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The Baroque Style

Following the peak of the Renaissance (which spanned from the 15th century to the early 18th century) and preceding Neo-classical (18th to early 19th century) we find ‘Baroque’. Originating during the early 1600s in Rome, the Baroque period is considered to have been a reaction against its rigid Renaissance predecessor. Baroque characteristics include flowing lines, floral motifs and an obsession with symmetry. It encompassed all elements of culture: architecture, fashion, music, art and (of course) the designs of jewellery and silver.


This style truly set out to impress. It didn’t hold anything back in terms of grandeur and intricacy, as can be evidenced by its architectural style. One extravagant example of Baroque architecture at its finest is the palace of Versailles just outside Paris (pictured). The interiors of Baroque churches are also impressive sights to behold; scrolling ornamentation fills the walls and wondrously frames impressive frescos. The Roman Catholic Church was

actually one of the earliest supports of the Baroque style. The over-the-top, indulgent style served as an excellent protest against the stripped back, reserved protestant style that was previously prevalent throughout Europe. There were various sub-strands of this artistic period, including Rococo which emerged in the 1740s; Rococo was the even more extravagant central European response to Italy’s Baroque.


The Baroque style reigned throughout Europe until around the 1750s. It was at this point that art and culture saw a classical renaissance: the Neoclassical style. This shift is thought to have been brought about partially by a group of French artists who were sent by Madame de Pompadour (the mistress of Louis XV) to travel explore Italy.The party

Chateau Versailles Galerie des Glaces

Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons


returned with a rejuvenated passion for all things classical and thus, the Baroque style faced its demise. Many considered the Neo-classical style more dignified in comparison to the whimsical Baroque and some went so far as to condemn and ridicule Baroque styles. The neoclassic art critic Francesco Milizia for example, wrote:


"Borrominini in architecture, Bernini in sculpture, Pierre de Cortone in painting...are a plague on good taste, which infected a large humber of artists."


He was seconded by the Victorian critic John Ruskin’s assertion that Baroque sculpture was not only bad, but also morally corrupt.


The Baroque style has seen stubborn criticism, but of course what artistic movement was received completely unchallenged? Today, Baroque has regained its credibility and is adored by many critics and collectors alike. Between the two world wars it saw its resurgence in popularity and has been appreciated unwaveringly ever since.


Baroque Jewellery


Similarly to other elements of the Baroque period, Baroque jewellery is distinguished by its botanically inspired motifs and its exuberant symmetry. The arabesque pattern was used frequently in jewellery design- this consisted of interwoven flowing lines, often incorporating heart shapes. In fitting with the theme, arabesque motifs are always perfectly symmetrical. Another design style which was prominent in jewellery design at this time was known as ‘Moresque’. Like arabesque, it consisted of intricate scroll design. It was inspired by North-African and Arabic Moorish decoration.

Other popular trends within jewellery at the time included champlevé enamel work (see the work of Jean Toutin from Blois for exceptional examples of this), gemstones paired with yellow gold and excessive use of pearls. Pearls were crafted in strings to be worn as short necklaces (complementing the fashion of dresses with a low swooping neck line), clasps and in women’s hair. Pearls were relatively easy to acquire during this time and most of them were sourced from the Persian Gulf. It was also possible to create imitation pearls at this time by lining glass spheres with a mix of ground fish scales and varnish and then filling the sphere with wax.


Pearl drop earrings were particularly popular during the early Barque period and they would normally be paired with a yellow gold setting. For a classical example, see Vermeer’s iconic "Girl with a Pearl Earring” (pictured). Later however, the preferred style of earrings grew more extravagant. Girandole earrings were adored during baroque’s later years. These earrings are characterised by a central piece which is surrounding by dangling ornaments, creating a chandelier –like aesthetic.


Diamonds were also very popular in jewellery design during the Baroque period. It would have been sacrilege however, to be seen wearing diamonds during the daylight hours. They were reserved exclusively for evening affairs and candle lit parties- a context in which their magnificent sparkle would not be wasted. They had become more readily available as a result of increased trade agreements with Portuguese and Indian companies. This allowed English and Dutch traders access to diamonds form the Golconda deposit in the Hyderabad region of India.


