Jewellery Box

My mother had a creamy white jewellery box when I was little. It was flat, with a small golden swan engraved on the lid. Inside, she kept old watches, necklaces, brooches and hairpins. Some were so old, they turned black. Others were a steely shade of grey, a deep bronze-brown (like blushing cheeks peeking from a dark canvas) hue crackling with age, softer shades of brown and subdued golds. The deep nutty brown of the leather in watches mixed with various shades of silver, white, yellow, black. I used to love opening this box and laying out everything in it on my parents’ bed. I would untangle the knots in necklaces and try on the watches and then walk away with a pungent smell of rust on my fingers, like the smell of blood. It wasn’t so much the jewellery itself that interested me as the array of colours. The first time I read these lines in Wordsworth’s poem, I was reminded of these colours:

I see the dark-brown curls, the brow,
The smooth transparent skin,
Refined, as with intent to show
The holiness within;
The grace of parting Infancy
By blushes yet untamed;
Age faithful to the mother’s knee,
Nor of her arms ashamed.

–William Wordsworth, “A Jewish Family (In a Small Valley Opposite St. Goar, Upon the Rhine)”, 1828.

What the poem is about and what I associate it with are two different things. But I can’t help thinking of my mother’s jewellery box whenever I read of those “dark-brown curls” and the “blushes yet untamed”.

So occasionally, I’m struck by how I try to recreate this treasure box of colours through the images I save and collect in my various computer folders. I’d like to lay a few of them out too, like all that jewellery spread on the bed:

jewellery box

jewellery box

jewellery box

jewellery box

jewellery box

jewellery box

jewellery box

jewellery box

jewellery box

Image credits (top to bottom): Portrait of a Lady by Lilla Cabot Perry, 1910; Les raboteurs de parquet by Gustave Caillebotte, 1875; Glenn Gould; Picture of a lunch time ballet audience, Arts Theatre Club, London, 1940s; Artwork by Thomas Ehretsmann; David Hallberg in the wings during the first act of The Sleeping Beauty at a dress rehearsal at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Photo: Sergei L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times; The Silver Vase by Lilla Cabot Perry, 1905; Duane Michals’ “This Photograph is My Proof”; Venetian Street by John Singer Sargent, 1880.