Recently docent Trudy Hardcastle escorted a native Dutchwoman through Belmont who shared interesting information about George Hitchcock’s painting in the hall, The Annunciation. She explained that the head ornaments on the Madonna are pictorial “code” for wealth. That inspired Trudy to dig a little deeper into the background of some of these strange and archaic forms of Dutch regional costume.
Trudy discovered an interesting site that helped us to identify the costume detail in Hitchcock’s painting as a traditional OORIJZER, literally ear iron, or metal headgear, worn on special occasions in conjunction with Dutch linen or lace caps, and passed down from generation to generation. Pronounce it Ōar īzer. Many regions in Holland sport their own very distinctive costumes, including caps, cap pendants, jewelry and varying iterations of the oorijzer, which is usually worn mostly out of sight, gripping the head under the cap, except for the terminals that are visible around the face.
Hitchcock’s Madonna is wearing an oorijzer with silver rectangular plates representative of South Beveland, Zeeland. These ornaments helped to fasten the cap to the head with pins at the terminal knobs, but more importantly, are indicative of a woman’s economic status, and in some cases, her religious affiliation, that is, Protestant or Catholic. Hitchcock’s Madonna wears a silver rather than a gold oorijzer, which is appropriate for Mary, who the Bible tells us, was but a humble girl. Hitchcock was probably unwilling to accessorize his Madonna with the truly humble materials of copper, brass or iron that the really poor womenfolk of Holland might wear. Hitchcock found the costumes of Holland very picturesque and rightly surmised that the more stereotypical elements he included in his pictures of Dutch life, the more marketable they would be.
Gari Melchers, on the other hand, was less interested in including the odd, sometimes helmet-like oorijzers than utilizing only the more feminine and decorative caps. Off hand, the only instance in which I can remember him employing an oorijzer in a model’s costume was in his painting The Coral Necklace, which pictures an example of both the spiral wire curls and trefoil dangle of Middleburg, Holland. Honestly, some of these oorijzers look like radio antennaes! Notice that the model in this painting also wears a showy gold and blood coral necklace common to many regions of Holland.