1 – đź‘‘Hark! ‘Tis time for #ThreadTalk, crown edition. đź‘‘

Yes, that ultimate statement of wealth and power, perched atop some of the most celebrated & notorious heads in history.

But why crowns? Well, let’s dig into history, privilege, & wealth to see what lurks beneath.⚜️

The crown in the Essen Cathedral Treasury, with the sapphire at front. Martin Engelbrecht, Essen, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Dating from 900-1050 AD, it is the oldest "lily crown" currently known. A stunning example of precious stones, pearl, and gold, it looks like the quintessential Western "king" crown we've come to expect.

2 – Crowns have been with us a long time, but diadems came first. And perhaps, by way of India. A diadem goes across the forehead, and can be affixed to the hair or tightened into place, rather than sitting atop the head.

This absolute stunner dates from 10th C Kashmir.

From the Met: This three-piece repoussé diadem is a rare example of early Indian jewelry. Four kinnaris—half-bird, half-female celestial celebrants—dominate the design. It was probably made in Kashmir, judging by the likeness of the kinnaris to those depicted on the ninth-century temple of Avantisvamin at Avantipur, Kashmir.

3 – Burial mounds across the world have unearthed all sorts of diadems over the centuries, some looking as if they were crafted specifically for funerary purposes, and others having been worn.

Below, from Egypt’s New Kingdom, two gazelles perch on a queen’s diadem. 15thC BC.

From the Met Museum: During her lifetime, a queen wore this delicate diadem tied over her wig. The headband not only identified her elite rank but also identified her as a woman participating in a cultic performance. Tomb depictions illustrate high-ranking women wearing similar ornaments when they took part in rituals that likely honored important goddesses like Hathor, Mut, or Sakhmet. The reason for depicting gazelles is not clear, although they are associated with the sun god, fertility, and rebirth—all subjects connected to these great goddesses. Gazelles inhabit the low desert along the edge of the Nile’s floodplain, often traveling in pairs. This habitat probably explains why these animals figure prominently in a significant myth about the goddesses that takes place in that setting. 

The Diadem six roundels like flowers, inlaid in blue, red, and white faience glass. There are two gazelles, side by side, in the middle, and then a central horn that rises up, curving.

4 – Of course, wreaths were lit, too. 🔥Like this example from the Late Classical Period (potentially made in Turkey). Buried Macedonian royalty are often found with such crowns, which were quite fashionable at the time, and now synonymous with Classical headgear. 4th C, BC.

From the MFA Boston: Gold wreath of olive leaves, in two halves joined by a Herakles knot. The leaves project from the round hollow stem by small stalks; bead-like berries are strung on fine wire which come from the same hole as leaf-stalks. The central vein is impressed on each leaf.

There was a fashion among Macedonian royalty and elite to be buried with gold foil wreaths, probably reflecting the generalized function of the wreath as an honorific.

5 – Indeed, the presence of such headgear & power is everywhere, including among the many, many coins of the Late Classical, like this Stater of Elis with Hera upon it from the MFA Boston.

For *reasons* humans have just put a diadem on it. And it works. <3 the palmettes.

From the MFA Boston: Obverse: Head of Hera, profile to right, wearing earring and diadem decorated with palmettes.
Fragmentary inscription in Greek behind.
Reverse: Eagle, standing to right, looking left, in an olive-wreath.

6 – But, sometimes, we’re not 100% sure a crown is a crown. Because context.
I’ve seen plenty of museum entries that say “crown… or belt”. And this crown, unearthed in in 1961 in Israel could be a crown… or it could be part of an urn. It dates to the Copper Age (4-3300 BC).

A copper crown or headpiece decorated with animals and shapes along the top. Part of the side is missing.

7 – Whatever the case, crowns & diadems just look awesome. There’s a certain amount of performance going on when you’re willing to put a moving target on your head with such *style*.

Or, you’re like Marciana, sister of emperor Trajan
ca. AD 130–138, who was clearly a bad bitch.

From the Met: During the last quarter of the first century A.D. and the early decades of the second century A.D., ever more complex hair arrangements were developed for the ladies of the imperial court. Hairpieces with added hair and concealed frameworks formed high diadem-like structures surrounding the face. One of the most elaborate constructions appears on the official portraits of Marciana, the elder sister of Trajan. The high polish and engraved eyes on this head suggest that it was carved during the Hadrianic period. The powerful women of Trajan’s family were much honored by his successor, Hadrian, who is said to have owed his throne to their influence. Marciana was the grandmother of Hadrian’s wife, Sabina.

8 – Royalty, of course, are most often associated with crowns. The Crown of Princess Blanche is the oldest known surviving crown of England (because, like we’ll discuss shortly, they had a habit of getting taken). This dates from 1370-80 and is so extra I can’t stand it.

