Monday, June 15, 2009

Pre-Raphaelites and "Hippie Beads"

Portrait of Georgie Burne-Jones by Rossetti

It all started with the Lady of Shalott. Ever since I first fell in love with that artwork at the age of 15, I stared at it constantly, taking in every detail. I dreamed of being the lady. But I thought..."why does she look a little like a hippie?" It was the headband. With the wooden beaded necklaces. But the artwork was produced long before even the oldest hippies were ever conceived.


Then I started my in-depth fascination with the Pre-Raphaelites themselves, and noticed, in portrait after portrait, the actual family members of the Brotherhood wore long beaded necklaces made from what appear to be smoothly hewn, simple materials.

(Various pictures of the Burne-Jones and Morris children at different ages)








Finally, the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood did a post about jewelry in Rossetti's art, and I saw the coral necklace he uses in many repeated paintings. I thought "what IS it with these beads??" and thought I'd investigate.


Well...investigation yielded...nothing. I am now utterly intrigued by these necklaces, seemingly so very intrinsic to the Pre-Raphaelite fashion. Why? Who started it? And was it just a Pre-Raphaelite style choice, or was it part of a larger fashion trend?

Anyone with any answers, please feel free to post them!

11 comments:

Robin said...

I'm not sure about the rough-hewn wooden beads, but coral beads were very popular for young people, especially babies and toddlers, in the 19th Century as coral was believed to have protective properties against illness and evil. Often a child's first proper necklace would be made of coral. I'm not sure why they would have been appealing to Rossetti, although I did just now read that coral is supposedly good for a cure of a long illness. Makes sense for Lizzie! Or maybe he wanted to infer youthfullness?

Hermes said...

Sorry never thought about it. But looking at your first photo I'm not sure why Mrs Burnes was always described as rather plain as if that was an excuse for him running off with Maria. She doesn't look plain to me.

RowanDeVoe said...

Sandalwood beads were thought to have healing properties as well as amber beads. Going way back, the nobility had gold and gemstones which the poor people wanted to copy so they actually painted wood beads to look like gold set with stones and later these beads alone became popular. When Europeans reached the new world, they found that they could trade glass and semi-precious beads with the Native Americans. These beads were found all over the world by traders and travelers from Venice to Africa. So, beads started to poor into America and what started as the poorman's version of good and jewels soon became worth a lot on its own-that is when we started seeing all the amazing beadwork done by Native Americans. Beads have ever since been a big deal and used as currency which is why I think they ended up as sign of royalty and used in so many costumes, fancy clothing and finally in paintings. That's all I know!

Medieval Muse said...

I did not know that about coral, and it certainly makes sense. However, it makes me wonder if the use of certain colors on a particular figure is also a painter's device? The red beads help define a fiery spirit and lush, dangerous sensuality as depicted in Sandys' Medea, and on Rossetti's Monna Vanna just to cite an example.

You seem to be afflicted with quite the case of Pre-Raphaelitis! Probably incurable, you know.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

That is so fascinating, Grace! This is a good question worthy to be researched and answered. How interesting that the family was also photographed wearing these beads! You have me thinking about this now! Robin's comment is plausible as are the other ideas. More digging into this topic would uncover some fun answers! Hope all is well, Anita

ruthie said...

how fascinating a question! though i cannot shed any more light, i do agree that sandlewood was indeed seen to have healing properties.

[Tara] said...

Such an intriguing post!! I want to know more, as well. I had a professor tell us that the red/coral beads signified a fallen woman, but that doesn't explain their overall significance or popularity at the time.

Wendy said...

My grandmother from Germany gave me a string of simple yellowish coral beads just like one in the pictures. Strange. I've never seen another that looked like it until now.

Grace said...

Perhaps they are antiques?

Arachne - Parasewia said...

I'm not sure if it has any connection but in XIX century Europe, peasant women wore góral beads. It Was sign if wealthiness - on Poland (which Was partly in Russia, partly in Germany and partly belonged to Austria) few string if coral beads could cost a lot. Red is protective from "bad eye" and other miseries.

Arachne - Parasewia said...
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