Neoclassical Art as Depicted in Embroidered Hair on Silk/Material

January 28, 2011

Judging from the title of this little piece, you’d think the article was based upon hairstyles of the Neoclassical era, but I’d like to focus on the jewellery aspect of it for a bit.

mourning ringOf the many different methods of constructing Neoclassical scenes in jewellery, forming a scene from hair itself is one of the most original and unique. Often, hair was ground into sepia paint and used in the typical scenes of the time, in other occasions, the hair was woven, glued and created part of an urn or created a high-relief or three-dimensional level to a scene, be it in a tree, plinth or tomb. But more interestingly is this particular style.

Ribbon Slide Crystal Mourning Memento MoriSilk is embroidered with hair, creating the depiction of the mourning or sentimental scene itself. What is wonderful about this style is how it has survived and how intricate it was. Indeed, this style had its roots in the 17th century, but not to the delicate extent of this. Embroidering fabric with hairwork, usually in initials or just integrating a hair weave into the material itself with gold initial cypher on top or an enamel/metal mourning/sentimental symbol.

Embroidered Hair Mourning Ring 1780

Even more interesting is that the construction itself could be performed by professionals and practiced in the home as well, making a wonderful variation between the higher-end quality pieces and those that veer into folk art. Usually the higher-end of the scale would emulate the classic mourning/sentimental sentiments and symbols with sheafs, flowers, urns, ribbons and the like, but more unusual examples are often the singular pieces, which didn’t need to hit a commercial prerogative. These, such as the one pictured, can be as strange as to emulate moss agate with hairwork. As stated by Ward, Cherry et al, it was ‘time-consuming work (which) was designed to occupy over-abundant leisure’.

So, there is a rather wonderful little curiosity from a magnificent era. I’ll be focusing on some of the more specialised techniques in jewellery as time goes on, so keep your eyes open for more!

Courtesy: British Museum

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