Fashion - Adelicia's Carte de visite

The 19th century was a time of great change in women's fashion. The century began with high waistlines and straight skirts, and by the 1850s, the style had evolved into a more natural waistline and full skirt. Adelicia Acklen's clothing choices showcase the most fashionable trends from Europe and North America during that time. Follow Belmont Mansion as we embark on a nine part series showcasing the dresses, jewelry, and fashion choices of Adelicia Acklen.

During the Victorian era in which Adelicia thrived, women of society would visit friends and acquaintances to maintain social connections. These Cartes de Visite of Adelicia displays her wealth and station with her fine street dress and jewelry. Cartes de Visite were not calling or visiting cards themselves, they were only labeled as visiting cards because they were the same size as visiting cards. These Cartes de Visite do show, however, what Adelicia may have appeared on her visits. Earrings and broaches would have been important element to the everyday Victorian woman regardless of wealth, but Adelicia’s jewelry, particularly featured in these portraits, is quite luxurious. The cameo broach is perhaps one of the most striking pieces, it is a copy of Thorwaldsen’s Relief “Night” which is housed today with its counterpart “Day” in the Thorwaldsens Museum and portrays an angel carrying away two babies to heaven. This may have been a piece of mourning jewelry or a piece made in memorial two of her many children that died in childhood. Adelicia, like most Victorians, prescribed to sentimentalism, particularly regarding motherhood, and memorialized these tragedies and her children in art and dress. This kind of memorialization by Adelicia would not be unprecedented and is reminiscent of other statuary Adeliecia had, most notably Sleeping Children by William Reinhardt. The Lion broach is also a significant piece in these portraits. Though it is hard to tell the material it is made of and is left uncertain, the pose and shape of the lion looks remarkably like that of the lion from St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. By the time of her portraits with the lion broach, she would have gone and seen St. Marks Square in person on her Grand Tour of Europe and bought many souvenirs in the course of this trip. This may or may not be an imitation of the Lion, however, it is possible that she could have purchased this broach in Venice while abroad if it is a miniature of the lion.

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Belmont Blvd & Acklen Avenue 

Nashville, TN 37212


1900 Belmont Blvd

Nashville, TN 37212


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The architecture of Belmont Mansion makes it one of the most significant homes of 19th century Tennessee.

Sold by the Acklen family in 1887, the house went to a developer who began one of Nashville’s early suburbs.

It was then purchased by two women who in 1890 started a college which evolved into Belmont University. Today the Belmont Mansion Association, which was formed in 1972, owns the collection, runs the museum, and shares this unique story of 19th century Nashville with visitors from far and near.

Photos by Ed Houk