Spotlight On: Ribbon Slides

September 30, 2011

Ribbon slides of this nature are early examples of the move towards wide-spread jewellery mementos during the post restoration period. Unlike the previous period, the move from the memento mori ideal provided a space where mourning could become a matter of personal interest. Ecclesiastically, the earlier change towards Protestantism facilitated this and the trauma of the English Civil War during the Stuart Era enforced an evolving custom that differed to that of mainstream Europe.

Considered to be earlier pieces, memento mori jewellery, or the statement of memento mori on objects previous to this time are not true mourning pieces, but a statement on mortality. Prior to the restoration period, portraits of Charles I would be worn secretly, usually hidden in lockets or placed in rings, to show the devotion of royalists to the crown. From this, the mourning custom grew. Mementos could be left to loved ones and the custom of mourning in its growing form became a personal ideal, rather than one central to the church.

Ribbon slides are unusual in they are a piece of popular fashion (for their time) which became absorbed by changing fashion. For their time, they were prolific and it’s quite easy to find original pieces even today, but as fashion changed, prominence fell upon bracelets, rings, necklaces, brooches, pendants and pins quite soon after the start of the 18th century.

Further Reading
> Spooky! Skeletal Rings, Memento Mori and the Evolution of the Symbol
Queen Mary II Memento Mori Slide
> Symbolism Sunday: Revisiting The Trumpet

Duke of Wellington Mourning Cameo

In much the same way as this commemorative medallion for Princess Charlotte of Wales, this exceptional cameo souvenir resonates with the same intent. Capturing the profile of a popular figure upon their passing is certainly no modern tradition, but one that dates back into the ancient. This particular cameo comes from the collection of Simon Millard and a fine piece it is:

“It was produced as a souvenir of the state occasion of the funeral of the Duke of Wellington. The duke died on September 14th 1852, and his funeral at St Pauls on the 18th November 1852 was one of the grandest public spectacles of the 19th century. Many souvenirs were produced for the occasion, ( though they’re very rare now ) of which this black glass mourning cameo was one.”

Duke of Wellington Mourning CameoFurther Reading
> Wikipedia on the Funeral of the Duke of Wellington
> Richard Holmes: Wellington: The Iron Duke
> John Morley: Death, Heaven and the Victorians

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

It’s been a while since I did a good analysis of a piece, life sometimes gets in the way of memorials, but without living, how can there be anything to reflect upon? So, for today’s warm-up session, let’s get intimate with this wonderful hairwork fob chain, a piece that reflects sentimentality and I think are a great place to start your collection. Why is that?

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

Firstly, they are cheap to buy. Fob chains (those that haven’t been melted down for precious metal or converted into a necklace – a popular thing during WWI) are redundant fashion. In terms of the mainstream, once the wristwatch became cheap and miniaturisation/mass production led to the wrist taking up the real estate for the watch, cumbersome pocket watches seemed dated and obsolete. Necessity of using the wrist for a quick glance to see what the time is and have your hands free was a very handy (excuse the pun) thing to have during wartime as well.

Secondly, we have hairwork as a less than marketable material for audiences today to comprehend and use. Hairwork deteriorates rapidly when worn close to the skin due to oils and temperature change which accelerate rot and bacteria growth. In my youth, I’ve nearly lost two pieces due to this. Also, it’s scratchy and uncomfortable to be adapted to a necklace, though they do exist. Different weaves can be a little softer, but rule #1 still applies.

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

So, why is it great for the collector? Look at the fittings above. These, often rolled gold or Pinchbeck, show the symbolism-filled Rococo Revival, so popular in the latter 19th century and can be roughly dated due to their mass production and catalogue ordering. Yes, you can buy reproduction jewellery/store catalogues and easily spot the age of a piece due to its fittings. And, as they aren’t precious enough to destroy, melt down or adapt, the fittings often exist today.

Take a look through the Symbolism Sunday series and see if you can spot all the symbolism in the flowers. Often, these are disregarded ads being common Victorian design-work, but the symbolism actually enhances the piece and we have to pay attention to these nuances if we’re going to determine what the piece was worn or used for. The quick answer is ‘mourning’, but look a little closer and let’s think about it for a minute.

