Friday, March 15, 2013

Queen Adelaide's Portrait Jewels, 1836

Queen Adelaide, 1836
Painted by Sir Martin Shee
Image is in the Public Domain
Photo Source: Wikipedia

Queen Adelaide stands in a portico of the hallowed halls of Windsor Castle. Blush pink roses peek in through the balustrade which, combined with the faint mountains in the distance, place the location of this sitting on an upper floor of the castle. It is May 1836, and Her Majesty is surrounded by close friends watching her 'sit' for a portrait.

She wears a red velvet gown with a vee neck and a matching vee waistline. The pleated bodice and train of her gown are lined in spotted ermine, and her lace cherusque frames her stately face. Upon her head she wears a black feathered hat with a jeweled brooch pinned to its central band. Her hair is coiffed in ringlets in the hurluberlu fashion of the day, and her tight ringlets hide any earrings she may be wearing.

A lovely necklace graces her neck, and at her waist shimmers a diamond stomacher fastened just above her white satin a-line underskirt. On both wrists she wears what appear to be matching pearl bracelets, and on her left fourth finger she wears a ring with a shiny gemstone. In her right hand she holds a white handkerchief, and on her feet she wears a pair of flat ballet-like slippers.

(Left) Queen Adelaide's 1836 Portrait Hangs in Buckingham Palace
Photo copyright The Anglophile, 2011.

A Deft Hand
This full-length portrait now hangs above the staircase in Buckingham Palace. Records from 1841 and 1891 report that a portrait of Queen Adelaide by Martin Shee hangs in the Grand Livery Room of Goldsmiths’ Hall. {2} This is sound evidence for the existence of two full-length portraits of Queen Adelaide painted by Martin Shee in 1836.

Summoned for the purpose of painting the featured portrait of Queen Adelaide, Martin Shee arrived at Windsor Castle on May 14, 1836, by order of King William IV. He settled his supplies into the painting room and spent his first night at the nearby Castle Hotel. The next day, he was relocated to the Round Tower by order of the King, who wished him to enjoy every privilege of being part of the royal circle at Windsor during his stay.

In his father’s memoirs, Mr. Shee’s son, Martin Archer Shee, writes of an awkward moment in the royal presence upon his first sitting with the Queen. It was widely known that “Queen Adelaide was not a romantic figure” and that “portraits of her almost certainly did her more than justice, disguising [her] poor complexion…” {3, p. 267}

The circle of onlookers, quite probably including at least the FitzClarences and Lady De Lisle, must have held their collective breath in that moment. The widespread truth of her plain appearance rendered it impossible for him to offer any disclaimer of the difficulties he faced in painting her, yet to say nothing would prove quite possibly crude and most definitely disrespectful.

The judicious painter's most gracious response neither affirmed nor denied the Queen’s statement. It is easy to surmise that it was this characteristic grace that afforded him the King’s summons in the first place. “Madam,” he said, “I shall hope to have the honour…of showing my impression of your Majesty’s claims as a subject!!” {5 , p. 305}

And so beautiful and majestic was she in his eyes that there is merit to the claim that the King, who originally planned to present the portrait to the Goldsmiths’ Company, decided to keep it and commissioned Mr. Shee to paint another one like it for the Company. {5, p. 92}

Queen Adelaide, 1836 (cropped as a close-up)
Painted by Mr. Martin Shee
Image is in the Public Domain
Source: Wikipedia

Queen Adelaide's Jewels
The few details evidenced in the painting make it conceivable that Her Majesty's beautiful hat pin is the brooch now called Queen Adelaide’s Brooch. Though it was first made as a clasp for one of the Queen’s pearl necklaces, the jewel was worn by successive queens as either a snap or a brooch. {4, p. 34}

Her necklace appears to be composed of diamonds set in high-karat gold. However, it’s more probable that it is the Queen’s favored pearl necklace. In many portraits of Queen Adelaide during and after her reign, she wears a similar necklace composed of a single strand of high-quality white pearls.

Her stomacher appears to be paved in diamonds, with three larger central stones that might be either diamonds or pearls. It loops around her waist on a link chain, also set with either large brilliants of round pearls. Though it looks remarkably like Queen Alexandra’s Wedding Brooch, it could not possibly be since that brooch was made nearly thirty years after this portrait was painted.

Her pearl bracelets* appear to match the description of Queen Charlotte’s pearl bracelets. If they are not her mother-in-laws bracelets, then they might be replicas which Adelaide had made, perhaps with her husband’s portrait, cypher, and hair fashioned into clasps framed in diamonds.

Finally, though this historian has found nary a description or picture of Queen Adelaide’s wedding and keeper rings, the shape and position of the rings in Mr. Shee’s portrait indicate that these may be the rings she wears here.

*I came across this passage in a magazine from 1885 (Tidings of Nature): "...it being then the fashion to wear two bracelets exactly alike..." The line is in reference to the Empress Josephine, who held court in France in the early 1800s. Though it's possible that Queen Adelaide's choice had nothing to do with fashion, it is of course possible that this was a popular trend, as well.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. “1836 Queen Adelaide by Sir Martin Archer Shee (Royal Collection).” Grand Ladies Site. February 20, 2011. Accessed January 23, 2013. http://www.gogmsite.net/empire-napoleonic-and-roman/subalbum-queen-adelaide/1836-queen-adelaide-by-sir-.html.
2. Shepherd, Thomas Hosman. London Interiors with Their Costumes and Ceremonies. London: Joseph Mead, 1841.
3. Orr, Clarissa Campbell, ed. Queenship in Britain, 1660-1837: Royal Patronage, Court Culture and Dynastic Politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.
4. Roberts, Hugh. The Queen’s Diamonds. London: Royal Collection Publications, 2012.
5. Shee, Martin Archer [Jr., sic] of the Middle Temple. Life of Sir Martin Archer Shee, P.R.A., Volume the Second. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860.

*Clip art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

No comments:

Post a Comment