The idea of lace might conjure up feminine visions of romantic white wedding gowns or perhaps a sense of nostalgia for your grandmother’s household linen choices. In its heyday in the 17th century, however, lace was a highly prized male fashion accessory in Western Europe – worn only by the wealthiest members of the elite.
Examples can be seen in the wall of portraits currently on display on the western side of Gallery 13 at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Among the many courtiers depicted are George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, proudly wearing an elaborate stiffened lace collar which contrasts dramatically against his slashed black pearl-encrusted bodice (he was painted by Dutch artist Michiel Janszoon van Mierevelt in 1625). A world away from the feminine ideals of lace, this portrait reads hyper-masculinity, power and privilege.
At this time, it is rumoured that elite men would mortgage entire estates to buy a single pair of lace cuffs or a collar, lace being the epitome of high fashion.
Lace was also one of the most sophisticated and technically advanced textiles in Europe, and regional secrets of manufacture were closely held, giving the industry a sense of mystery and conspiracy.
Echoing the traditions of 17th-century Flemish lace making, Amsterdam-based contemporary jeweller Jacomijn van der Donk has drawn on this rich culture with Hands of Lace (a neckpiece) and Bracelet, both from 2011. In these works, van der Donk uses oxidised silver and bobbin-lace stitches to construct complex open-work structures.
The bracelet was made using raised stitches woven into small silver beads, creating a dense pattern. The neckpiece features a more openwork design, with a half-stitch ground and a design of circles filled with leaf–like tallies. It takes the form of two hands meeting at the front, and is reminiscent of traditional lace collars, if not with a slightly insidious overtone.
Both the bracelet and neckpiece are examples of van der Donk’s interest in historic lace-making techniques to create visually intriguing works. This labor-intensive technique results in precise craftsmanship executed in bold original contemporary form – a homage to the artist’s inherited cultural heritage of lace-making.
These works by Jacomijn van der Donk are currently on display as part of To Have and to Hold: The Daalder Collection of Contemporary Jewellery at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The exhibition celebrates the gift of 161 works of contemporary jewellery by Adelaide-based collectors Truus and Joost Daalder in 2017.
Rebecca Evans is curator of European and Australian Decorative Arts at the Art Gallery of South Australia. This article is the latest in a regular InDaily series, Off the Wall, highlighting gallery treasures.