Many pragmatics from the Crown vainly endeavoured to suppress or mitigate the popular extravagance. Such was the royal letter of 1611, which forbade, among the laity, the wearing of "gold jewels with decoration or enamel in relief, or points with pearls or other stones. Smaller jewels, of the kind known as joyeles and brincos,1 were limited to a single stone, together with its pearl pendant. The jewellery of the women was exempted from these laws, though even here were certain limitations. Rings for the finger might, however, bear enamel-work, or any kind of stone. Enamel was also allowed in gold buttons and chains for the men's caps, as well as in the badges worn by the knights of the military orders.
"It is forbidden," continues this pragmatic, "to make any object of gold, silver, or other metal with work in relief, or the likeness of a person; nor shall any object be gilt, excepting drinking vessels, and the weight of these shall not exceed three marks. All other silver shall be flat and plain, without gilding; but this does not apply to objects intended for religious worship."
1 Brinco (brincar, to jump or spring). These jewels were so called from their vibrating as the wearer walked. The Balearic Islands were famous for their manufacture; and the late Marquis of Arcicollar possessed a case of valuable examples, most of which proceeded from this locality.
"All niello-work is prohibited, as are silver brasiers and buffets."1
What I may call the private jewel-work of Spain, largely retains throughout its history the characteristic lack of finish of all the Visigothic treasure found at Guarrazar. From first to last, until extinguished or absorbed by foreign influences two centuries ago, it strives to compensate in ponderous and bulky splendour for what it lacks in delicacy, elegance, and taste. It is just the jewellery we should expect to find among a military people who once upon a time possessed great riches simultaneously with little education, and who, from this and other causes, such as the strenuous opposition of the national church to pagan sentiments expressed in fleshly form, were never genuinely or profoundly art-loving. Long residence and observation in their midst induce me to affirm that as a race the Spaniards are and always have been hostile, or at least indifferent, to the arts; and that their most illustrious artists have made their power manifest and raised themselves to eminence despite the people - not, as in Italy, on the supporting shoulders of the people.
1 Suma de Leyes, 1628, p. 116 (2).
Dazzle and show monopolized, and to a great extent monopolize still, the preference of this race. The Spanish breast-ornaments of the seventeenth century, preserved at South Kensington and reproduced by Riano on pages 37 and 39 of his handbook, are strongly reminiscent of the Visioothic ornaments. Who would imagine that a thousand years had come and gone between the execution of the new and of the old? As late as the reign of Charles the Second the culture of a Spanish lady of high birth was little, if at all, superior to a savage's. "False stones enchant them," wrote Countess d'Aulnoy. "Although they possess many jewels of considerable value and the finest quality, it is their whim to carry on their person wretched bits of glass cut in the coarsest fashion, just like those which pedlars in my country sell to country girls who have seen nobody but the village curate, and nothing but their flocks of sheep. Dames of the aristocracy adorn themselves with these pieces of glass, that arc worth nothing at all; yet they purchase them at high prices. When I asked them why they like false diamonds, they told me they prefer them to the genuine as being larger. Indeed, they sometimes wear them of the bigness of an egg." Even where the stones were real, the Spanish taste in setting and in wearing them was no less execrable. The Countess says: "the ladies here possess great stores of beautiful precious stones, and do not wear, like Frenchwomen, a single article of jewellery, but nine or ten together, some of diamonds, others of rubies, pearls, emeralds, and turquoises, wretchedly mounted, since they are almost wholly covered with the gold. When I inquired the cause of this, they told me the jewels were so made because the gold was as beautiful as the gems. I suppose, however, the real reason is the backwardness of the craftsmen, who can do no better work than this, excepting Verbec, who has no lack of skill, and would turn out excellent jewels if he took the trouble to finish them."
"In the neck of their bodices the ladies fasten pins profusely set with precious stones. Hanging from the pin, and fastened at the lower end to the side of their dress, is a string of pearls or diamonds. They wear no necklace, but bracelets on their wrists and ring's on their fingers, as well as long earrings of so great a weight that I know not how they can support them. Hanging from these earrings they display whatever finery they may fancy. I have seen some ladies who wore good-sized watches hanging from their ears, strings of precious stones, English keys of dainty make, and little bells. They also wear the agnus, together with little images about their neck and arms, or in their hair. They dress their hair in various ways, and always go with it uncovered, using many hairpins in the form of coloured flies or butterflies of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies."
Book-worm authorities, addicted to "dry bones" of letters, are prone just now to doubt this visit of Countess d'Aulnoy to the capital of Spain. But if such patient doubters will compare her narrative with those of other foreigners, e.g. Bertaut de Rouen, or the manuscript description of Valladolid, written by a Portuguese, and now in the British Museum library, their scepticism will - or should - be done away with on the moment. The letters of the countess make it plain by copious inner testimony that she actually performed her Spanish visit; and though from time to time she over-colours or misreads the truth, it was the very usages of Spain that were absurd and out of joint, and not, except in isolated instances, the sprightly and observant Frenchwoman's account of them.1