A silver girdle

Peter de Montag, Frankfurt, circa 1650

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A silver girdle

A silver girdle, shaped from twisted mail, a closing buckle and a ring to which flat ornaments are attached, on each of which is a winged female nude reclining.

The hook on the right hand side could have been used to hang the household keys or a purse, pair of scissors or other small personal items. Similar examples have been found in collections around northern Europe, hence emphasising that it was a common item in the dress of relatively wealthy women. Often they were imported from Flemish émigré centres of goldsmithing in Germany, such as Frankfurt am Main.

In the early-17th century silver belts must have been a regular component of Dutch households; quite a few are mentioned in probate inventories, lottery prize lists and other sources. At first site hardly any of these girdles are still extant, hence making it difficult to give a visual expression of the use. In ratio to the number of entries, silver girdles are only rarely depicted in the portraiture of the time, which is unfortunate since portraits could tell us something about the way these girdles were worn and used. A portrait of Johanna Lemaire (attributed to Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inventory n° SKA-4957) gives us some idea: she wears a type made of large links, held together by a tripartite connecting piece suspending a loose end of the chain over her pregnant belly. A similar piece in terms of structure in the Rijksmuseum is linked to southern Germany but could have been manufactured in the Low Countries as well. The fact that the marks are missing can then be explained: in the Dutch goldsmith centres the making of chains was an independent specialty, of which the production was not marked according to the regulations. The links were often too small to be marked and if the marks would only be struck in the pieces or the buckle the impression could rise that the alloy would be guaranteed by the silversmith.

Not all girdles that are described in various written sources were made in the Netherlands; a lot of such pieces were imported from other countries such as Flanders and Germany. From the early 1620 the checks on importations increased. As of October 1621 Dutch cities imposed a further rule for imported girdles and other small objects that had to be tested for content by the local guild before being sold. Middleburg immediately took over the ruling of the States of Holland and added silver from Bruges, Antwerp and other southern Netherlandish towns to the list. Leiden took on the measures of Middleburg in 1630, hence proving that the importation of this type of work was just as important to the Dutch smithery as all that could be made locally.

The combination of own product and import is a constant and characteristic element for the history of Dutch metalwork. Girdles of which, thanks to the marks, we know they were made around 1600 in Dutch cities by groups of Flemish immigrants, who worked in Cologne and Frankfurt am Main, are just as important for image of the production in the Netherlands because they give a visual impression of the type of work that was imported.

Girdle, Anonymus master, Frankfurt circa 1640, Rijksmuseum inv. no. BK-2017-7

Thanks to a gift by the Rembrandt Association a later example made in Frankfurt could be added to its collection (inventory n° BK-2017-7). Together they give a good idea of the production during the first decades of the 17th century. Although manufactured in different cities and dates, they are nearly identical, hence emphasising they were clearly manufactured in series. It also indicates that during that time an international network was extant and the place of the Dutch silversmiths within it: they commissioned such objects to production centres where labour was cheaper than in the Netherlands.



Private collection, The Netherlands

Peter de Montag, Frankfurt, circa 1650

Length 97,5 cm.

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