british aristocracy

The third Spencer Tiara formerly belonged to Marie Antoinette. It is pictured here with the Sutherland necklace. (The Sutherlands are a branch of the Spencer family who are also associated with the Churchill”s and the Dukes of Marlborough. Thery”re all the same family.) The Sutherland necklace is comprised of 17 of the largest diamonds from a necklace that was owned by Marie Antoinette AND is the necklace that helped spark the French Revolution.

…based on the true story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race woman raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England. It follows Belle, adopted into an aristocratic family, who faces class and color prejudices. As she blossoms into a young woman, she develops a relationship with a vicar’s son who is an advocate for slave emancipation.

more, plus two clips, here.


Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough photographes herself in front of a mirror, wearing Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia’s Pearl Kokoshnik Tiara, by Bolin (1921).


The Russian Beauty

The Russian Pearl Pendant Kokoshnik, also known as The Russian Beauty, was created for Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in 1841 by court jeweler Bolin. The kokoshnik-shaped tiara features 25 large natural pearls, suspended from pointed diamond arches, floating over a diamond base. 

This tiara became a favorite of Empress Marie Feodorovna (1847-1928), wife of Tsar Alexander III, and mother of the last Tsar. She loved it so much that she kept the tiara at her home, even though it wasn’t her’s but belonged to the crown jewels. 

Unfortunately it was left behind when the Russian revolution hit in 1917 and has changed hands many times since then. Here’s what we know:

  • The Bolsheviks are presumed to have sold it to Christie’s to profit the revolution around 1920
  • Christie’s sold it at auction to Holmes & Co. in 1927
  • Holmes & Co. sold it to the 9th Duke of Marlborough for his wife Gladys
  • After her death it was auctioned in 1978 and bought by the London trade
  • It later ended up with Imelda Marcos, the controversial former First Lady of the Philippines. The tiara was confiscated when the Marcos family fled the Philippines to Hawaii in 1986.
  • Since it’s confiscation, it’s been sitting in a bank vault in the Philippines

Large (Wikimedia)

John Singer Sargent painted most of his formal portraits—especially the earlier ones—against elegant indoor settings.

However, as the Museo Thyssen quotes Javier Barón as having said, “the natural and spontaneous nature of his portraits of upper middle class families gave way to compositions that were ‘much more static and formal, deploying devices from Grand Manner portraits, most obviously derived from the English tradition.’”

Thus, in his 1904 Portrait of Millicent Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland, Sargent places his subject outdoors—and in an elegantly clacissizing pose.