‘To Me He Will Never Die’, Children, Love and Loss in an Important Brooch

May 13, 2011

Time and time again, there’s one constant about the Neoclassical era and that is; all the sentiments are beautiful. No matter how run down I feel from looking at these jewels all the time, all I need to do is sit back and reflect upon something beautiful like this and all the love comes rushing back again. So, consider this Hayden’s therapy session and let’s get intimate with this wonderful piece from the collection of Sarah Nehama.

Jonathan Dere 1796 Brooch

The dedication is to a man named Jonathan Dere, an English lawyer who took part in New Jersey, assisting in the development of American independence. From the documents gathered about Dere, the desirability of this piece and also its sentiment speak quite a lot louder to us viewing it today. Upon the face of it, the sepia is painted on ivory depicting a young man in mourning nexy to the urn on plinth. Upon the stone is;

Born 1738
Died 1796

And immediately we are taken into the heart of the piece. This was an immediate piece with a very personal statement and it brings the subject to light. By the use of the word ‘me’, it defies the convention of placing the subject in the third person, such as ‘Though Lost to Sight, To Memory Dear’ and does away with the formality of a dedication like ‘Sacred Will I Keep Thy Dear Remains’. It makes a statement about the wearer in that the memory of the deceased will never die and it is in ‘him’. This is a sentiment that resonates today and is still typical in modern vernacular. That makes it also speak a little louder to us today, we can feel the proximity of the grief.

Note how the mourner is wearing a black sash, which during the 18th century was worn by the ‘less important’, however in this case, it relates to the age of the mourner, not being any less important, but quite young.

There is then the quality of the painting itself. Note the delicate stance of the mourner, with his leg bent, leaning against the urn and the sad expression. One of the most important things to note here is that the mourner is actually interacting with the urn itself. In the same way that the depiction of a dog waiting at the tomb shows fidelity, this mourner shows the proximity of his relationship with the deceased by touching the remains themselves and an eternal fidelity by waiting at the urn. And to this mourner, ‘he will never die’ and by looking at this scene, I have no doubt of that.

Jonathan Dere 1796 Brooch

Another thing to note, which I will follow up in future articles, is that this a male piece. It doesn’t follow the Neoclassical standard of having the idealised woman as the centre of the grief, but it does put the character into the piece and then it makes it even more personal that it was for a man himself. Male pieces are very uncommon, which isn’t necessarily a reaction to the convention of the idealised woman, but simply the nature of the jewels themselves and how they were worn and carried.

For more on the unfortunate Mr Dere, please look over these documents below.

1.Jonathan Dere 17962.

Jonathan Dere 1796

3.Jonathan Dere 1796

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

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