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

The hairwork is a dual-colour weave. Yes, we have two different kinds of hair used. This would have been colour matched professionally from sourced hair, rather than donated by the wearer. So, we have the idea of two kinds of hair entwined. Love, even when two are apart is what we have to consider. Then, it’s how it was used. This was worn attached to the vest or waistcoat, affixed through the buttonhole, with the watch at one end. Usually in the centre-fitting, you will find charms hanging (often the acorn, flowers, etc). This piece wasn’t so lucky, but it makes up for it with the remarkable serpent clasp.

Here is where you can find a more concrete date for the piece, though they were mass produced between the 1880s and 90s both in Europe and the US. Due to higher levels of travel and mass transit with a very mobile social structure, identifying a piece like this to a certain area is much harder. Here, the serpent clasp was seen in several fashion warehouse catalogues and could be interchanged for piece selection and production, so it could ideally be narrowed down to stockist.

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

Back to the symbolism of the serpent and how it’s coiled back over itself, forming the loop of the entire chain, creating the eternity circle. Once again, the love motif shines through.

So, we have a very sentimental piece and quite a common one that was part of a gentleman’s daily wardrobe. Hairwork was a common and relatively cheap material that was quite ubiquitous in mainstream fashion, so finding a gentleman wearing this as a nod to his loved one would be quite typical.

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

How was that, burgeoning jewellery historian? Why not track some down (you shouldn’t be paying over $150 for a decent chain) and do an analysis, or go through the Art of Mourning archives and do your own appraisal?

Further Reading
> Spotlight On: Fob Accessories
> A History of Hairwork
> Symbolism Sunday: The Acanthus
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.1900

 

In my cabinet there lies a vulcanite brooch I purchased from an antique store in Melbourne. It appealed to me because it is a mourning brooch and symbolised the mourning of children; a particular interest of mine.  Little did I know it also connected me in a Kevin Bacon-esque way to Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770 – 1844), a Danish sculptor and one of those lucky few artists who gained significant success within his lifetime.

Nyx (Night) with her two children Sleep and Death, in Vulcanite

Vulcanite is a type of early rubber create by Charles Goodyear, it became a very popular form of substitute jet for the jewellery industry in Victorian England. I personally really like the substance. You will have seen a number of vulcanite objects in jewellery stores and online. Often, like this piece, there is a large oval base on to which a secondary piece is firmly attached to create a cameo effect. The cameo-like piece is moulded hence such fine detail can be created. Note there is no evidence of carving, no marks, no modulated surfaces, telltale signs this is moulded. (As a side note, the dealer kept telling me this was jet. I knew otherwise, but the price was fine so I didn’t contradict. I’m sure fellow collectors have similar stories).

Detail of Nyx. Note the detailed features and smooth surfaces.

Whereas vulcanite brooches often display popular Victorian motifs such as flowers, hands, crosses, and all number of flora; this particular image is not commonly available. But, who is she, this winged woman, this angel who is carrying two children into the heavens? Well, although I didn’t know it when I first saw her, she is Nyx.

Nyx – the ancient Greek mythological figure of night. Let’s not call her the Goddess of night, she is more Night personified – she is night – one of the first created beings, the daughter of Chaos.  Pausanias who lived in second century AD was a traveller and writer and is known for his incredible records of the ancient world.  He travelled to Olympia where he saw and described the ancient Chest of Kypselos covered in magnificent relief carvings. Pausanias wrote: “There is also a chest made of cedar, with figures on it, some of ivory, some of gold, others carved out of the cedar-wood itself…Now I come to the second space on the chest, and in going round it I had better begin from the left. There is a figure of a woman holding on her right arm a white child asleep, and on her left she has a black child like one who is asleep. Each has his feet turned different ways. The inscriptions declare, as one could infer without inscriptions, that the figures are Death and Sleep, with Night the nurse of both.”

Thorvaldsen's marble relief 'Nyx' 1815 currently in Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen. The Museum writes: The reliefs Night and Day that hang opposite each other at the Museum are Thorvaldsen's most popular reliefs. As opposites they represent the two halves of a day, and together symbolise the wholeness of a day. Night personified floats passively over the sky with her neck bent. Her eyes are closed as is the eyes of the children in her embrace. Her hair is braided with poppies, with their sleep inducing capacities, known since Antiquity. The animal of the night - an owl - flies directly and as if urging out towards us. Be Quiet!