Allie Caulfield, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - a delicate crown with 12 hexagonal rosettes, each topped by a lily. It is made of gold with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, enamel and pearls. Its height and diameter are both 18 centimetres (7.1 in)

9 – If you could mix royalty and religion, well, that’s when things got exciting. Holy Roman Emperors were crowned with this ostentatious baby from the 10th-18thC. It’s had quite an exciting life, having been moved around from country to country for safekeeping. Because war.

CC BY-SA 3.0 - The Front Right Plate shows Christ in Majesty between two cherubim beneath the inscription in red enamel "By me kings reign" (P[er] ME REGES REGNANT; Proverbs 8:15).[5]
The Back Right Plate shows the Prophet Isaiah standing and speaking to King Hezekiah, who is shown sitting on his bed. Isaiah holds a scroll with the words, "Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life" (II Kings 20:6). Above both Isaiah and Hezekiah are their names in red enamel (ISAIAS P[ro]PHETA · EZECHIAS REX).
The Front Left Plate shows King Solomon holding a scroll with the words, "Fear the Lord and flee from evil" (Proverbs 3:7), with his name above in red enamel "King Solomon" (REX SALOMON).
The Back Left Plate shows King David holding a scroll with the words, "The renowned king delights in doing justice" (Psalm 99:4), beneath the inscription naming him in red enamel (REX DAVID).

10 – This portrait of Charlemagne by DĂĽrer is a bit of wishful propaganda: Charlemagne died before this crown was even made.

But hey! It’s a good story, right? If I were a newbie Holy Roman Emperor (haha, that’s rich), it would be cool to share the same head space. Legacy!

Portrait of Charlemagne wearing the crown pictured above, looking askance, holding a sword and a globe and cross, wearing robes of gold and red velvet.

11 – Speaking of religion: the Catholic church just loved the imagery of crowns, going so far as making ridiculously đź’°đź’°đź’°ones for *statues*.

Or, you know, melting down indigenous works of art to make their own monstrosities. Like this one from 1660, the Crown of the Andes.

From the Met: Spaniards arriving in sixteenth-century South America encountered a rich and complex indigenous tradition of gold working that had developed over the course of millennia. Many, if not most, Precolumbian works in gold were melted down in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, their precious metal repurposed for new religious and secular leaders both in Spain and the Americas.


This crown was made to adorn a sacred image of the Virgin Mary venerated in the cathedral of Popayán (Colombia). A symbol of the Virgin’s divine queenship, the crown is encircled by golden vinework set with emerald clusters in the shape of flowers, a reference to her purity. The diadem is topped by imperial arches and a cross-bearing orb that symbolizes Christ’s dominion over the world.

Although the practice was controversial, it was common to bestow lavish gifts, including jewels and sumptuous garments, on sculptures of the Virgin Mary.

12 – Gold is terribly melty as it turns out. And people have a habit of stealing shiny things & making them their own. Because of course.

Especially the French & English. Take the crown of Louis XV originally featuring the Regent’s Diamon & Sancy diamonds “found” in India.

The crown of Louis XV. Originally featuring both the Regent and Sancy diamonds, taken from India.

13 – Along with most things royal value, most of the Crown Jewels of France were lost in the revolution. You know, because the monarchs were known for their general subtlety when it came to their wealth.

But HEY. Peep those red heels. Love it, Lou.

Louis XV in his absolute most ridiculously frilly for his coronation portrait. He is draped in ermine and blue velvet, with a familiar looking crown at his hand, a huge scepter, and high, red heels that would make Louboutin proud.

14 – Because Napoleon was well, Napoleon, he wasted no time making his own fancy head bling for his coronation. He called it…

The Crown of Charlemagne.

Okay, I think we have official anachronistic inception here. This is covered in antique cameos. Which, weird flex but okay.

A crown with high arches and a cap--yellow gold, covered in antique cameos of men and women in crowns, and a cross on the top.

15 – Alas, Napoleon’s favorite, his crown of gold leaves, was destroyed in 1819 by Louis XVIII.

Sorry dude, you got canceled. And maybe you should have? Because yo, that symbolism isn’t even subtle. Dial it down maybe a little? No? Okay. Just keep an eye on your wallpaper.

Napoleon looking off to the side, wearing his gilded crown.

16 – What is *actually* one of my favorite crowns of this period is the crown of Empress Eugenie, which still exists & lives at the Louvre. I like it because while it’s curvy, it’s not delicate. It’s… substantial. Almost kingly in comparison to Blanche’s, right? + Birbs.

Wouter Engler, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons - A crown with eagles flanking all sides, arching up toward a globe and cross. Emeralds, diamonds, and red velvet.

