A large and handsome Art Nouveau faux tortoiseshell hair comb as a figural butterfly
CONDITION: there are some minor nibbles otherwise good vintage condition
SIZE: 7 ins h x 6 ins w (18 x 15 cm) decorative part 4 ins h (10 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1890s – 1900s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell
Here is a very beautiful and spectacular faux tortoiseshell hair comb showing obvious Art Nouveau influence in the use of the figural butterfly motif. Winged creatures of all kinds, but particularly butterflies and dragonflies, were much beloved by the Art Nouveau jewellers.
Here we have the insect delineated in outline within the material, which is not otherwise embellished. The antennae, body and wings of the creature are finely cut out.
This type of ornament is often known as Spanish or mantilla comb because it resembles a smaller version of the traditional large shell ornaments worn by Spanish ladies with their native dress. In practice any comb which has a high upstanding heading or top which stands proud of the top of the head is often called a mantilla comb.
The collage photograph shows several illustrations taken from contemporary sources and depicts similar winged ornaments and how they were placed in the hair styles of the day. Butterflies, moths, dragonflies and all kinds of winged creatures were much loved by the Art Nouveau jewellers and proved a rich source of inspiration. We find these motifs appearing on personal ornaments of all kinds. Those in hair ornaments are some of the most beautiful and imaginative.
The first Art Nouveau ornaments were hand made and carved from clarified horn. These were very expensive and were quickly followed by mass produced versions made in celluloid and synthetic materials for the popular market. A whole class of popular jewellery was mass produced which reproduced the typical motifs of the genre, but was produced by machine.
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