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October 25, 2013


Just throwing this out there, but it might make a difference that Autissier's miniatures were painted on ivory rather than canvas.

Those earlier time periods were not noted for how often people took baths; perfumes and powders attempted to hide body odor, and the powder in hair got into clothing and jewels. I would not be at all surprised if the diamonds in earlier portraits looked dark because there was dirt in the backs of the settings.

We are used to open settings that allow light in. Not all of those settings were open to the same degree to allow light into the sides and back of a stone. Also -- gem cutters control the refraction of light within a stone. The sort of faceting we are used to began to be used (as I have been told) during Louis XIV, and was not done with as great a skill as is used nowadays, or as great an amount of precision. Without the mathematical precision that is used to make light refract properly for sparkle, it's not surprising that diamonds would be painted as dark.


What one would usually expect would be that painters would experiment with different underpaintings, to get the kind of effect Autissier got on ivory. This modern oil painting lesson, for instance, recommends using thick white underpainting for diamonds. Ze considers painting pearls to be much more difficult (and interesting) -- and it has been a necessary skill for painters to the European upper classes for centuries.

What is immediately striking, if you compare 19th/20th century to earlier diamond depictions, is that in the modern paintings diamonds seem to be underpainted with white. In the earlier works the underpainting looks dark or very dark -- which makes me wonder if it was a shiny, silver-based pigment that has tarnished.


Your argument is basically that diamonds looked dark to people at the time, right? Earlier in The Essence of Style, DeJean quotes a contemporary who said of one of Louis XIV's early diamond-studded outfits that the King "appeared to be surrounded by light".

Also, there are images like e.g. this picture of Catherine the Great, surrounded by diamonds.

Although, hmm, there may be something to what you say. Here's a picture of the Russian Imperial Crown, which is in the Catherine the Great picture, and the diamonds *do* look rather dark and dirty.

In support of fiddler's argument:

Here is a painting of Catherine the Great with many of the Russian state regalia.

Here is what many of the items look like now.

i suspect that the settings and cut of the diamonds in the older portraits were such that the stones simply didn't have the sparkle that later stones did.

the so-called "brilliant" cut wasn't introduced until the mid-17th C, so anything older was probably a "mine" or "rose" cut: cuts which do not enhance the internal reflections the way the brilliant cut does. so, they'll end up looking far duller (and will let more of their backing show - which was probably silver). and the cuts that we're familiar with today, which really bring out the sparkle, didn't come into widespread use until the 19th C (better machining, better science, better tools).

in other words: painters painted diamonds that way because that's how most diamonds cut and set before the 1800s looked.

Diamonds are traditionally costly partly because they were once rare and hard to obtain.

So maybe these folks weren't wearing many diamonds because they didn't have many.

Now that we know about kimberlite pipes, and have found many of them, diamonds are no longer rare. This is so much the case that a cartel has long attempted, and fairly successfully, to buy the entire production in an effort control the supply.

I guess my point is that in the old days, and for some N, even a king could amass only N carats of good diamonds, because that's all that were known to exist. Now, the supply available to a sufficiently wealthy person is effectively infinite.

Human Rights Watch report on some drone strikes in Yemen--


Amnesty International on drone strikes in Pakistan--


AI documents (I haven't read the report, just the summary) a "rescuer" attack, where people who ran to help the victims of a previous strike were themselves attacked.

And on the gossipy level, a very admiring portrait of Glenn Greenwald. ( I tend to agree with GG--if you have the talent, you should be a gadfly. He says it in a somewhat more colorful, not suitable for ObiWi way.)


And now back to serious links. Henry Farrell from the Crooked Timber blog and someone else (forgot the name) write about how Manning and Snowden are making America's long reliance on hypocrisy as a foreign policy tool a less viable option.

The article is behind a firewall at Foreign Affairs, but Farrell supplied this bypass which he says should work for a few weeks--


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