Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Horace Walpole Describes Queen Sophia's Wedding Jewels

Queen Charlotte, circa 1762
Color print from original mezzotint
Artist: William Pether, after Thomas Frye
Photo Source: Walpole Antiques

With his drawing of Queen Charlotte in hand, Thomas Frye returned to his studio where he and his partner, William Pether, etched the lines of his drawing onto a copper plate. Using drypoint* they painstakingly scratched the fine, delicate lines into the plate. It is this meticulous technique which gives this portrait its depth and detail.

And it is this depth of detail, combined with the scant but clear historical record, which affords the best evidence for which jewels the Queen is wearing in the portrait. Later colored prints made from Frye’s original copper plates cast some ambiguity as to the occasion for which Her Majesty is outfitted. However, the detailed account of Horace Walpole, describing a warm day in September 1761, has led me to believe that Her Majesty wears her wedding gown, bedecked in at least a portion of the splendid jewels she received from her husband on that day of their wedding.

“The Queen was in white and silver; an endless mantle of violet-coloured velvet, lined with ermine, and attempted to be fastened on her shoulder by a bunch of large pearls, dragged itself and almost the rest of her clothes halfway down her waist. On her head was a beautiful little tiara of diamonds; a diamond necklace, and a stomacher of diamonds, worth threescore thousand pounds...”
~Horace Walpole

The jewels in Walpole’s description clearly match the jewels seen in Mr. Frye’s portrait, and upon close inspection of her gown, one could make a clear case for the mantle being the same violet-colored velvet she wore on her wedding day.

Though clearly Mr. Frye made this print the year following the royal wedding, it is no great leap to presume that either Queen Charlotte wore her wedding finery to the theater that night, or more likely that Mr. Frye captured her face and form on paper from his place in the audience and then “dressed” her in her wedding clothes and jewels in his studio.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that he captured her image at her coronation, when she appeared wearing the same gown and jewels, and went to the theater only to ensure the finer details of her facial features. Since it is an unofficial portrait, we may never know for certain.

*Drypoint is "a technique in which the surface of the plate is scratched directly with an etching needle in order to produce fine, delicate lines" {10}.

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1. Fitzgerald, Percy Hetherington. The Good Queen Charlotte. London: Downey & Co. Ld., 1890.
2. “Hanoverian Pearls, The.” The Sydney Morning Herald Coronation Supplement, Wednesday, May 12, 1937. Accessed January 22, 2013.,1932343.
3. Hedley, Olwen. Queen Charlotte. Michigan: J. Murray, 1975.
4. Hill, Constance. Fanny Burney at the Court of Queen Charlotte. Toronto: Bell & Cockburn, 1913.
5. Laura Purcell Blog. “A Royal Wedding.” Published March 9, 2012.
6. North, Michael and David Ormrod. Markets for Art, 1400-1800. Sevilla, Spain: Secretariado de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Sevilla, 1998.
7. O’Connell, Sheila. London 1753. London: The British Museum Press, 2003.
8. Papendiek, Charlotte Louise Henrietta. Mrs. Papendiek’s Journals, Vol. 1. London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1887.
9. Roberts, Hugh. The Queen’s Diamonds. London: Royal Collections Publications, 2012.
10. Royal Collection, The. “Thomas Frye (1710-1762), Queen Charlotte, 1762.” Accessed January 22, 2013.
11. Strickland, Agnes and Elizabeth Strickland and Caroline G. Parker. Lives of the queens of England: From the Norman Conquest.
12. Urban, Sylvanus. “The Crown Jewels.” Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, Volume 204. January to June, 1858.
13. Zahnle, Lucy E. “Jewelry Through the Ages.” Helium, September 18, 2009. Accessed January 22, 2013.

*Clip art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

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