Devil's In the Detail

What makes an object ‘desirable'?

From elaborate embroidery to intricate inlays, examine luxuries from across the ages in Elmbridge Museum’s latest exhibition. 

 This mixture of luxurious textile, woodwork and ceramic showcases how tiny details have been in demand for centuries.



Detail can be used to make things look and feel more luxurious. Floral patterns, embroidery, embellishment, engraving and inlaid materials create beautiful designs that make ordinary objects look extravagant.  Stunning shoes, fans, boxes, brooches, and a parasol help to illustrate the desirability of detail and show how everyday items have been glamourized for hundreds of years.

Originally designed for Brooklands College students, this impressive exhibition is being repeated for our Surrey audience at Dittons Library until     February 2020.

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Fabulous Fans

Fan painting in the late 1800s was practiced by leading impressionist painters, but the activity itself dates from 3000 BC.  The folding ability of this Victorian fan, however, was a relatively late development to fan design.  The decoration on fans was often influenced by Japanese art, featuring flowers, leaves and birds.  This fan is not quite as impressive as the huge ostrich-plumed ones owned by the upper classes, but its incredibly delicate lace edges nevertheless make it extremely desirable. 

Left: Old-fashioned miniature microscope, c. late 1800s - early 1900s.  Right: Miniature box camera made of metal and cardboard, c.1930s.
Left: Old-fashioned miniature microscope, c. late 1800s - early 1900s. Right: Miniature box camera made of metal and cardboard, c.1930s.

Lovely Lenses

Microscopes were invented in the 1500s, and the objects have undergone continual improvement since then to increase their power.  They were used medically and as a hobby, allowing users to discover a whole new microscopic world.

Likewise, the camera allowed Victorians to see real images of places and people that they never before had access to.  The development of the box camera from the 1880s allowed people to take their very own images and capture significant details for the first time in history.


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Stunning Shoes

‘Pompadour’ heels gain their name from French King Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, who popularised the shoes. The high, curving heel placed very far forward under the instep made the foot look desirably petite.  However, it gave little support for walking!

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Amazing Accessories

Since ancient times, scarves have been worn for warmth.  Throughout history, they have also served many practical purposes, such as denoting someone's rank.  This silk scarf, however, was purely fashionable.  Worn in the 1930s, it continued the trend for scarves as accessories started in the 1800s.

Purses have been popular since the early modern period.  In the Victorian era, smaller bags were more desirable, as large ones were thought to be at risk of 'breaking ladies' backs'.  The delicate clutch has remained fashionable, with women often decorating their own using their embroidery skills.



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There are many more beautiful and intricate objects on display at Dittons Library.  Why not examine their devilish details and discover the stories surrounding their creation by visiting the exhibition?