Faux Friday: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals, Part 4

April 23, 2010

The 19th century was the most retroactive culture where memorial and sentimental symbolism was concerned.

There were revivals of memento-mori symbolism (two notable times and throughout the century) that can fool people into mistaking the provenance of a piece. The problem with memento-mori symbolism is that the symbols are timeless. The skull and crossbones have been used for various reasons throughout history, be it from a personal standpoint, a warning, a status symbol of the 16th and 17th centuries or to represent a society. It is often hard to identify the use of the skull in these instances: in the early 19th century, a great deal of skull symbolism was used in jewellery, which was then mixed with 19th century symbolism.

Skulls were painted on top of rings; this style culminated around the middle of the century. By the 1870s, there was another revival of the symbolism in jewellery (especially prevalent in fashionable gentlemen’s accessories). When a skull is used in jewellery throughout this period, one must identify its origins. Stylistically speaking, they are usually in conjunction with the fashionable style of the time, so dating is rarely an issue; however, much concern has been given to some pieces being direct forgeries.

In order to determine if these pieces are forgeries, one first needs to think of how these pieces were developed at the time of their construction. Were they used in a revival period? Were they a symbol of a society and not memorial or sentimental at all? Was it a personal matter of the individual who commissioned it in order to reflect mortality? The pieces that can be identified are honest to their nature.

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