Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) had a brother Ambrosius Holbein, father Hans Holbein the Elder, and uncle Sigmund Holbein. That’s a lot of Holbeins. Hans the Younger is best known for his career as court painter to Henry VIII of England, where he had the thankless of job of trying to make the English nobility look attractive. (I’m looking at you, Henry.)
Hans junior bounced between England and Switzerland, depending on whether he was in or out of favor (which was a tricky business when several of his portrait subjects ended up dead by the king’s orders like Sir Thomas More, or accidentally like Jane Seymour…oh, and let’s not forget the Anne of Cleaves portrait fiasco). When he wasn’t painting politically-uncertain portraits, he did quite a lot of work with woodcuts, decorative designs for walls, doors, and hearths, and jewelry.
That’s right. Hans Holbein the Younger was a jewelry designer, and while he clearly clings to the Renaissance belief that “more is more” when it comes to detail and adornment, his designs are quite beautiful.
Unfortunately, his designs are all we have. Whether they were ever executed back then is unknown.
Holbein Rides Again
Just as everything comes back into fashion (though, please God, not shoulder pads), Holbein’s designs experienced a literal revival beginning in the 1860’s. Victorian jewelers such as John Brogden and Carlo Giuliano.
The hallmarks of the Holbeinesque Revival Style were broaches or pendants, with a large central cabochon gem or cameo, and a dangling drop-shaped pearl or diamond-set lozenge (or circle, if you don’t want to think of cough drops). Add in a lot of decorative scrollwork, fancy engraved back, and voila, you have a kinda-Holbeinish piece of jewelry.
Getting your Holbein Fix
If you just can’t stand the idea that Holbein’s jewelry never made it to reality so you can pin it on Pinterest, never fear. There’s always Etsy.
That’s right. If you are looking for that perfect piece to complete your Renaissance costume or just to shock and awe at work, look no further than TreasuresforaQueen on Etsy.
Now, if you’ll excuse, I have some online shopping to do.
When I started on Pinterest four years ago, I blithely threw my pins into jumbo catchall boards like “Fashion History” and “Yummy.” I am paying for that now. Damn you, cosplay.
No, I don’t cosplay. I’m not crafty enough. Trust me. If I tried, I would end up with glue in my hair, glitter on my butt (don’t ask, it would just happen), and rage duct-taped cardboard wings. However, a lot of people cosplay and do it really, really well, which makes it all the more frustrating for me when I try to organize my “Fashion History” board.
I am currently going through and picking out from the several thousand pins I have all the Renaissance clothing. I’m defining Renaissance from the end of the Black Death (1350’ish) to about 1650’ish. I know that stretches it a little bit, but the paucity of actual extant clothing makes it hard to be picky this early in history.
I built the board “Renaissance Fashion” and was extremely satisfied with myself. Then, I went to go add more pins to it. This is where I ended getting confused and ragey.
Most of my choices were either to pin paintings, which I won’t because the point of this board is to see the physical things that people touched and wore, or replicas. Really, really amazing replicas.
The Real Deal
For example, consider one of the best “real” Renaissance gowns, the famous “Red Dress of Pisa.” First, it’s extraordinary because it’s red. Have you read, “A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire” by Amy Butler Greenfield? If not, you should. It’s a fascinating study of fashion, the history of cloth dyeing, trade with the New World, and Renaissance and Early Modern economics.
So, back to the Red Dress of Pisa. It was found on an effigy of the Virgin Mary at the monastery of San Matteo. It’s a crimson velvet dress with metallic thread decorative stitching. What’s fantastic about this dress is that it was found largely intact, despite moth holes and other signs of age. Scholars agree that it comes from the 1560’s and was probably made by the tailor Master Agostino who probably worked for Eleonora di Toledo.
The controversy comes (if such a disagreement can be called an actual controversy) from whether this is the funeral dress of Eleonora di Toledo, or whether it belonged to her ladies-in-waiting (as it was mentioned in a contemporary chronicle that they wore sottane di velluto cremisi” (crimson velvet dresses) in a ceremonial trip to Siena in 1560. The “Moda a Firenze” authors are firmly in the ladies-in-waiting camp, while the Pisa team (where the dress is currently on display) believe it was Eleonora’s based on sumptuary laws in 1562 that declared only nobles could wear crimson. Either way, it’s a gorgeous dress, and all the more amazing for actually existing.
Make Believe is More Fun
While this dress is beautiful and remarkable, there’s something also a bit disappointing about its slightly battered appearance, especially when there are so many bright, colorful, sumptuous gowns from the 1700’s on that one can see in museums and on *cough* Pinterest.
Okay, okay, Pinterest may not be in and of itself to blame. If we really want to stick to to someone for tempting me and confusing me with amazing replicas and original productions, we have to go to Etsy, that other foul bastion of time suckage.
Don’t even get me started on the gorgeous Borgia-inspired gowns. *shakes tiny fist at creative, crafty people* I mean, really. REALLY!
Pinterest: Surrender or Compromise?
The purist historian in me wants to only have boards with the real deal Holyfield objects. The fact that these dresses, shoes, stockings, and corsets were witness to countless lives and history is a delightfully boggling notion that I like to contemplate in my spare time.
The imagination-addicted, closet 80’s anime chick in me wants to include awesome replicas that meet some sort of ridiculously high standard of authenticity (though, then I get into this whole death spiral of arguing the nature of authenticity in my head, yeah, it’s ugly).
Maybe I’ll just surrender (pander? to myself? the masses?) and start a Medieval and Renaissance Replica board.
Perhaps that’s the solution – until we can invent time travel.