Fancy a little Brownian bling?

27.01.2017 | category: General
Carnelian intaglio bracelet featuring a portrait of Capability Brown Image ©Trustees of the British Museum.​
Carnelian intaglio bracelet featuring a portrait of Capability Brown Image ©Trustees of the British Museum.​

The image above is the fabulous carnelian intaglio of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, engraved by Edward Burch before 1771, currently on display at the British Museum. Carving intaglio portraits into precious and semi precious stones dates back to Classical antiquity, and these small but precious images have been highly prized down the ages. Many intaglios were brought back to Britain by wealthy young men on the Grand Tour and set in jewellery, for both men and women. It then became fashionable to commission contemporary artists to engrave your own likeness into stones such as carnelian. These were often given as gifts to family or friends. This exquisite example of an intaglio carnelian featuring Capability Brown is set in a much later gold bracelet, dating from the late 19th century.

The engraver, Edward Burch, took the image from the portrait of Brown by Nathaniel Dance of c.1769, now held by the National Gallery in London. In his catalogue, Burch describes the item as 'Mr Browne, Gardener to His Majesty, Cornelian. Intaglio. Henry Holland Esq [the owner] From a picture by Nathaniel Dance, Esq R.A.' 

The intaglio was produced for Henry Holland, who married Bridget Brown, eldest daughter of Lancelot "Capability" and Bridget Brown in 1773, after the likely production date of the intaglio. Henry Holland Jnr. was also business partner of Brown and the families seem to have been close, as Brown died at the Holland's house in 1783.

The bracelet was donated to the British Museum in 2002 by Rosalind Bleach and Melanie Musman in memory of their mother, Mrs. Chloe Musman, nee Holland, a direct descendant of Brown through Bridget and Henry Holland.

This little gem was displayed in 2011 at Compton Verney, in Warwickshire, as part of the 'Capability Brown and the Landscapes of Middle England' exhibition. However if you fancy a treasure-hunting jaunt, the carnelian intaglio ​is on display now at the British Museum, Room 47 (Europe 1800–1900).