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Representations of Women and their jewellery in art


I grew up, the daughter of a strong willed and proud woman, who always made me believe that I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be. In the same sense that my mother was individualistic and self-sufficient, she also always seemed to put forth the idea that us girls should make sure we find ourselves partners who can provide for us and take care of us. It was the idea of this strange world where I should be the strongest and most independent woman I could be, while still relying on a man to take care of me. As I grew up in all girls schools and formulated strong all-girl friend groups where the consensus was essentially “I don’t need no man” I started finding more and more that I wanted to be the kind of woman that could be both. I could be strong-willed and independent, and yet also be the partner of a successful person whose goal was not to provide for me but rather to be a partner who shared. 

The point of this though- before I get carried away with gender politics and historical, societal implications of what it is to be a woman- I had this strong recollection of an art lesson I had in highschool. We were studying various historical art movements, paintings and deriving their meanings and something that stood out to me that the teacher mentioned, was the following concept. 

Women have been depicted in art throughout the ages- our bodies, our beauty, our “roles”, our sexuality and our status have always been marvelled at or critiqued or simply displayed for the viewers’ gaze. We were looking at austere portraits of women, clad in robes of embroidered velvet, with pale skin, adorned with varying glistening jewels and other objects. It was not so much the idea of representing normative beauty (although that in and of itself is another topic for another day) the idea was a representation of their husbands’ wealth and the wealth of the family. Jewels were a way of symbolizing the position of a man in society and the goal was to highlight this status by using their wives as a trophy, in a sense. 

In her book “Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation and Identity”, Paola Tinagli looks at the works of various Renaissance artists and details the ways in which portraiture was used explicitly to portray wealth and status in the 1500’s: 

It is interesting to see even back then, the way jewellry had unique symbolism and stones had interpreted meanings. The emerald being a healing stone and being linked to chastity and virtue; the sapphire being a symbol of purity and innocence; the ruby being a carrier of prosperity and wealth. It is incredibly interesting to see the interpretation of jewellery and their function (not only as garments of beauty) but symbols of wealth, power and status throughout the ages. I think stones and their properties/ meanings have been shifted and refined nowadays and we have a section on our site for you to read the meanings of various stones. 

Fast forward to the year 2020, women choose their jewellery based on whatever the heck they want to base it on. At Black Betty we encourage everyone to wear what they want to wear, to be who they want to be and to feel fierce and proud in the journey they are on. Our jewellery and stones are embedded with meaning and symbolism but we LOVE it when clients give their own meaning to a piece! Wear what you want to wear- and not just because some person wanted to paint a portrait of you to display their own wealth/ status/ ego ;)