The Look of Love
Over the last thirty years Nan and David Skier have collected more than one hundred examples of Lover’s Eyes, a subgenre of sentimental jewelry straddling the categories of miniature painting and portrait art. Lover’s Eyes are largely unknown because so few of them exist. The Skier collection is the largest grouping. It is returning home to Birmingham, Alabama, this fall after stops at the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Georgia Museum of Art, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The exhibition grew out of a conversation about cataloging the Skier’s collection and a response to the effect that a catalog usually comes with an exhibition.
The resulting exhibition is called “The Look of Love” and features ninety-eight brooches, bracelets, boxes, pendants, rings, toothpick cases, and other diminutive tokens of affection exchanged between parties signifying an intimate relationship. Most are watercolor painted on ivory, protected by glass, and set in gold with additional precious or semiprecious stones included in the settings. Pearls are a particular favorite because they have long been the symbols of purity, innocence and humility in English jewelry; pearls have also traditionally represented tears in both poetry and jewelry. One example depicting a lady’s right eye has a pearl surround that rivals lacework in its intricacy. Diamonds figure in the settings of a few, others have faceted glass or pastes. Some of the settings are gold alone, but most include gemstones. There are lovely examples using garnets, coral, turquoise, amethyst, and topaz. Quite a number also use enamel to add color, usually blue and occasionally a very specific deep blue thought to be favored among royals giving gifts to other royals. The settings form a survey of styles across a century and a quarter of European jewelry fashion. Curiously, the fad does not seem to have found purchase in America despite the then young country’s usual enthusiasm for importing all things fashionable from Britain.
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