Thursday, February 13, 2014

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Jeweled Miniature of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 1812

The Duchess of Devonshire
Hone, 1812
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (born Georgiana Spencer, 1757-1806) was the toast of English Society in the late Seventeenth Century. Her marriage to an older man, William Cavendish, the Duke of Devonshire, proved to be a disappointment and despite a home life filled infidelity and treachery, Georgiana managed to become one of the most important female social, fashion and political figures of her day. An ancestor of both the late Diana, Princess of Wales (the one-time Lady Diana Spencer) and the Duchess of York (Sarah Ferguson--who is descended from Georgiana’s illegitimate daughter), the Duchess of Devonshire was heralded for her beauty as well as her intellect.

This jeweled miniature of the Duchess of Devonshire is the work of Horace Hone who based this enamel on copper painting on an earlier portrait of Georgiana with her good friend Lady Elizabeth Foster who was also the Duke of Devonshire’s longtime live-in mistress and mother of a couple of illegitimate boys. Hone’s painting was completed six years after Georgiana’s death and was likely meant as a memorial piece to be given to a close friend or family member. The oval portrait miniature shows the Duchess of Devonshire in a blue and white dress. She wears a blonde wig—one of the many fine wigs for which Georgiana was famous. The oval gold rim frame is set with diamonds. Today, the piece is part of the Gilbert Collection at the V&A and still retains its original presentation case.

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