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