Sunday, October 17, 2010

Portrait bracelets-Part 1

Portrait bracelets were, like the ruff collar or the simple strand of beads, a common accessory in the 18th century world. They served as a lovely place to display the image of a loved one, a lock of hair from the deceased, or the symbol of one's status. In the portrait above Mme de Pompadour prominently displays a large cameo of Louis XV, her lover, King, and keeper.

Attached to strands of pearls most commonly, or sometimes wide ribbon, these bracelets show up in many paintings of the period, and were exclusively worn by women. To the left Boucher paints Mme Bergeret. Note her wide, flat hat known as a "Bergere" Coincidence? Play on her name?

Another example of the prominent display of a portrait miniature within a portrait is this Lady in Blue by Gainsborough (late 1770s). The actual image is a little blurry, but there's no mistaking what it is.  
In this portrait of Maria Carolina, sister of Marie Antoinette, it looks as if we may have double portrait bracelets, if only we could see the front of the one on her right hand. If indeed they are both portrait bracelets, then the unbroken strands of pearls must mean that the clasp is somewhere close to the portrait itself.

Painted in 1755, this portrait of Mary Barnardiston shows a small portrait bracelet on her left wrist, upon which she leans wistfully. Who is she pining after? Unlike the last three, this one is attached to a ribbon or wide band of some kind, as opposed to pearls.

These are by no means the only paintings featuring portrait bracelets, there are many, many more. Most commonly they seem to be found on multiple pearl strands, from as few as two to as many as six, with three being common. They are worn in pairs or singularly, on either the left or the right wrist. So why is this part 1? In part two we'll look at how to make one.


  1. I had no idea these existed. Good post, thank you.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it, thank you for stopping by!

  3. How pretty! I love the 18th century habit of using portraits as adornments. You could get really clever and do a portrait bracelet of yourself wearing a portrait bracelet of yourself (ad infinitum), and see if anyone noticed!

  4. I've been trying to find the right sort of finding to make myself one of these bracelets. There MUST be clasps that have a bezel setting to take a cabochon.
    Thanks for all the portait pics!

  5. Try Fire Mountain Gems. I had to find mine on e-bay, but I hold out hope of finding them without attached cameos.