Oh my. I have a little bit of a backlog of things to blog about...I've been so busy I've neglected the site!
First, let me start with an addendum to the earlier post I did about the apparent Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic obsession with amber "hippie beads."
Although details are still sketchy about why the Pre-Raphaelites were so fond of these beads (it could just simply be that they were a reaction to the ornate jewelry of the time, the same way that aesthetic gowns were a reaction to ornate dresses), there were many wonderful comments given about the subject. If you missed the responses, here are a few highlights:
"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?" --From Robin
"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!" --From Merle
"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. " --From Lisa
"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."--From Tara
Tara's comment actually leads me into this example, which Stephanie Pina, the awesome webmistress of the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood website, found for me. The artwork is "Thoughts of the Past" by John Spencer Stanhope, and I never noticed the "hippie beads" in this artwork, since they aren't being worn:
Tara, I think you hit the nail on the head for the symbolism of the beads, at least in this artwork. The painting depicts a fallen woman (what a shock...the Pre-Raphaelites so rarely painted those...) pondering her past during a moment of regret. The inclusion of red/coral beads is perfectly apt here.
More posts soon!