An Emotional Look at the Start of the 19th Century in a Mourning Pendant c.1809

October 7, 2010

Besty Robinson Obt 3rd Octr 1809 Pendant Sepia Hairwork

Firstly, let’s look at the context of this piece. During the first quarter of the 19th century, the world was dealing with some of the most rapid social change with a scale unlike any seen previously. There is the emergence of the independence of the United States in 1776, colonial Australia, the French Revolution and the continuing Napoleonic Wars, new discoveries and uses for steam power in transportation and electricity began to influence rapid transit, industry was on the rise and of course, then there was fashion and art. Fashion became more and more elaborate to match a society that was relishing their individuality and status. Dandyism was popular with young men and ladies reflected the popular neoclassical styles that had been heavily influenced art, creating the ‘Empire silhouette’ and losing much of the heaviness and pomp that had surrounded costume in previous generations.

So, how does this reflect upon this pendant? Firstly, let’s look at the sentiment itself:

‘IN MEMORY OF
Besty Robinson
Obt 3rd Octr 1809
AE 28 Yrd’s
Affectionate Wife,
Mother and
Friend’

Sentiments like this, worn so prominently on the person, were simply not typical previous to the neoclassical movement. As this movement developed, with the increasing focus on the person as the important individual, rather than the purpose of the family as a group or the church as an idyllic standard of living, the nature of the individual became paramount and beautiful. Love became something to be worn prominently, as fashion. This is previous to the Victorian installation of the family as virtuous unit under the crown and god and it’s amazing to see what the difference of thirty years can make. In difference, this is almost hedonistic and rampant narcissism through the standard of living culture.

But, there it is, a very large, very personal sentiment that still resonates today as being an incredibly loving memorial to one’s partner. ‘Mother and Friend’ are also two very important sentiments with this piece. Speaking from the perspective of the husband, the term ‘mother’ is almost superfluous (unless the deceased passed quite early in the relationship without having child), as the expectation of the lady as a mother, at the very least, the latter 19th century ideal of the female as the matriarch of the family is a given.

‘Friend’ is the most touching sentiment here, I think. Beyond all else, wife or a partner should also be a best friend and here it explicitly states that. I am somewhat emotional just looking at the piece now.

As for the quality of this piece, let’s look at the sepia work to the font. Note the very fine calligraphy; it’s not at all rushed, but very methodical and is the art for one side of the pendant. Certainly not an inexpensive piece, even the little flourishes surrounding the font and the mixture of upper and lower case show careful planning. It’s a personal sentiment, as well, so it was certainly commissioned with the sentiment in mind. Do note the slant to the name against the ‘IN MEMORY OF’ – this may show that the ‘IMO’ was pre-written and the sentiment below personalised.

Besty Robinson Obt 3rd Octr 1809 Pendant Sepia Hairwork

Then on the reverse, we have the dual hearts, an eternity knot of hair, initials and the sentiment ‘THE UNION OF HEARTS CONSTITUTES OUR HAPPINESS’. There is somewhat a French influence to this piece, from the quality, to the size to the etching of the gold. Stylistically, I would lean towards this being an American piece, however, there’s not enough data to substantiate this as of writing. Nevertheless, the sentiment seals the love that is imbued within the piece, it’s an eternal statement about the person who wore it and I should think that such a firm sentiment is quite a rare one and puts us, as the viewers, in an almost intimate proximity between the two lovers involved with this piece.

Besty Robinson Obt 3rd Octr 1809 Pendant Sepia Hairwork

Overall, this piece shows us how far society had come and changed during the early 19th century. Today, we’re not so far removed from them, as society is still as volatile, borders are changing, more so than ever, we’re rampant consumers who parade ourselves in costume to the world and new discoveries are found each day, but at the end of it all, it’s love which defines us and binds us.

Tomorrow I take a look at how damage affects cost in jewellery and I hope you all join in on the Art of Mourning Facebook Group, where you can meet like-minded individuals, post your jewellery pictures and have a chat!

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

2 Responses to “An Emotional Look at the Start of the 19th Century in a Mourning Pendant c.1809”

  1. Laura Masselos Says:

    I must admit, I have quite a fondness for pieces like this; just beautiful!

    Such a good way to start my morning (as opposed to reading the SMH)…


  2. […] was going to write about more about memento mori today, but with presenting such lovely and emotionally charged pieces like this, I think it’s time to cleanse the palate with this refreshingly beautiful sentimental […]


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