When I was searching for the next portrait for the What Was Worn series, I came across this portrait, Lady Holding an Orange Blossom and knew with the first glance that this one was it. Why? Her face captured me. This unknown lady reminded me of a friend I had during my teenage years. My friend and I had grown apart and I have seen her in decades but I wonder about her and her life. Where she happens to be, I hope she is healthy and happy.
Now back to our post.
Who’s That Girl?
Lady Holding An Orange Blossom is an oil canvas dated mid-eighteenth century with the fashion style circa 1775. The unknown artist was trained in the European Style yet, the artistic treatment of fabric and bodice was a style that dates to the 1750s and as stated the fashion timeline is later. This information tells us that the artist was a less prominent style and safe to say to resided in the Caribbean or Central or South America.
As for our sitter, she is unknown and ranges in age from twelve to fifteen years of age. She is a mystery that gazes out at us with a Mona Lisa quality that snares the viewer. For the purpose of this post, I’m naming her Grace. Our amazing Grace has medium-dark skin, with dark, deep brown eyes and hair to that matches and arranged of her face and pinned up.
Art historians believe Grace is from the British or Spanish colonies and possibly, mixed race since formal Spanish portraiture was used. Because of her fine clothing and accessories as well as the fact that her family possesses the money to commission a portrait of her, Grace was a free young lady of color. Since the Renaissance, free Africans had married into white English families and experienced wealth and status. Though, in the colonies, enslavement still occurred during this timeless so some Africans were subjected to that great sin. (If you wish to read about Black people in the Regency then visit Vanessa Riley at https://vanessariley.com/blackpeople.php)
Dress You Up
Our Grace is dressed in a matching blue silk bodice trimmed with blue silk box-pleated trim on the square neckline and a matching blue skirt/ petticoat. A lace fichu is tucked in her bodice. Her sleeves are trimmed in two tiers of lace box-pleated trim with a small festoon trim between the two tiers with lace engageantes (ruffles or flounces of linen, cotton or lace tacked to elbow-length sleeves) Grace has donned a fine, sheer apron trimmed with a ruffled edge.
The final touches of Grace’s outfit are simple in design. Grace wears a cap of lace with blue silk trim band with a bow. Her jewelry are understated with cut steel earrings and a choker of pearls that match the pearl bracelet on her right wrist and two bead bracelets on her left one.
She is holding an orange blossom. The white and orange blossom is a symbol or marriage and purity, which most likely relates to her age. An orange tree is in the background. The tree were expensive in European colonies and the tree reinforces her family’s wealth.
Grace’s true identity may never be discovered but she has captured our imagination.