A Lost Inheritance

Art history/ Historiography, Crafts, Handlooms, Art, Endangered

A Lost Inheritance: Jewel Beetle Wing Embroidery

Sethi, Dr. Ritu

The ‘best dressed woman in the world’ on the occasion of ‘the grandest spectacle in history, ’ bedazzled kings and princes alike in a fabulous gown of gold that in peacock patterning, each feather illuminated with  an iridescent emerald-green jewel-beetle wing casing. The occasion – the Delhi Durbar held   to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandria as Emperor and Empress of India; the invitees – Rajas and Maharajas; the event - the coronation ball; the host – Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India; the hostess – Baroness Curzon, Vicereine, who glittered in what came to be known as the peacock gown; and the date – a little more than a century ago. The legend of the extravagant Peacock gown  spread far, the  blue-green Jewel beetle wing casings reflecting light like faceted gems having been mistaken for emeralds. Justly renowned as an opulent accoutrement used to embellish luxury textiles, the elytra (the hard casing covering the wings and not the wings themselves) of the  jewel beetles or buprestidae  were valued as one of the important commercial and economic products of India.  Lightweight, surprisingly tough and hard-wearing, they retained their luminous colour for over a century. This is apparent from museum pieces in India and the famed ‘Peacock gown ‘now on permanent display at the National Trust in the UK - they were the ultimate in luxury embroidery. An 1888 publication, on the ‘Art Manufactures of India’ written by T. N. Mukerji gives us information on this ‘costly style’ and ‘expensive article’. Stating that this embroidery, m...
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