taking the time out of your enjoyment of this event to judge the Arts and Sciences competition, this is a task that happens so often and yet we never get to thank those who give up watching the tournament, or just sitting back, chatting and relaxing, to read through pages of information about items they may or may not be interested in, so that we the artisans can receive feedback and scores for our projects. I for one would just like to say thanks.
Now to the story of my simple piece.
I was procrastinating on the internet one evening when I came across a seller advertising pearls at $2 per strand. What a bargain I thought, and immediately bought 5 strands, as you do when you are a compulsive bead and other craft item shopper like me. So all paid for and a few days later they arrive. Goodness I thought they are gorgeous but oh so tiny! That will teach me to read the advertisement properly, it did say “seed pearls”. So here they sat on my desk waiting for inspiration to strike so that I might know what to make with them.
Two nights ago I was having the usual 2 am, “why am I awake at this time?” when an idea popped into my mind that the pearls I have been hoarding would look nice with the red coral I purchased at Canterbury Faire, so on goes the light, luckily night shift husband was still at work and I sketched out a rough description of my idea and wandered around the house gathering books I thought might help with documentation. 3.30am husbands arrives home to say, what the heck are you doing!
Yesterday, I attacked my many boxes of beads and located all the larger pearls and the coral and the books and started on my design. I found this picture and started to rework the design a little more.
I had the teeny tiny, itsy bitsy seed pearls, some medium sized fresh water pearls and some larger ones that I wanted to incorporate in a necklace. Then I remembered the hulking great big piece of coral a friend had given to me, also at Canterbury Faire, and thought well I might as well use that too as it was a very thoughtful gift. I recalled reading in my ongoing research into anything Italian renaissance that coral was worn by women and and in particular young children as protection amulets. Looking this up again to refresh my knowledge I came across this passage which I thought was quite interesting.
“The woman and babies were often covered with talismans, little crosses or ‘agunusdei’ pious medals but also the coral branch or coral bouquet that were always present in the trousseau. This arsenal of more or less magical objects was supposed to fend off evil, particularly the malocchio, the evil eye”
-page 149 “Women, Family and Ritual in Renaissance Italy”
On looking further I found quite a few pictures of coral in portraits from the 15th and 16th century.
The Fruit Seller by Vincenzo Campi, circa 1580
coral and gold jewellery in detail from portrait by Giovanni Antonio Fasolo, c1560s
Pearls were a common item of jewellery in renaissance Italy and they were regulated by strict sumptuary laws, for ladies one string of pearls were accepted; a Florentine law from 1562 explains in detail:
“noble women might own only one string of pearls with a value not exceeding 500 scudi.”
-”Shopping in the Renaissance, Consumer Cultures in Italy 1400-1600”
Venetian sumptuary law specifically targeted pearls.
“One such law forbade all but courtesans and recently married women to wear them in public, much to the dismay of respectable pearl-owning matrons; that decree contradicted an earlier one that expressly proscribed the wearing of pearls by prostitutes”
-page 47 “ Art and Love in Renaissance Italy.”
Due to the high costs of the lovely smooth round pearls these days, I have been collecting the more interestingly shaped freshwater pearls that are still very beautiful but much kinder to the bank account.
After spending quite some time looking at pretty pictures on the internet and in my books I returned to the table to start my project, only to find my two cats happily playing with my pearls! Also the coral was scattered all over the floor. Thankfully it seemed that although the pearls were interesting to play with they did not taste good ,and none were missing once I gathered everything back together and counted them. Two very naughty but luckily not poisoned or choking kitties were then chased away to find something else to amuse themselves.
After trial placing a few of the teeny tiny pearls and coral, I found I liked the effect they made when encircling the coral, so I spent quite sometime finding a needle small enough to fit through the pearls and also some invisible thread which fit through the minuscule eye on the very fine needle. Threading this was quite a challenge in itself and dropping the invisible thread is not something I would recommend as it’s very hard to find again. Sewing the tiny pearls around the coral was very time consuming and frustrating due to poor eyesight, shaky hands and cats that wouldn’t stop jumping onto my work surface and causing beads to explode all over the table and floor. After a few hours I finally had sewn enough pearls onto the coral. The technique after a few tries was quite simple, thread 4 seed beads on to needle and thread then one coral then four more seed beads take the needle and pass it again through the coral pull the ends, which caused the pearls to wrap around the bead and simply tie off the ends of the thread and trim. Sounds simple now, but this took me quite a while to figure out. It was a great relief to my tired eyes to have finished this section of the project and to no longer be squinting and going cross eyed over those pearls! The effect was nice and somewhat reflective of the style in the first picture I have included , here it is again anyway.
In the portrait by Fasolo, the combination of the coral and the gold was very pretty and I rummaged some more and found little sparky gold spacers beads which I remember were called star dust beads.
I set out my beads into a regular pattern on my bead mat, and then did it all again after helpful cat redistributed them all for me.
The large coral piece needed to hang in the opposite direction to the hole that had been pre drilled into it so I located some fine gold wire and created a simple but strong hanging loop for it.
The necklace closure was to be a rather modern sparkly magnetic ball clasp, but I decided it was not what I wanted so I changed to a probably more period loop and bail fitting. Using two strands of medium weight waxed jewellery thread, the actual threading of the necklace took surprisingly little time and the double thread even stood up when helpful kitty decided to test the strength by grabbing the end and pulling on it for me. The ends of the thread are simply tied onto the closure. According to the website “Lang Antiques, A look into Renaissance Jewellery”,
“pearls and other types of beaded necklaces were often made using a ribbon or a waxed linen thread that simply tied to a hooked closure.”
However for strength I thought that the medium weight jewellery thread would be a more practical solution for this piece, and my waxed linen thread was way to thick to fit through those teeny tiny seed pearls.
There you have it. A simple necklace that I am very happy with, that includes all the elements that I wanted to use, which I look forward to wearing.
Thank you again for your time in judging this Arts and Sciences competition and I do hope that you have enjoyed reading my somewhat different but hopefully entertaining documentation.
Almost forgot the Bibliography:
Welch, Evelyn (2005), “Shopping in the Renaissance, Consumer Cultures in Italy 1400-1600”
Landini, Roberta Orsi and Bruna Niccoli (2004), “Moda a Firenze, Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e sua influenza”
Andrea Bayer “ Art and Love in Renaissance Italy.”
Christiane Klapisch-Zuber “Women, Family and Ritual in Renaissance Italy”