A committed Neo-Classicist the sculptor Thorvaldsen created artworks inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, and would have been familiar with the writings of Pausanias and later depictions of Night as a winged figure. Although Danish, he lived and worked in Rome for forty years. One of his most popular relief carvings created in Rome was the marble panel of Nyx carved in 1815 and pictured here. But how did this image come to be introduced into the everyday vernacular of jewellery fashion in England some decades later?

Another example this time painted on a locket. Circa 1860 - 1880. Courtesy of online museum As Time Dances By website.

Luckily Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe answered that question for me in the British Museum publication Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria. As mentioned Thorvaldsen was based in Rome, and every Englishman worth his weight went on the Grand Tour. English sculptor John Gibson studied under Thorvaldsen. Gibson knew the prestigious cameo artists Tommaso and Luigi Saulini. Tommaso trained with Thorvaldsen also. The Saulinis were inspired by the works of both Gibson and Thorvaldsen for their own cameo carvings. Most importantly, Tommaso Saulini created a shell cameo of Thorvaldsen’s ‘Night’ for the 1862 Grand Exhibition in London where it was so popular it won a prize. (pp. 474-475). Today there is another Italian cameo of ‘Night’ circa 1840 in the British Museum carved out of malachite. Therein lies a significant body of evidence that Nyx / Night was a popular and recognised image in Victorian England. Again, this leads us to another question though – why? And why did it resonate so much that it was used in mourning jewellery?

Sleep. Oh, goodness gracious the Victorians were so full of subtext weren’t they? What is night and what is sleep to a Victorian Englishperson than the perfect allegory for death? In fact, the Victorians were so concerned with the ideal death, that moment of spiritual contentment, and then, quiet repose – that sleep is in fact the perfect euphemism. Do you recall the names of the babes in Night’s arms, her sons? Sleep and Death. What is a winged classical figure to a Christian Victorian Englishman or woman? Could we safely assume an angel, carrying the innocent to the glorious haven of heaven?

Within the ritual of mourning, art speaks and provides comfort.

– Marielle Soni

Mary II Memento Mori Slide

I’ll let the wonderful Michele Rowan talk us through this one;

“A rare Stuart crystal slide to commemorate the death of Queen Mary II, joint sovereign of Britain from 1668 – 1694. Mary, the daughter of James II, was the wife of William of Orange, her first cousin. The marriage had been arranged for diplomatic reasons by Charles II yet produced no heirs. In December 1694 Mary succumbed to smallpox and died at the age of 32, on December 28th. Her husband was prostrate with grief and the nation underwent a period of long and deep mourning for the Queen. Four mournful trumpeters played a slow march leading her elaborate funeral procession to Westminster Abbey. After his death, the King was found to have kept a lock of Mary’s hair and her wedding ring next to his heart.

This commemorative slide for Mary is gold, set with a compartment of woven hair overlaid with devices of the royal crown and sceptre, two orbs and an enamelled skull and crossbones. The central gold cipher letters MR represent Mary Regina and around the edge of the slide in red and gold enamelled letters is the motto : Memento Maria Regina Obit 28 December 1694. The slide is covered with a densely faceted rock crystal. It measures one inch by 3/4 of an inch and is in superb condition, with coloured enamels as bright as they would have been when the slide was made in 1695.”

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Commemorative medallions, such as the piece above, are a popular part of the mourning industry.

Princess Charlotte Augusta, married to Prince Leopold, was mourned nationally, an event which which had grown with the passing of popular / royal figures and would continue further.

An example of this can be seen in the piece from Queen Mary II, but the custom was a popular one, notably used for Lord Nelson and reproductions of the Lord Nelson mourning ring made to commemorate his death.

