For the Outlander television series, costume designer Terry Dresbach created an ensemble for Geillis Duncan that included a brooch containing Bonnie Prince Charlie’s eye as a secret sign of her political allegiance to the Jacobite cause. As Dresbach explains it, “Geillis traveled back in time to help Prince Charlie in his bid for the throne, an act of extraordinary commitment. A kind of patriotic love.”

“Hand With Pearls and Lover’s Eyes” 7x5 inches, oil on panel © Fatima Ronquillo, 2017
“Hand With Pearls and Lover’s Eyes”
7×5 inches, oil on panel
© Fatima Ronquillo, 2017

Dresbach says she’s long been obsessed with lover’s eye jewelry, a fad that started in the late 1700s when nobles would signal their untoward passion for a secret lover by wearing their eye in ornamental fashion. “Lover’s eye jewelry is quite remarkable,” Dresbach says. “It seemed appropriate that Geillis would choose to wear a piece with the eye of her beloved. We made it oversized, because being a time traveler, Geillis can break the norms, and because we wanted it to be seen by viewers as a clue.”

What a gorgeous way to be subversive—and ultra stylish! These miniatures were normally watercolors on ivory, framed in some gem-laden manner, and worn as brooches, bracelets, necklaces, or rings.

Top: Portrait of a Right Eye. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Joseph Carson, Hope Carson Randolph, John B. Carson, and Anna Hampton Carson in memory of their mother, Mrs. Hampton L. Carson, 1935-17-10 Center: Portrait of a Woman’s Left Eye. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Charles Francis Griffith in memory of Dr. L. Webster Fox, 1936-6-13 Bottom: Portrait of Sarah Best’s Right Eye. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Joseph Carson, Hope Carson Randolph, John B. Carson, and Anna Hampton Carson in memory of their mother, Mrs. Hampton L. Carson, 1935-17-11
Top: Portrait of a Right Eye. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Joseph Carson, Hope Carson Randolph, John B. Carson, and Anna Hampton Carson in memory of their mother, Mrs. Hampton L. Carson, 1935-17-10 Right: Courtesy Terry Dresbach Center: Portrait of a Woman’s Left Eye. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Charles Francis Griffith in memory of Dr. L. Webster Fox, 1936-6-13 Bottom: Portrait of Sarah Best’s Right Eye. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Joseph Carson, Hope Carson Randolph, John B. Carson, and Anna Hampton Carson in memory of their mother, Mrs. Hampton L. Carson, 1935-17-11

It was the Prince of Wales, or the future George IV (1762–1830), who most popularized the trend after falling—illegally—for the Catholic Maria Fitzherbert, whom he wooed in part by commissioning British miniaturist Richard Cosway to paint a portrait of his eye and sending it to her in the post. We’re sure this was not creepy at all. She responded with portraits of her own eyes, and a wedding soon followed—how could it not? Shockingly, it did not last. Still, the trend took fire, and eyeballs galore sparkled from the wrists and fingers of any number of lovelorn gentlefolk until well into the 1830s.

Article from the Outlander Issue #44 Autumn 2018 Subscribe

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here