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Beadwork basket

Replete with exotic flora and fauna and a fashionable couple centre-stage, this spectacular beadwork basket may have been produced in a professional workshop and acquired as a christening or betrothal gift. Alternatively, it could have been made as a demonstration of needlework skills by an educated girl from an affluent family able to afford the glass beads imported from Venice or Amsterdam as well as the wire frame, likely purchased ready-made from a specialized retailer. Beadwork was popular in seventeenth-century England and used to enliven all manner of small-scale objects for the home, including baskets, caskets, mirror-frames, cushion-covers and pictures.

Unlike light-sensitive polychrome silks and wools, beads had the advantage of retaining their vibrant colour, as the words worked onto a beadwork panel dated 1657 proclaim: ‘natvrs flowers soon doe fade fvl long we last cavse art vs made’. Whatever its intended purpose – layette for a newborn baby’s clothes and linen, basket for the gloves or herbs traditionally distributed to guests at weddings, or decorative centrepiece for a domestic setting – this beadwork basket was clearly a treasured possession, likely passed down the female line for several generations as a cherished heirloom.