Appleby-in-Westmorland's Girl with a Pearl Earring, Lady Anne Clifford.

 
By Oliver Swann, Editor      
   
 
 

Long before Johannes Vermeer painted 'The Girl with the Pearl Earring' in 1665, William Larkin had painted the young Anne Clifford.

When Lady Anne Clifford sat for Larkin's portrait in 1618 she wrote in her diary,

"The colour of mine eyes were black, like my father, and the form and aspect of them was quick and lively, like my motherís; the hair of my head was brown and very thick, and so long that it reached to the calf of my legs when I stood upright"

What she didn't describe that day was her outfit. Compared to her then flamboyant husband Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset , Anne dressed modestly, and yet with a discrete luxury.

Pictured here she wears a green over-gown laden in gold and silver embroidery over a plain white silk bodice. A drop pearl earring hangs from her ear by a black silk thread. A second silk thread around her neck probably holds a ring close to her heart hidden safely in the décolletage of her bodice.

Decorating the edges of the bodice and ruff is a saffron dyed reticella lace. Saffron lace was especially fashionable but the starched ruff it decorated had become notorious.

Just a few years before the portrait was painted, the Countess of Somerset, with help from the beautiful femme fatale, Anne Turner, was found guilty of the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury.

Anne Turner was an intriguing, if somewhat shady business woman who owned a lucrative monopoly for the supply of a saffron based starch; a valuable commodity used for colouring and stiffening collars and ruffs.

The saffron starched ruff had become such a divisive fashion statement that James I presided over many attempts to control its sale and production; a process that literally ate into England's supply of wheat to feed its people.

  Appleby-in-Westmorland's Lady Anne Clifford