Cecilia Seilern und Aspang

Cecilia is a design historian whose background is an amalgamation of diverse trajectories interwoven by a deep-rooted appreciation and interest in material culture. Her work explores the socio-cultural understanding and relevance of jewellery, gems, and their imitations in the early modern period. Within that, her research is driven by a desire to question dominant narratives while bridging areas of research previously not woven together.

Research Project

A Case for Glass: A Proposal for an Alternative Understanding of Glass Gems in the Seventeenth Century.

My work re-investigates established narratives surrounding 17th century glass imitations of gemstones and proposes an alternate understanding to their value.

Material Culture, Early-Modern, Europe, Applied Arts, Technologies, Methods of Documentation, Knowledge Production

Darnley Jewel with blue glass, Unknown, Europe, 1570-79 ©Royal College Trust

In my work, I explore the socio-cultural understanding and relevance of jewellery, gems and their imitations in the early modern period. Within that, my research is driven by a desire to question dominant narratives while bridging areas of research previously not woven together. By looking into perpetuated ideas, such as the role of glass gems as seemingly uninteresting imitations, my research looks to understand why we know what we know and whether more can be said as information becomes more readily available.

My dissertation is an exploration and proposal for an alternate understanding of the use of glass gems in jewellery during the seventeenth century. Glass gems, also referred to as paste or strass, are cut and polished glass pieces, often set in jewellery, to simulate natural gems. They are a highly under-researched field potentially owing to their status as, seemingly, uninteresting imitations.

But the use of these gems, in exceptional jewellery pieces, raises the question of whether the narrative surrounding the use of glass gems has been simplified throughout historiography and placed in a contemporary context, wherein glass gems are defined solely as cheaper imitations of natural gems.

In my dissertation I propose a need to re-examine glass gems in the seventeenth century by paying close attention to these pieces as objects of technical knowledge, design and innovation. An interdisciplinary range of key methodologies, coming from design history and material culture studies, provides a framework for thinking through a diverse range of primary resources, which include seventeenth century recipe books and jewellery, as well as textual references to glass gems. By building an interdisciplinary narrative, my findings place the use of glass gems in jewellery in a new light wherein they can be understood as being objects of elevated imitation, appreciated for their ingenuity.

Ring with green glass gem, Unknown, Europe, 1650-1700 ©V&A.

Necklace with blue glass gems, Unknown, Europe, mid 17th cent ©V&A.


©2022 by V&A/RCA History of Design MA