Thursday, January 19, 2012

Something old, something new...

While doing a little historical research for my friend Jo Lauria's upcoming lecture on the jewelry designs of Tony Duquette and Hutton Wilkinson, I came across the intriguing set pictured above and had to know more.

The necklace, bracelet, and earrings belonged to Lady Enid Layard, whose husband, Henry Layard, excavated ancient Mesopotamian palaces between 1845 and 1851. To mark the couple's marriage in 1869, Henry had his collection of Assyrian and Babylonian chalcedony cylinder and stamp seals mounted into gold settings. Archaeological digs had ignited a fashion for jewelry "in the antique style" but most of the contemporary Victorian pieces were made of new (or at least more readily available) materials, like the pendant below. Lady Layard's nearly 4,000-year-old pieces were quite a thing to behold, even catching the eye of Queen Victoria, who admired them at a dinner party in July of 1873.
A modern interpretation: a gold, agate, and enamel pendant brooch designed by the London firm of Phillips Brothers, circa 1863-70.

At first glance, Lady Layard's jewelry seems quite delicate, even small perhaps, but a portrait of her wearing the set clearly shows their heft, and even implies their weight. Upon her death in 1912, the set, and its original box, were donated to the British Museum.

An 1870 portrait of Lady Layard wearing the ancient artifacts, painted by Vincente Gonzalez Y Palmaroli in Madrid, Spain, where her husband had just been appointed British ambassador.

The original case, lined with black silk and purple velvet.

For more information on the Layard pieces, click here. All images are taken from the British Museum.

A selection of jewelry designed by Tony Duquette will be coming up for action at Bonhams in Los Angeles this April. For more information on the sale, Talismans of Power, click here.

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