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.

16 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.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Follow up to the above post: In June 2023 Compton Verney bought this painting and the Yale Center for British Art is going to restore it, so more will be learned about this unique artwork now known as the
"Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies" (c. 1650), by an unknown artist.

The news hailed the apparent equality of the sitters. But we should not assume this is an entirely positive parity: this is a moralizing image that speaks of sin, of vanity, and of wantonness.

The painting presents 2 expensively-dressed women, side by side, pearls around their necks and hair coiffed in the latest fashions. They are mirror images of each other. One is a woman of color; the other is white. The woman of color wags her finger at her counterpart in a gesture both warning and playful. Above her head reads an inscription: ‘I black with white bespott y white with blacke this evil proceeds from thy proud hart then take her: Devill.’

These were not portraits of real people. Both women are allegories of vanity, their faces ‘bespott’ with patches shaped like stars and crescent moons.

Made of imported silk, velvet or Spanish leather, and often perfumed with exotic fragrances, beauty patches became popular at the beginning of the 17th century and were used well into the 18th century.

Such patches originated in France, where they were satirically nicknamed mooches (flies).

Their placement symbolized various meanings: at the corner of the eye represented ‘passion’, while a patch at the centre of the forehead signified ‘majestic’.

Over time, these patches became more elaborate. The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1675) describes patches ‘cut out into little Moons, Suns, Stars, Castles, Birds, Beasts, and Fishes of all sorts, so that their Faces may be properly termed a Landscape of living Creatures’.

An image [shown] in a 1650 tract – including one shaped as a carriage and horses – as seen in "Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changling" (1650), by John Bulwer.

For the illustrations and entire article, see

Patches were sometimes called ‘the mark of Venus’, named after the goddess whose beauty was accentuated by a single blemish: a black facial mole that brought the perfection of her features into greater relief.
For women emulating the goddess, such patches could also hide pimples or scars.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


This use made patches objects of fear for Puritan Englishmen. Dissembling was devilish behavior, and women who beautified themselves were temptresses. God had created us, ‘warts and all’ (as Cromwell put it); to ‘correct’ our features was blasphemy.
That patches were a French fashion made them more threatening: foreign, Catholic and with associations of syphilis (the ‘French pox’, which left facial lesions that they could hide).

Although associated with women of the night, the fashion was popular in all ranks of society: when Henry Bennet (later the Earl of Arlington) was wounded in the civil wars, he took to wearing a large black patch over an ugly scar on his nose.

Shakespeare’s "All’s Well That Ends Well" (1623) has Bertram return from war ‘with a patch of velvet on’s face: whether there be a scar under’t or no, the velvet knows’.

A patch could cover all manner of sins. But it was women who came under attack for wearing them.

In 1650, the approximate date of the Allegorical painting, Parliament voted on an act to ban ‘the vice of painting and wearing black patches, and immodest dress of women’.
It was rejected, but its enforcers were a vocal minority.

From this context the painting emerged.

In an echo of the painting’s inscription, a 1662 tract titled "A Wonder of Wonders, of a Metamorphosis of Fair Faces voluntarily transformed into foul Visages, or an Invective against black-spotted Faces", assured readers that:
“Hell gate is open day and night
For such as in black-spots delight; If pride their faces spotted make,
For pride then hell their souls will take.
Black spots and patches in the face to sober women bring disgrace;
Lewd harlots by such spots are known.”

There are also contemporary visual parallels:
John Bulwer’s woodcut-illustrated book "Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d: or, the Artificiall Changling" (1650) claimed that ‘our ladies have lately entertained a vain custom of spotting their Faces […] this is as odious and as senseless an affectation as ever was used by any Barbarous Nation in the world’; the accompanying image has striking similarities to this painting.

But where the accompanying illustration depicts the black woman with hideous racial stereotyping, and positions her subserviently beneath her white counterpart, the women in "Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies" look at us as equals – equal height, equal dress, equal gazes - unexpected in a painting from this period.

This might suggests it was possible for people in 1650's England to imagine a rich woman of color on equal footing with a white woman.
But we should tread carefully before assuming that this is a positive depiction of equality: the women are embodiments of vanity, sin, and poised to be taken by the Devil.
These women embrace the ‘foreign’, both by the color of their skin and their use of the French patching fashion.

There is more to be discovered.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Are freckles taking the beauty world by storm? Many industry experts and saying yes and today’s trend is not the brown and reddish spots that woman once spent hours covering up with makeup. Today’s latest beauty trend takes the apply your own freckles on your face with a pencil eyeliner to a completely new level. Here we are talking about rainbow freckles and no, we are not kidding.

The rainbow freckle trend started earlier this year around the time when supermodel Kendall Jenner decided to show off what this looked like, by posting a bunch of photos on her Instagram account. While rainbow freckles can be easily applied with pencil eyeliner in various colors, there are now even beauty products out on the market that can help you achieve this look in minutes.

The rainbow freckles are not just gracing the cheekbones either, but models are also putting rainbow freckles around the eyes and even all over their faces. One such quick freckle applicator item is called the Freckle Pencil – a product by FreckYourself. The Freckle Pencil is great for those who want the natural, flawless look in minutes. The result is bohemian and mystical and can be seen on runways around the world. https://www.allmyfriendsaremodels…

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