A porcelain ‘masked lady’ patch box pendant, circa 1760, from the Meissen porcelain factory. It is modelled in the form of a head of a society belle. She wears a powdered wig, her cheeks are rouged, her lips are stained cochineal red. She wears a black masquerade mask, with diamond eyes. The interior has the Meissen blue crossed sword marks. The hinged lid is engraved with floral spray. It is 1 and 1/4 inches in length and 1 and 2/3 inches wide.

The pendant was used to hold a  lady’s patches. During the 18th century the aristocracy had a fondness for lily white skin and powdered wigs. To emphasise one’s place in society, the use of white face paint, rouged cheeks and the wearing of patches was the done thing. The heightened artifice of beauty patches also called attention to the larger ritual of transforming one’s face and body for maximum desirability. Patches were made from velvet, silk and even mouse skin. Where they were placed on the face sent a coded message to the viewer. For example a patch placed below the lower lip meant discretion, a patch placed on the nose meant impudence.

This masked lady pendant would have graced a masquerade ball. Derived from the the Commedia dell’arte, the wearing of masks was associated with role play and added a sense of intrigue and ambiguity to social interaction. Masquerade balls were popular throughout the eighteenth century despite the disapproval of those who considered them immoral. These balls suspended the formal conventions and norms of polite society, such as social rankings and gender roles for a few hours. With a mask to conceal one’s true identity, it was possible to step into another world where anything became possible, where the wealthy, famous and infamous danced, flirted and intrigued until dawn.

It is one of the very few masked ladies I have seen from the 18th century which is in undamaged condition. Few examples survive and most of them have chips or cracks in the porcelain. There are similar patch boxes in the Victorian and Albert Museum.