Late Renaissance Ribbon Earrings

Truth be told, one could argue that this is not a style of jewelry, but more likely an embellishment applied to an existing piece of jewelry. Ribbon earrings begin appearing in portraits roughly around the 1550’s, and I think it’s safe to infer that these were not permanent alterations. I suggest this because it appears the ribbon tied to the earrings are often the same color used to tape the sitter’s hair. I also think it would be silly to use the same ribbon all the time given that it could easily be untied and swapped with different color.  That said, I want something more permanent to wear given that I don’t want to be shedding ribbons all day, so I cheated a bit.


Let’s talk about renaissance earrings here for a moment, since this is the base upon my ribbons will be tied. One thing that is immediately apparent when browsing ladies portraits from the time is that the upper-class loved pearls. Sometimes you see enameled gold, intricate metalwork and gemstones, but in most cases drop pearls were the way to go. It’s also important to note that you don’t really see post earrings yet. Nearly all earrings from this period (from what I’ve seen in portraiture) are dangles which were mounted from a gold hoop. Because of this fact, I was fairly picky about my choice of jewelry hardware. I was lucky enough to find a set of ring-shaped earring findings off of Etsy and I think they make reasonable imitations.

I’m also partial to the look and natural beauty of real pearls, so I also picked up a strand of “potato” freshwater pearls as well. I chose to wire mount these and as you can see they look very different from the glass pearl pieces I already had in my collection. The freshwater pearls are not perfect (far from it) but the glass pearls just look fake to me and if you look at extant pearl jewelry you will notice they didn’t really expect their pearls to be perfect tear drops either. I, for one, think their irregularity is part of their charm. (See the image of the 16th century pendant I took at the MET below)

Anyway, I decided to make two pairs, one with a little gold accent bead, and a simple one like Judith is wearing in the Caravaggio painting shown previously. With my drop pearls mounted and set aside, I cut about 10″ of ribbon for each bow. I double square knotted each to a piece of wire and then carefully tied a pretty bow-tie. As I said, I don’t want these ribbons coming untied, so I sprayed them with fabric stiffener and let them sit for about an hour. For good measure, I put a stitch or two of thread through the knots to further secure my ribbons in place. Once the bows we’re dry, I just linked the hardware and pieced my earrings together.

And there you have it! Fabulous ribbon-adorned renaissance earrings, just like in the paintings!



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