Fashion à la Grecque

Large pendant with miniature painting of classicism in gold, around 1800

Portraits in miniature painting are a particularly delicate form of art: painted with the finest brushes on a smooth ground, often bone, they preserve to this day in fresh colours the faces of persons beloved long ago. This large pendant from the Classicist period presents such a miniature in a contemporary gold setting. Set against a grey background is a young lady in a blue dress of muslin or silk, adorned with white lace at the front of the décolleté and at the base of the sleeves. In addition to the dress, the striking hairstyle of the young lady is an important clue that allows the pendant to be dated to the years around 1800. During the classicist period, flat hairstyles were in vogue, with the middle parting stretching over the entire head and sometimes even reaching the nape of the neck. The dress depicted is cut "á la Grecque", i.e. with a boxy neckline and a waist that reaches just below the bust. We know similar dresses from contemporary portraits of the Prussian Queen Luise. Mode à la Grecque ("Greek fashion"; also Robe à la Romaine, pejoratively Nacktte Mode or Nuditätenmode) is the term used in the fashion of the Directoire and Empire (i.e., roughly the period from 1794 to 1811) to describe women's fashions that borrowed heavily from antique models. Characteristic are chemises, shirt dresses made of almost transparent muslin with a very high set waist, a revealing décolleté and short sleeves. Since muslin or the less commonly used silk were very expensive fabrics, the fashion was limited to wealthier circles. There are first reports of dresses à la Grecque from Venice and Paris from 1788. We thus see a lady from the years of classicism in a distinguished pallor that was popular at the time, wearing a body-hugging dress. Miniatures of this kind were often gifts of love - for one must realize that photography had not yet been invented. So these miniatures were often carried by loved ones when they could not be together. The reverse side underlines the assumption of a gift of love. A weave of hair has been preserved here, presumably from the lady depicted. A monogram formerly applied here is unfortunately lost today. Hair had a symbolic meaning in the 18th and 19th centuries. As the seat of vitality, it was given as a pledge of affection and in remembrance. This touching piece of jewellery takes us on a journey back in time to the early years of the 19th century and offers an intimate insight into the emotional life of this remote era - without any selfies or readily available photographs.

Portrait miniatures were the photography of their day in the early 19th century. The depictions were often made small enough to fit in a pocket or piece of jewelry, making them transportable mementos of loved ones. Typically, the dainty portraits were set in gold or silver by a jeweler and worn as a ring, locket, pendant, bracelet or brooch. Others were a little larger and were lovingly displayed on writing or dressing tables or hung on the wall. Particularly often depicted were beloved persons, family members and friends, and sometimes also small landscape views as travel souvenirs.

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You can rely on our years of experience in the trade and our expertise as a professional art historians for reviews of the antique jewellery. As a member of various trader organisations and the British Society of Jewellery Historians, we remain committed to the highest possible degree of accuracy. In our descriptions, we always also indicate any signs of age and defects and never hide them in our photos – this saves you from any unpleasant surprises when your package arrives.

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We want you to be 100% satisfied! That’s why we examine, describe and photograph all our jewellery with the utmost care.

If for any reason you are still not satisfied, contact us and we will find a mutual solution immediately. Regardless, you can return any item within 30 days and we will refund you the full purchase price.

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