(French, c. 1565–1617)
Watercolor on vellum with gold and silver in original stained ivory case
Unframed: 5.3 x 4.2 cm (2 1/16 x 1 5/8 in.); Diameter of frame: 5.9 cm (2 5/16 in.)
The Edward B. Greene Collection 1949.547
Although the identity of the lady is uncertain, she must have been a wealthy woman, judging by her heavy and elaborate jewelry, complete with necklace, chain, earrings, jewel-encrusted dress and a kind of aigrette in her hair. In an age when clothes were assumed to be an accurate indicator of status, it was judged essential to wear your wealth, especially when immortalized in a portrait. Oliver painted the woman's pearl earrings using Nicholas Hilliard's jewelling technique, which involved laying a raised blob of white lead paint with some shadowing to one side. This form was then crowned with a rounded touch of real silver that was burnished with, to quote Hilliard, "a pretty little tooth of some ferret or stoat or other wild little beast." This technique brought the silver to a sparkling highlight, while actual gold is used to paint the pearl's gold setting. Silver tarnishes with age, therefore, the pearl earrings now appear black.
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