1893 text

The fashion of placing black patches on the face was introduced towards the close of the reign of Charles I., and the practice is ridiculed in the “Spectator.”

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

12 Annotations

First Reading

Jenny Doughty  •  Link

Mary posted on Sun 31 Aug 2003:

Black (occasionally red) patches cut from paper, cloth or even fine leather in the shape of stars, crescent moon, even a coach and six horses (quoted by Picard) were stuck upon the face as

Terry F  •  Link

“I must here take notice, that Rosalinda, a famous Whig Partizan, has most unfortunately a very beautiful Mole on the Tory Part of her Forehead; which being very conspicuous, has occasioned many Mistakes, and given an Handle to her Enemies to misrepresent her Face, as tho’ it had Revolted from the Whig Interest. But, whatever this natural Patch may seem to intimate, it is well known that her Notions of Government are still the same. This unlucky Mole, however, has mis-led several Coxcombs; and like the hanging out of false Colours, made some of them converse with Rosalinda in what they thought the Spirit of her Party, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected Fire, that has sunk them all at once. If Rosalinda is unfortunate in her Mole, Nigranilla is as unhappy in a Pimple, which forces her, against her Inclinations, to Patch on the Whig Side.

“I am told that many virtuous Matrons, who formerly have been taught to believe that this artificial Spotting of the Face was unlawful, are now reconciled by a Zeal for their Cause, to what they could not be prompted by a Concern for their Beauty. This way of declaring War upon one another, puts me in mind of what is reported of the Tigress, that several Spots rise in her Skin when she is angry, or as Mr. Cowley has imitated the Verses that stand as the Motto on this Paper,

———She swells with angry Pride,
And calls forth all her Spots on ev’ry Side.
[Davideis, Bk III. But Cowley’s Tiger is a Male.]

“When I was in the Theatre the Time above-mentioned, I had the Curiosity to count the Patches on both Sides, and found the Tory Patches to be about Twenty stronger than the Whig; but to make amends for this small Inequality, I the next Morning found the whole Puppet-Show filled with Faces spotted after the Whiggish Manner. Whether or no the Ladies had retreated hither in order to rally their Forces I cannot tell; but the next Night they came in so great a Body to the Opera, that they out-number’d the Enemy.

“This Account of Party Patches, will, I am afraid, appear improbable to those who live at a Distance from the fashionable World: but as it is a Distinction of a very singular Nature, and what perhaps may never meet with a Parallel, I think I should not have discharged the Office of a faithful SPECTATOR, had I not recorded it.”

JWB  •  Link

LADIES turn conjurers, and can impart
The hidden mystery of the black art,
Black artificial patches do betray;
They more affect the works of night than day.
The creature strives the Creator to disgrace,
By patching that which is a perfect face:
A little stain upon the purest dye
Is both offensive to the heart and eye.
Defile not then with spots that face of snow,
Where the wise God His workmanship doth show,
The light of nature and the light of grace
Is the complexion for a lady's face.
FLAMMA SINE FUMO, by R. Watkyns, 1662, p. 81.

Lurker  •  Link

William Hogarth used these as graphical ways of indicating syphilis; see, for example, Viscount Squanderfield in "Marriage a-la-mode".

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

This was just as if a Building should be nothing but Ornament, or Cloaths nothing but Trimming; as if a Face should be covered over with black Patches, or a Gown with Spangles, which is all I shall say of it.
---Miscellanea. G. Temple, 1697.

Bill  •  Link

An interesting sentence in a review of a book about the history of syphilis in the Guardian (5/18/2013):

"Even court fashion is part of the story, with pancake makeup and beauty spots as much a response to recurrent attacks of syphilis as survivors of smallpox."

Perhaps Black Patches were a response to face-disfiguring disease?

Bill  •  Link

Sorry Lurker above, should have noted you.

Bill  •  Link

Spoiler alert. SP himself (!) in Sept., 1664 will wear a Black Patch for cosmetic purposes. "...my mouth very scabby, my cold being going away, so that I was forced to wear a great black patch."

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Beauty Patches


The beauty patch was a little mark with a big impact. Once upon a time, it was all the rage to adorn oneself with beauty patches. These little material creations were stuck onto the skin to emphasise the whiteness of the complexion and to conceal blemishes. They also had hidden meaning and we look at what the little marks came to signify.

Roman Era

Patches were seen during the Roman era when a Roman woman would wear small and round beauty spots called splenia.

Sometimes they were worn profusely, as noted by Roman poets including Ovid and, as quoted below, Martial:

“A number of beauty spots covered her superb forehead.”

A Roman lawyer, Regulus, apparently wore a patch on the right of his forehead when pleading for the defendant, and on the left when working for the plaintiff.

16th Century

In the 16th century, beauty patches were seen once again, most likely to cover up skin blemishes.

The use of harmful lead-based cosmetics, as well as diseases like smallpox, left people with damaged skin, scars and pock-marks. Therefore, beauty patches were a convenient way to cover things up.

17th Century
It was during the 17th century that patches really took off and became a fashion statement, in particular for the upper classes. They were worn by men and women alike.

In France, the use of patches increased dramatically under Louis XIV (1638-1715) and continued into Louis XV’s reign.

The French nobility had a fondness for lily-white skin and white-coloured wigs. To emphasise someone’s place in society, the use of white face paint, rouged cheeks and the wearing of patches was the done thing. The French called beauty patches mouches meaning flies.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

In December 2021 the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) have advised the temporary ban for export acquisition of a 17th century painting showing a black and a white woman in expensive attire wearing patches. It's no masterpiece, but in a press release, Committee member Pippa Shirley said, “This anonymous painting is a great rarity in British art … It is not a portrait of real people, as far as we know, but the inscription reveals that it is in fact a sternly moralizing picture that condemns the use of cosmetics, and specifically elaborate beauty patches, which were in vogue at the time.”

It is tentatively dated in the 1650's, the Interregnum. Perhaps the patches show that the women were also Royalists? (That's my speculation, not the RCEWA Committee.)

An early attempt at advertising and influencing.

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