Meisje met de parel

Johannes Vermeer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Baroque era was the first time that the term ‘brilliant’ was used to describe diamonds. Baroque brilliants were most frequently a cushioned or square shape, featuring steep pavilions and crowns. These diamonds would then often be foiled to really enhance their sparkling qualities and set in silver. One unfortunate consequence of the advanced cutting techniques that were being developed at this time was that many older diamonds would be recut in order to keep up with certain fashions. At the time, this increased their value. It was a shame however, as some substance from the original diamond would be lost.


In addition to diamonds and pearls, other popular gemstones of the Baroque period included ruby, topaz and emerald; perhaps for their luxuriously bright colours which would have complemented the extravagant style. For those with less wealth, high quality imitation jewellery was also now available and produced on a mass scale- specifically paste jewellery.


Hope Diamond

National Museum of Natural History [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Men’s jewellery fashions varied immensely from country to country. French men were known for choosing the most extravagant jewellery; they were most likely following the example of Louis XIV who had an impressive jewellery collection including some famous diamonds. His collection included the ‘Hope Diamond’ (pictured) which, at an impressive 45.52 carats, is one of the most famous and covetable diamonds in the world. Louis XIV acquired this impressive piece in 1668 (a century later in 1791 it was stolen only to reappear in 1839 belonging to the Hope family, but that’s another story…)


At the other end of the scale we have the Spanish men. They were actually prohibited by law from wearing any jewellery at all during this period. Jewellery wearing was also very restrained in England due to puritan rule. Those appose to Oliver Cromwell however would sometimes don royalist jewellery which featured miniature portraits of the executed king Charles I.


Baroque Silver


As to be expected, Baroque style silver displayed similar themes and motifs- floral decoration and flowing designs. Baroque silver was preceded by auricular ornamental style which had been highly popular in northern Europe. Auricular (also known as ‘lobate’) was characterised by flowing abstract patterns in relief. A main stylistic difference between auricular and Baroque was that auricular tended to feature asymmetrical designs; it was this feature that provided the movements’ name as it was compared to a side view of a human ear.


baroque style

Focussing back on the techniques of Baroque silverware, embossing was the favoured method of the era. This was because it is a technique through which complex designs are more easily achievable. On Baroque silver, ornamentation tended to be used as embellishment rather than as an integral part of the piece itself. Thanks to this, silversmiths were able to stick to fairly simplistic shapes and then embellish them heavily. An exception to this general practice however, was the tulip cup which resembles a highly ornamented goblet crafted in a tall tulip shape- many of these were crafted by the Ferrn family of Nuremberg.


Focussing back on the techniques of Baroque silverware, embossing was the favoured method of the era. This was because it is a technique through which complex designs are more easily achievable. On Baroque silver, ornamentation tended to be used as embellishment rather than as an integral part of the piece itself. Thanks to this, silversmiths were able to stick to fairly simplistic shapes and then embellish them heavily. An exception to this general practice however, was the tulip cup which resembles a highly ornamented goblet crafted in a tall tulip shape- many of these were crafted by the Ferrn family of Nuremberg.


On occasion, silversmiths decided to combine more than one style and technique within a single object. An impressive example of this is a dish made by Johannes Lutma; the rim of the dish was decorated with embossed rural scenes depicting the seasons, whereas each cartouche was surrounded by lobate ornament. Another notable silversmith who embodied the general feel of the baroque style was Claes Baerdt of Boswald. Baerdt expertly mastered the baroque decoration themes of flower motifs such as tulips, which would cover entire surfaces of silverware.


Today, we can find far more examples of Baroque silver that were created post 1660 than from any time before. This is because, after the restoration of Charles II (1660) the practice of melting down silver drastically decreased due to the dawn of a more peaceful era (excess metal was no longer desperately needed to repurpose in war or internal strife). A lot of silver however, was still refashioned after this point so not all of it remains.


 
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Andrew Campbell started trading in antiques during the 1970s. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.
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