The Lace used in Three Pearls and A Fine Thread

written by Sophie | Sophie’s Studio

My painting Three Pearls went to a new home recently. I am very pleased that a wonderful couple has purchased this painting to hang in their beautiful historic home. They asked if I could tell them a little bit about the lace used in the painting. I used the same piece of lace for my painting  A Fine Thread which is part of my BP Travel Award series. Below I tell you a bit more about this beautiful piece of fabric.

Sophie Ploeg, Three Pearls, oil on linen, 50x80cm

The Lace I used for this painting is a stunning Flemish bobbin lace from around 1640 (more about early lace in this article). A very generous lace  dealer lent it to me so I could use it in my work. Antique lace is expensive to purchase so I am very grateful to this lace dealer for allowing me access to pieces this old and refined. I used the same piece of lace in the painting A Fine Thread, a portrait inspired by 17th century Dutch portraiture. This portrait is part of the BP Travel Award series which focusses on the dynamic between 17th century and contemporary portraits.  I draped the lace on my model, who was wearing her own 21st century clothes. It looked surprisingly natural for her to wear a piece of lace so old. Perhaps taste and beauty does not change so much after all over the centuries. ​

A Fine Thread, Oil on linen, 60x50cm. Available.

The lace is very fine and thin, showing the patterns so popular in the Netherlands at the time. This type of lace is regularly seen in portraiture of the time. See for example the portrait of Maria van Strijp by Johannes Verspronck, or the portrait of an anonymous young lady by Isaack Luttichuys and the portrait of a woman by Van der Vliet, all at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

White bobbin lace was initially associated with domestic linen, such as shirts, caps, sheets and pillow cases. In the last quarter of the 16th century we start to see fine white bobbin lace as a trim on cutwork lace (combining bobbin lace and cutwork needle lace in one piece). It became a cheaper alternative to needle lace and its popularity spread. Soon bobbin lace could imitate the intricate designs of needle lace perfectly. From here the denser and famous Flemish bobbin laces of the second quarter of the 17th century were to develop.

Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of Charles I in Three Positions. Royal Collection. 1635-36 The lace collar clearly shows the fashionable scallop design.
Detail of Johannes Verspronck’s Girl in Blue, Rijksmuseum. 1641. This detail shows the scalloped bobbin lace very clearly.

After the ruff lost is appeal and ‘falling bands’ (flat collars, such as in Charles I’s triple portrait above) gained in popularity,  bobbin lace scallops became more rounded as well.  The scallops slowly flattened and by the 1640s a straight edge was favoured.  The fashion for straight and flat collars, such as in the image by Luttichuys below showed off the patterns perfectly. The patterns had become less figurative and more free-flowing sprigs, flowers and twigs.

Portrait of a Young Lady, Isaack Luttichuys, 1656 oil on canvas, h 99cm × w 82cm

These bobbin laces were a part lace (it was made in bits and put together) and the patterns were very dense. The patterns opened up in the later 17th century, which meant they could more easily be produced in pieces and made into large items. A mesh would help in this method as pieces of lace could be sewn together without disrupting the pattern. The development of a mesh started in the mid 17th century by Flemish lace makers. The lace I used for my painting shows this development very well in that it clearly shows an irregular use of a mesh. In time the mesh areas used in lace were to become larger more regular.

This straight piece of lace without any scallops was probably made in Belgium but the floral symmetrical pattern became very popular in Holland and therefore it is often called Dutch lace. In this lace we see an early use of a mesh, still very dense and a little irregular. A mesh would develop further in the later 17th century when more open patterns became fashionable. the flower pattern reminds us of the lush flower arrangements seen in Dutch still lives.

Published: January 12, 2016

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