Clearer than Crystal (continued)

When portrait diamonds are used, according to the 2011 book Portrait Jewels by Diana Scarisbrick, a jewelry historian who has collaborated on several projects and books with Benjamin, “reflections from the facets… light up the portrait; the highly polished limpid surface lets the portrait shine through with far more éclat than crystal and also draws the eye towards it. Only the very clearest stones could obtain this magical effect.”

Benjamin’s collection of bejeweled portraits is the “nucleus” of the 2011 book Portrait Jewels (Thames and Hudson), and he played a role in the current Walters exhibit. The museum’s director, Julia Marciari-Alexander, describes him in the catalog as a friend and supporter “whose research brought to light the remarkable story of how Alexandre Polovtsoff – Russian diplomat, ethnographer and collector with ancestral and political ties to the nation’s ruling dynasty – facilitated the acquisition of many of the treasures now in the Walters collection.”

If you’re near the Baltimore/Washington area before June 24, go and swoon. The objects include two of the Imperial Easter eggs – part jewel, part intricate sculpture – created by the famous atelier of Peter Carl Fabergé, as well as the stunning necklace. Benjamin says the girls’ faces are “a most haunting and beautiful jeweled memoir” from, of course, a one percent that was overthrown. (The girls were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.) Benjamin attended the opening with Bob Gray, whose legal advice and wisdom, he says, have helped him over the years with everything “from collecting to exhibiting at the Walters.”

Click here to comment and see all comments on this issue.

Back to Yale62.org