At first glance it’s hard to tell what this rare 17th century christening basket is made from but a closer look reveals hundreds of tiny glass beads.
Imported from Europe, the beads have been individually threaded onto narrow, silk covered strands of wire before being modelled into three-dimensional flower, leaf, vegetable, fruit and human motifs. It must have taken months, if not years, of eye-straining concentration.
Decorative patterns such as these became popular in the mid 17th century and specialist pattern books were used to create landscapes, fantastical gardens and biblical scenes. Portraits of royalty were also popular and many beadworks and embroideries of this date feature King Charles II and Catherine of Braganza who were married in 1662.
The lady and gentleman featured on this basket are dressed in costume typical to this period and it’s believed to have held a baby’s clothes or gifts during a christening ceremony before being kept as a memento.
Kindly donated by Lady Cornwallis, the basket is now on show at Maidstone Museum which, following a major refurbishment is well worth a visit and covers everything from tribal spears to dinosaurs!
Many thanks to Samantha Harris, the museum’s Collections Officer, for collating information for me and allowing me to take photographs within the museum.