The Paradox of Pearls: Accessorizing Identities in the Eighteenth Century

(860) 677-2140
Friday, September 27, 2024 - 8:30am to Friday, January 31, 2025 - 4:30pm
Lewis Walpole Library
154 Main Street
Farmington, CT 06032

Pearls figure prominently in pictures of celebrated and imagined figures across the eighteenth century. Adorning royalty, celebrities, servants, and in fashion plates, the mysterious, opaque, and gleaming white accessory aligns with the mutable, seductive, and threatening emergence of new forms of identity. Worn as jewelry, as embellishments to the body and dress, or embedded in the settings of precious objects – pearls accessorize, highlight, colonize, and perform. As one of the most sought-after commodities of the early modern colonial enterprise, a precious jewel tied to bondage and violence, pearls have a baroque and complex history. Drawing from materials in the Lewis Walpole Library this exhibition will explore the “paradox of pearls” by considering how the varied and often contradictory meanings of this jewel appear in period images and the ways in which practices from the past connect us to the powerful presence of pearls today.

Curated by Laura Engel, Professor, Duquesne University