Disney Designs 5: Sale As Old As Time

The Goblin and I recently watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time in a few years, and you know what that means… Time for another Disney Designs post!

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Source: tenor.com

It’s not entirely clear in which historical period Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is supposed to be set, but a quick Google suggests some time around the mid-to-late 18th century, so let’s go with that.

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Source: giphy.com

In the film, Belle is too busy swooning over the Beast’s gargantuan library (wahey) to wear very much jewellery, but you know who was around at this time who did? You guessed it: Marie Antoinette, the soon-to-be-headless Queen of France.

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Marie Antoinette (pictured here pre-guillotine, obviously..!) Source: Wikimedia Commons

As it happens, Marie Antoinette’s jewellery collection was just auctioned at Sotheby’s in Geneva, after going on display for the first time in two centuries. The collection was sold alongside other royal gems from the Bourbon-Parma family, and the whole lot broke Sotheby’s records, going for a whopping £33.63 million!

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Source: Tumblr

Before the French Revolution broke, she saw the writing on the wall and shipped some of her jewels off to her nephew in Vienna, meaning that they avoided the dismantling which befell the pieces left behind… and, indeed, their owner!

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So, let’s take a peak inside Marie Antoinette’s jewellery box… (Ok, that’s probably enough innuendo now…)

 

It’s clear from first glance that this famous historical magpie was a BIG fan of both diamonds and pearls. Unlike today, where cultured pearls are plentiful and relatively affordable, in Marie Antoinette’s time, naturally-occurring pearls were very rare, and required many hours of life-threatening dives to obtain in any great number. Is it any surprise, then, that they were a favourite of this image-conscious royal?

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, some saved jewellery was later broken up and reset anyway. This was and continues to be common practice amongst aristocratic families when it comes to heirlooms, since the component gemstones are often more valued than the piece they’re set in. Thus, it’s not unusual to see particularly beautiful stones set and reset into more contemporary pieces over the centuries.

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A 19th century diamond brooch made from stones smuggled out of Paris by Marie Antoinette. Image (c) Sotheby’s.

If you’re interested in the relationships between family members and gems, Sotheby’s have put together a handy family tree to show where each piece came from:

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Source: Sotheby’s (c)

The most famous and anticipated piece sold at auction was this pendant, fashioned from an enormous natural pearl (26 x 18mm!), topped with a diamond bow and large solitaire diamond:

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Image (c) Sotheby’s

It sold for *drumroll please* £28.4 million, beating its £1 million estimate by, er, quite a way, and beating the record previously set by Elizabeth Taylor’s Peregrina pendant.

 

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It’s a total the queen herself would likely have been proud of, although it is true that her lavish tastes were exaggerated by her contemporaries. After all, can you blame them? The opportunity to tie Marie Antoinette to 1784-5 scandal known as ‘The Affair of the Diamond Necklace’ was too good to resist amongst the anti-monarchy feeling of the day…despite the fact that poor old Marie Antoinette had nothing to do with it. But that’s a story for next week’s post…and it’s a banger!

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Source: tenor.com

Disney Designs 4: Dun(broch) mind if I do

Time for another Disney Designs post! This week we’re going to run, fly, chase the wind, touch the sky…and take a look at Queen Elinor’s necklace.

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Ok, maybe just that last one, then…

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If you’ve not seen the film, Queen Elinor of Clan Dunbroch (above) is the mother of Merida, the flame-haired archer princess who is Brave‘s protagonist. Also, if you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it. Although a bit short on songs for my taste, it makes up for it with its focus on Merida and Elinor’s relationship, its lowkey, dry humour, and Merida being a generally cool but also realistic 16-year-old. I won’t spoil it for you if you’ve not seen it, but there is an excellent bit with an archery competition…

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To get back to the point of this blog, when it comes jewellery, as well as her gleaming green circlet, Elinor also has a bear pendant which she gives to Merida before the ill-fated suitor contest:

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….aaaand then Merida trades it to a witch. Ouch.

Anyhow, Elinor’s necklace is in a recognisably Celtic style, which makes sense given the story’s 10th century Scottish setting, but I wondered how it compared to what people might really have been wearing at the time.

 

Circular pendants and brooches with interlocking patterns were certainly popular in 10th century Scotland, but it seems there were more abstract than animal motifs. The never-ending circle motif was everywhere, just as it is on the walls of Merida’s castle:

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The three-animals-in-a-continuous-circle motif was widespread in Far East Asia, along the Silk Road, and in the Middle East, in the form of three hares rather than three bears. Although it’s uncertain when exactly the symbol travelled to Western Europe, it does not seem to appear consistently before the 13th century ,so Brave is a little early on that one.

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13th century Iranian tray depicting the Three Hares. Photo by Chris Chapman.

However, animal heads as part of the triskele motif were found in Scotland and Ireland from the 5th-6th century:

 

I didn’t find any examples with bears from the period when Brave is set, but bears’ teeth were popular amongst those with slightly more hardcore tastes…

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9th – 11th century CE

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And if anyone fancies channelling Merida? Well, I’ve made a new design: a Celtic-inspired shield necklace just for you…

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Just don’t go trading it with witches, now!

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Disney Designs 3: Mulanniversary

It’s almost the weekend, so I thought a light treat was in order: another post in my Disney Designs series. This week’s film is one of my all-time faves, partly because it came out when I was little, and partly because it features a badass female hero (let’s just ignore the questionable depictions of the Huns).

Also, it came out 20 years ago this June (I’m not old, YOU’RE OLD), so it seems a good time to look into its jewellery…

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For obvious reasons, Mulan wasn’t the first film that came to mind when I was thinking of Disney Designs post ideas. However, the scene where Mulan’s dad gives her the lotus hair comb (awwww) got me thinking. Now, the original ballad of Hua Mulan on which the Disney film is based is set in either the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), or during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui China (reigned 604-617), depending on which source you use. In our case, it doesn’t much matter, because during both periods, hair combs were a popular means of self-decoration and of showing your social status.

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Combs began to act as status signifiers during the Wei and Jin dynasties, around 100 years before the first given date for the story of Mulan, and by time of the Northern Wei dynasty, they were all the rage. Comb styles during this period were fine-toothed and delicate, like this:

 

Fast forward to the Sui dynasty, and they became larger, higher and more ornate:

 

Unfortunately, Mulan is set fairly early in the history of Chinese hair combs, so I want to take the opportunity to share some of the more fantastic creations the following couple of centuries brought to the country (the Tang Dynasty was when combs really hit their stride as a fashion accessory…):

 

That’s all for Mulan – which movie should I explore next? Let me know in the comments…

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Sources/further reading:

For hours of looking through pretty comb pics, check out Creative Museum’s website.

For further reading on Chinese hair combs through history, get stuck into this comprehensive article by Huang Jin-Sui.

For another strong female leader from the Wei period, try this article on Empress Feng (442-490).