Queen Victoria, Lincoln, Washington and many other popular figures would continue to be commemorated in this fashion (18th, 19th Century), which ties directly into the mourning industry. And facilitated a tremendous industry. Only by the first world war did events of this kind not hold their original resonance, however public memorials and mourning are still commemorated. Memorial items for popular events still continue also, such as rings made for the September 11 attacks and various items for the death of Princess Di.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Inscription: Born Jan VII MDCCXCVII Married to H.R.H. Prince Leopold of Saxe Cobourg May 11 MDCCCXVI Died Nov VI MDCCCXVII
When the Ear Heard Her It Blessed Her And When The Eye Saw Her It Gave Witness to Her The Voice of Wailing is Heard: As the Morning Cloud , As The Early Dew, She Passeth Away

Memento Mori Watch

March 29, 2011

Memento Mori WatchWatches and clocks with the memento mori motifs were not uncommon, dating from the mid 17th Century to the 1930s. This early Verge silver skull pivots at the top of the cranium, whereas others pivot from the jaw. There are others created that fold open at the top of the head with enamel and diamonds, but pieces like these are extremely rare and command a high price. Examples exist from Switzerland, France, Germany and England. As written by the Taft Museum:

Memento Mori Watch Closed“The skull and watch are part of the standard subject matter of 17th-century vanitas still lifes. Vanitas is from the Latin for “emptiness” or “untruth,” from which comes the English word “vanity.” Such pictures depict objects that have an underlying moral message—usually about the fleeting nature of physical reality. Therefore, it is not surprising that the skull and watch, two reminders of the passage of time, should merge in a single object. The use of the skeleton hand, however, is unusual.”

Commemorative medallions, such as the piece above, are a popular part of the mourning industry.

Princess Charlotte Augusta, married to Prince Leopold, was mourned nationally, an event which which had grown with the passing of popular / royal figures and would continue further.

An example of this can be seen in the piece from Queen Mary II, but the custom was a popular one, notably used for Lord Nelson and reproductions of the Lord Nelson mourning ring made to commemorate his death.

Queen Victoria, Lincoln, Washington and many other popular figures would continue to be commemorated in this fashion (18th, 19th Century), which ties directly into the mourning industry. And facilitated a tremendous industry. Only by the first world war did events of this kind not hold their original resonance, however public memorials and mourning are still commemorated. Memorial items for popular events still continue also, such as rings made for the September 11 attacks and various items for the death of Princess Di.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Inscription: Born Jan VII MDCCXCVII Married to H.R.H. Prince Leopold of Saxe Cobourg May 11 MDCCCXVI Died Nov VI MDCCCXVII
When the Ear Heard Her It Blessed Her And When The Eye Saw Her It Gave Witness to Her The Voice of Wailing is Heard: As the Morning Cloud , As The Early Dew, She Passeth Away

A colourful piece and a statement on mortality, this enamelled box doesn’t have the fine quality of the mourning piece, but it quite unique in its symbolism and representation.

The two figures rowing across the river show the journey of life crossing over, from the home to unknown, or the garden, which represents the hereafter.

Battersea Box Sentimental openThe floral border is also a colourful touch, as it the yellow base and this would lean towards being constructed by a family in Bilston of the time. Purchased as a trinket, the sentimentality of this piece could have been delivered as a memorial item or given as a sentimental one, but evaluating the mentality of the purchaser is conjecture.

Lewd Bilston Enamel Box

July 21, 2010

I could wax lyrical about the symbolism in this piece, but I’d rather just let you marvel at how wonderful it is:

Bilston Box

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

This souvenir frame with the angels holding the portrait above is rich in symbolism. Though not of extraordinary quality, it is quite elegant in design.

Commemorative medallions, such as the piece above, are a popular part of the mourning industry.

Princess Charlotte Augusta, married to Prince Leopold, was mourned nationally, an event which which had grown with the passing of popular / royal figures and would continue further.

An example of this can be seen in the piece from Queen Mary II, but the custom was a popular one, notably used for Lord Nelson and reproductions of the Lord Nelson mourning ring made to commemorate his death.

