The Further the Distance the Tighter the Knot; Eternity and Romantic Symbolism on a French Sepia Miniature

October 9, 2010

I 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 Neoclassical piece with sepia on ivory.

Le Plus Loin Le Plus Serre Mourning Pendant

Symbolism and beauty are two words to describe this French piece. The two birds (winged souls) tying together the knot of eternity and love as the ship is sailing away from the castle on top of a cliff face. The boat can be taken as a literal interpretation of sentimental distance, or as the passage of a soul towards the afterlife, however as the boat shows its passage towards the horizon, then one can expect that the symbolism falls into the latter. When combined with the eternity knot, the sentiment of love shows a love forever unbroken despite any figurative distance.

On the reverse, we have the very thick weave of the hairwork in a lattice, which is a style typical of many French pieces, as well as contemporary styles of the c.1780s – particularly in miniatures and large pendants. Of course, much of this is reliant on the hair available, as the industry wasn’t at its scale of the mid 19th century where hair was important and used in great quantities, hence often the hairwork used was at the mercy of what could be obtained.

French mourning pendant

When looking at a piece like this, one must consider the quality of the sepia art. Note how sharp and certain the lines are, there’s little area in the depiction for mistakes or parts where the attention to detail is lacking. The whole canvas of the ivory has been considered as to how to paint this piece, as is often the case with French pieces.

Along the Continent, the mourning industry wasn’t as ubiquitous; the higher the Catholic influences, the difference in the displays of mourning and the very different customs must be understood. Hence why when a French piece comes along, the general quality tends of often be higher, the same with much of the German pieces. There was a higher demand in England for mourning jewels to facilitate social convention, hence a greater output and much more variance between quality and style. One can discover an English piece with amazing quality or very naive quality.

So, note the waves and their individual undulating lines, note the attention to the brushwork where they grow thick to very fine, note how they change direction to show the coarseness of waves. Then the tree and how it interacts with the banner; note how the banner is curved along with the contour of the piece and the tree is nestled in quite comfortably underneath. From this, the individual leaves and branch are shaded, on a piece with gradients of one colour, this shows very high skill and planning.

I think the only the scale of the birds to the castle and and attempt at the rendering of the cliff face are the only parts which weigh this piece down (this from the cross-hatching of the cliff’s shading), but understandably the birds are primary focus to the symbolism with the knot, so the necessarily is understood.

That should be enough for today! Oh, look at that… Tomorrow is Sunday… I wonder what tomorrow’s lesson will be? Get ready for Symbolism Sunday, which may have something to do with the number 3!

Courtesy:Barbara Robbins
Country: France
Year: c. 1780-90
Dedication: “Le Plus Loin Le Plus Serre” – “The further the distance the tighter the knot.”

3 Responses to “The Further the Distance the Tighter the Knot; Eternity and Romantic Symbolism on a French Sepia Miniature”

  1. Sandy Brosolo Says:

    Enjoyed this article very much and love the plate with all its symbolism. Always enjoy your comments and find them very illuminating. Keep up the good work. I am very keen on Georgian mourning jewellery and have a modest collection. Each piece speaks to me of love and longing and almost bring me to tears when I contemplate them (silly ol’ duffer !!). Anyway as I said, keep the articles coming – you’ve got a fan in me.
    Best wishes
    Sandy Brosolo


    • Bless you, Sandy, as long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing. I figure I have about 400 years and thousands of pieces to catalogue and discuss, so this will take some time!

  2. Shirley Says:

    This is beautiful and quite moving. I’ve always been partial to ship and ocean iconography, it’s both romantic yet tragic, the sense of separation is so tangible. Thank you for the lovely post!


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