17 June, 2009

Spindles and Distaffs in Jean Antoine Laurent's Painting The Three Sisters

Found some spindles and distaffs depicted in Jean Antoine Laurent's The Three Sisters: Finette, Babillarde, and Nonchalante in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts collection.

On the table is a glass distaff and possibly a spindle behind it.

Another distaff, this one with fibre arranged on it as for flax. On the floor is a glass spindle with shiny golden thread wound on it, possibly flax.

I have no idea if glass spindles and distaffs have ever been used much for spinning.

The plaque that explains the painting makes me think that the choice of glass material was for effect rather than any accurate historical depiction of the spinning process.

The scene, according to the VMFA, was painted in 1824 after a 17th century story that was set during the Crusades. The painting shows three daughters, and each girl's glass distaff was supposed to break if she was dishonoured while their father was away at war.

1 comment:

  1. Glass distaffs WERE used in Tuscany in Etruscan and Roman times; quite a few have been found. One or more in Getty Villa (LA), Nicholson Museum (Sydney). Usually they have a spiral groove, and a loop at the end to anchor it on your little finger so you don't drop it. (Thus anchored, it can't be a spindle, as it is often called.)


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