High Art, High Jewels

Taking an art historical lens to the world’s greatest diamonds.

By Jonquil O'Reilly

June 30, 2016

LONDON – Sotheby’s Diamonds celebrated the opening of the new London Salon and its contemporary collection of modern diamond masterpieces by commissioning a set of photographs by renowned photographer, Erik Madigan Heck. Approaching photography with the same eye as high art, Heck captures the essence of the great masters by using his camera as a paint brush – celebrating the jewels and the art that inspired them. Here, Jonquil O’Reilly, Sotheby’s specialist in Old Master Paintings and writer of The Costumist blog, traces the influence of art in Heck’s photographs.

SOTHEBY’S DIAMONDS DEW DROP EARRINGS

 

“This striking profile format reminds me of Renaissance portraits by artists like Piero della Francesca and Domenico Ghirlandaio, but I think it’s particularly the sculptural hair here that makes me think of Antonio Pollaiuolo’s portrait of an unidentified young lady.”

PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG LADY, ANTONIO POLLAIUOLO, CIRCA 1470, MUSEO POLDI POZZOLI, MILAN

 

“There is nothing to distract the viewer, the background is plain, and it’s all about the likeness of the sitter and highlighting the opulence of her clothing and jewels.”

SOTHEBY’S DIAMONDS ARC RING

 

“It’s hard not to compare this image to Frederick Leighton’s Flaming June from 1895. I love the way the fabric seems to almost radiate from the model and take on a twisting, rippling life of its own.”

FLAMING JUNE, FREDERICK LEIGHTON, 1895, MUSEO DE ARTE DE PONCE, PUERTO RICO

 

“It’s not just the drapery though, like Leighton’s picture, the photograph has quite strong Classical allusions and there’s something about the model’s pose, with crooked elbows and lazy hand gestures that unmistakably emulates that of June.”

SOTHEBY’S DIAMONDS LATTICE EARRINGS

 

“With its off-the-shoulder red crimson drapery, this image instantly brought to mind Titian’s Venus with a Mirror, from around 1555.”

VENUS WITH A MIRROR, TITIAN, 1555, NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON DC

 

“The photograph harks back to mid-16th century Venetian luxury and portraits of courtesans and lovers, draped lazily in opulent fabrics and essentially dressed in nothing but jewels.”

SOTHEBY’S DIAMONDS BOULE EARRINGS

 

“Francois Boucher’s portrait of Madame de Pompadour of 1756 came straight to mind when I saw this photograph. The way the figure looks off to the side, reclining in a setting that feels intimate but simultaneously rather public and staged.”

MADAME DE POMPADOUR, FRANCOIS BOUCHER, 1756, THE WALLACE COLLECTION, LONDON

 

“The cool palate against the model’s pale skin, the drapery in the background, punctuated with a dark, golden yellow all recall the portrait of the king’s mistress and confidant. The excess fabric draped across the bed and the manner in which it’s arranged in ripples and folds reminds me of Madame de Pompadour’s vast, ruffled skirts. All the contemporary model needs is a lapdog, some roses and a hell of a lot more powder!”

Exceptional diamonds take centre stage in dramatic jewels of ravishing refinement, exquisite details, breath-taking craftsmanship, and a touch of extravagance in Sotheby’s Diamonds Unique Creations.  Jewels to celebrate the essence, life and light of the divine diamond, to encapsulate the spirit of the rare and wondrous masterpiece.

SOTHEBY’S DIAMONDS LATTICE EARRINGS

 

 

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