17 – The English. If we’re gonna talk the worst, well, we can’t mistake the fact that the Koh-i-Noor diamond, worn by the late Queen Mother (Elizabeth II’s mum).

Read this article on the significance of the Koh-i-Noor & other stolen diamonds of the age.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-koh-i-noor-diamondand-why-british-wont-give-it-back-180964660/
The royal family wearing lots of stolen jewels.

18 – TIARAS, you say? Well, they’re a fairly newer term that became popular in the 19th century, likely stemming from Classical influences. Very similar to diadems.

Empress Eugenie liked the slimmed-down approach, like this pearl-encrusted number (for my fellow June babies)

Alexandre-Gabriel Lemonnier, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons - A pearl and diamond tiara/diadem with immense pearls atop each peak.

19 – Another crown story: the Tiara of Empress Josephine was made from diamonds she was given (after her divorce from Napoleon) by Czar Alexander of Russia. It was made into a tiara in 1890 by FabergĂ©. The diamond cut is called briolette.

A lovely tiara with Gothic-like arches, dripping with diamonds.

20 – Now, Josephine did not wear the previous tiara (since she predated it) but she did wear this one. AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

It’s not often that a diadem looks like it’s moving! In this case, we have portraits of her wearing a similar one, in addition to the actual piece.

A ribbon-like diadem with carved cameos in red studded throughout it with blue enamel embellishments. From Sotheby's.

21 – There’s even a matching jewelry set to go along with this one. Not every day you see that kind of fashion convergence.

22 – Of course, crowns are truly global. Now that I’ve properly dunked on the West, here’s a 17th c Vajracarya priest’s crown from Nepal. While still certainly encrusted in its fair share of jewels, I love the sculptural quality of this piece, almost like a temple unto itself.

A high, peaked crown, with sculptured figures embellished with enamel and jewels, mostly sitting or standing, all around. From the Met.

23 – To go back much farther, the Sumerian people in Ur were absolutely, delightfully extra about head wear. Dating from ca. 2500–2300 BC, this is a Puabi’s headdress is everything you could ever want. A Puabi is believed to be a queen-like figure.

The ornate gold leaves, head wraps, and beads make up this truly remarkable, floral crown and decoration. A bit Star Wars, a bit Dune.

24 – This Ming Dynasty crown is… a lot. And I’m okay with that. I love the cloud shapes and the layered, organic feel to the design. I’m particularly a fan of the color scheme here, the blue, purple, and magenta. It seems rather unearthly.

The shape of this crown is hemispherical, and it is made up of thin gold pieces that resemble lotus petals and four layers of inner and outer layers. The crown is inlaid with more than 50 gems of various colors such as red, blue, green and white. There are two small holes on each side of the crown, and four golden hairpins are used to penetrate the hair bun inside the crown to fix the crown. The precious gems and gold complement each other, making it even more magnificent. From the perspective of craftsmanship, the golden crown integrates a variety of craftsmanship techniques, which fully reflects the superb production level of the Ming Dynasty goldware, and also shows the luxury of the Ming Dynasty princes.

25 – And lastly, because I am a sucker coral, here’s a Victorian period tiara made in London. Just proof that you don’t need to have gold, sapphires, and diamonds to look absolutely brilliant.

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Coral tiara by Phillips Brothers, ca. 1860-1870, in the form of a wreath of sprays and berries, with original case of simulated leather

26 – Crowns are a very expansive subject, and I’ve just scratched the surface. I do hope you found something enjoyable, challenging, and new. They really are the perfect example of how beauty is usually hiding something rather nefarious. (Below, Norwegian: 1873, silver filigree)

27 – đź‘‘If you enjoyed this, just a reminder that the story isn’t completely over… Patrons get extra content! Plus, I offer monthly classes, special readings, stickers, travel articles, and more.đź‘‘

http://patreon.com/nataniabooks

28 – Some sources for those who’d like more info:
https://www.habsburger.net/en/items/imperial-crown-crown-holy-roman-empire-ottonian-imperial-crown
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-worlds-oldest-crown
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2576962/Worlds-oldest-crown-6-000-years-old-remote-cave-near-Dead-Sea-goes-display-time.html
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/21698?sortBy=Relevance&ft=crown+gold&offset=0&rpp=40&pos=17
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_of_Napoleon
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/a-pair-of-parures-once-owned-by-empress-josephine-are-up-for-auction-180978974/
http://orderofsplendor.blogspot.com/2014/04/tiara-thursday-empress-josephine-tiara.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puabi

https://inf.news/en/culture/3585408e5217e409c33919606b07ffe0.html

29 – Thanks for joining me tonight! Remember: question beauty relentlessly.

(Tip jar is open on my link in bio, too, if Patreon isn’t your thing)

gene kelly thank you GIF by Turner Classic Movies

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on June 22, 2022.

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