The Nuestra Señora de Atocha shipwreck in 1622 has been a
fascination of mine for quite some time. So much so, that the Atocha's story
and the treasure that was recovered has been the focus of my newest body of
work for well over a year. The shipwreck was found 350 years after she sank
in a hurricane off the coast of the Florida Keys and is a time capsule of
life as it was in the early 1600's. The find gave all of us in the 21st
century a window into the past.
The Atocha was a Spanish galleon that was heavily laden with gold and silver
coins and ingots, religious gold jewelry, Peruvian emeralds, tobacco,
indigo, silver plate as well as intriguing personal items. One item that
really caught my eye was a series of gold links that looked like parts of a
14th to 16th century girdle (a long gold necklace of sorts that was worn
around the waist or the shoulders). Girdles were status symbols of power and
wealth and position. Usually made of gold, they were incrusted with
gemstones and pearls. The regalia of Queens!
Regalia de las Reinas de España ©2017 by Cynthia RutledgeThe pieces found
at the Atocha wreck site seemed so familiar to me. These were not new; this
was an antique even for 1622! So, my research began to find more
documentation about girdles and more importantly who was painted wearing
them, especially of Spanish descent.
Two paintings came to mind. The first is of the Spanish Queen consort;
Isabel de Valois (1545-1568) by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz (c. 1565) and the
second was of her youngest daughter, Infanta Catalina Michaila de Austria
(1567-1597) by Alonzo Sánchez Coello (c. 1585). Isabel was Queen consort to
Phillip II of Spain and his third wife. Mother and daughter were both
painted wearing dark gowns with light colored embroidered sleeves. Both were
painting wearing pairs of aiglets (decorative ends to cording), similar
hairstyles, great hair decorations, and more importantly, girdles that look
almost exactly like the one found at the Atocha wreck site. What is unique
and interesting is that different artists painted these paintings and they
were 20 years apart.
Regalia de las Reinas de España was inspired by a combination of the two
paintings of Isabel and Catalina and of the artifacts found on the Atocha.
This design utilizes a unique peyote stitch way of bezeling CZ's to form
square bezels, even though the CZ's are not square. Pearl embellishments,
and tiny herringbone shapes cupping around single cups of cup-chain, add
intriguing elements. Three different components come together to reflect a
"girdle-like" look but in a delicate way. The components terminate into
tubular peyote stitch tubes with little bead caps, ending with two beautiful
buttons and a connector. Beautiful, elegant and fit for a Queen!