John Michael Wright’s Pearl Necklace

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John Michael Wright was a baroque portrait painter. Born in London in 1617, he was trained in Scotland by painter George Jamesone and went on to spend much of his career in Rome, Italy. He was admitted to the Accademia di San Luca (Academy of Saint Luke), an association of artists in Rome. It was there he really made a name for himself, rubbing elbows with some of the leading artists of the time.  He returned to England in 1656 and became the go-to portrait painter for the rich and noble.

Reviewing his art, especially his English portraits, there is one theme that repeats itself. The Pearl Necklace! Mr. Wright paints a majority of his subjects in a choker style pearl necklace. Did he possess this necklace and ask his subjects to wear it or did he just add it to the portraits? I would love to know the story behind John Michael Wright’s pearl necklace. Take a look at the many women wearing this necklace.

John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-Unknown-Woman-c-1660
Unknown-Woman (c) National Trust, Blickling Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-or-after-him-Elizabeth-Washington-Lady-Ferrers-as-Minerva
Elizabeth Washington Lady Ferrers as Minerva (c) National Trust, Sudbury Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-attributed-to...-Lady-Anne-Bruce-Daughter-of-2nd-Earl-of-Elgin-Robert-Bruce
Lady Anne Bruce Daughter of 2nd Earl of Elgin Robert Bruce (c) Historic Scotland, Edinburgh; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-after-his-style...-Mary-Wilbraham-Countess-Bradford-c-1673-77
Mary Wilbraham Countess Bradford; National Trust; (c) Chirk Castle; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-Mrs-Edward-Onley
Mrs Edward Onley (c) National Trust, Sudbury Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John Michael Wright (British artist, 1617-1694) Miss Butterworth of Belfield Hall 1650-70
Miss Butterworth of Belfield Hall (c) Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John Michael Wright (British artist, 1617-1694) Miss Butterworth of Belfield Hall 1650-70 2
Miss Butterworth of Belfield Hall (c) Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-Mary-Spencer-Lady-Arundell-of-Wardour-1662-65
Mary Spencer Lady Arundell of Wardour; (c) Trerice; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-Mary-Scrope-the-Honourable-Mrs-Henry-Arundell
Mary Scrope the Honourable Mrs Henry Arundell; (c) Trerice; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-Mary-Bagot-Countess-of-Dorset
Mary Bagot Countess of Dorset (c) The Holburne Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-Margaret-Onley-Mrs-George-Vernon
Margaret Onley Mrs George Vernon(c) National Trust, Sudbury Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John Michael Wright (British artist, 1617-1694) Magdalen Aston, Lady Burdett 1669
Magdalen Aston, Lady Burdett (c) Nottingham City Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-Johanna-St-John-Wife-of-Sir-Walter-St-John-3rd
Johanna St John Wife of Sir Walter St John 3rd(c) Lydiard House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-Francisca-Posthuma-Legh-Lady-Richard-Brooke
Francisca Posthuma Legh Lady Richard Brooke (c) National Trust, Lyme Park; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John Michael Wright (British artist, 1617-1694) Elizabeth Claypole, nee Cromwell c 1658
Elizabeth Claypole (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John-Michael-Wright-British-artist-1617-1694-copy-of...-Grace-Wilbraham-Countess-of-Dysart
Grace-Wilbraham-Countess-of-Dysart; National Trust; (c) Chirk Castle; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John Michael Wright (British artist, 1617-1694) Barbara Palmer, nee Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland 1670
Barbara Palmer, nee Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland 1670 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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2 Replies to “John Michael Wright’s Pearl Necklace”

  1. To be honest, the pearl necklace was a de rigeur piece of jewellery in fashionable Restoration England, so I would say that all of Wright’s ladies possessed such a piece. Note also how in the portraits of the early 1660s, the sitters nearly all have pearls wired into their hairstyles.

    1. De rigueur, I have had fun googling that one! Per m-w, necessary if you want to be fashionable, popular, socially acceptable, etc. I think pearls should always be de rigueur but maybe, just maybe, I am biased! 🙂 I love pearls in the hair too but I still cannot imagine that each of these women had their own natural pearl necklace. Clearly they must have all been from rich families but were pearls even accessible enough to be available to all of these women? I wonder…

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