Queen Victoria, Lincoln, Washington and many other popular figures would continue to be commemorated in this fashion (18th, 19th Century), which ties directly into the mourning industry. And facilitated a tremendous industry. Only by the first world war did events of this kind not hold their original resonance, however public memorials and mourning are still commemorated. Memorial items for popular events still continue also, such as rings made for the September 11 attacks and various items for the death of Princess Di.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Inscription: Born Jan VII MDCCXCVII Married to H.R.H. Prince Leopold of Saxe Cobourg May 11 MDCCCXVI Died Nov VI MDCCCXVII

When the Ear Heard Her It Blessed Her And When The Eye Saw Her It Gave Witness to Her The Voice of Wailing is Heard: As the Morning Cloud , As The Early Dew, She Passeth Away

As a gentleman’s accessory, the fob chain was one of the primary items in men’s fashion, being the functional item that would connect the watch to the body. The fob chain has gone through many permutations throughout history, being used to hold seals and other paraphernalia, but I’m not going to focus on them at the moment, I’d rather look upon its importance as an item that could hold sentimental items.

In this case, we have a locket attached to the chain (in the centre), dating from the latter 19th century. This particular style was quite common for its time, with hairwork fob chains being one of the more typical memorial and sentimental items that a man could accommodate into his daily fashion. Note the wonderful forget-me-nots put into the gold-work’s design, latter Victorian artistry was giving way to more organic depictions in art, as this is presented in a less formal way that the Neo-Rococoisms of earlier times. I’ll be posting more of other items that could be found on the chain, such a sentimental tokens/charms, and other items of affection.

Ribbon slides of this nature are early examples of the move towards wide-spread jewellery mementos during the post restoration period. Unlike the previous period, the move from the memento mori ideal provided a space where mourning could become a matter of personal interest. Ecclesiastically, the earlier change towards Protestantism facilitated this and the trauma of the English Civil War during the Stuart Era enforced an evolving custom that differed to that of mainstream Europe.

Considered to be earlier pieces, memento mori jewellery, or the statement of memento mori on objects previous to this time are not true mourning pieces, but a statement on mortality. Prior to the restoration period, portraits of Charles I would be worn secretly, usually hidden in lockets or placed in rings, to show the devotion of royalists to the crown. From this, the mourning custom grew. Mementos could be left to loved ones and the custom of mourning in its growing form became a personal ideal, rather than one central to the church.

Ribbon slides are unusual in they are a piece of popular fashion (for their time) which became absorbed by changing fashion. For their time, they were prolific and it’s quite easy to find original pieces even today, but as fashion changed, prominence fell upon bracelets, rings, necklaces, brooches, pendants and pins quite soon after the start of the 18th century.

I hope to have more examples and discussion of these wonderful little objects in the future!

Accessories?

May 3, 2010

QuestionI often get asked the question about memorial and sentimental accessories. What is the definition of this? Well, that’s largely subjective, people may consider the jewellery to be an accessory of clothing, others perhaps the other way around.

Some consider the accoutrements on the periphery of fashion or the transient items that follow a short cultural phenomena in fashion to be the accessories. The superfluous things that one generation couldn’t reuse and an item that may have had a short production life.

Personally, I tend to look on the smaller items made for mourning to be the accessory, jewellery and costume are the most presentable and vocal pieces of personal mourning or sentimentality, whereas cuff-links or hat pin may be on the outer fringe.

I’ll be discussing this topic more in the future, but I’m opening up the floor and I want to know what you think is an ‘accessory’?

Spotlight On: Sets

April 29, 2010

French Mourning Set19th Century French and German mourning sets are still available and complete today (if one looks hard enough) and consist of bracelet, necklace, brooch and earrings. These predominately feature onyx rather than black enamel. English pieces in the same style were also created, but due to the greater use of onyx on the Continent, they are harder to find.

Hairwork earrings are also popular in sentimental jewellery, many being produced in the USA and England. Different weaves and different gold fittings denote the different times and sears of construction for hairwork earrings. Examples of these can be found in the Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewelry and also on this site.

Earrings with glass compartments for hair mementos were also used, but are harder to find.

Memento Mori WatchWatches and clocks with the memento mori motifs were not uncommon, dating from the mid 17th Century to the 1930s. This early Verge silver skull pivots at the top of the cranium, whereas others pivot from the jaw. There are others created that fold open at the top of the head with enamel and diamonds, but pieces like these are extremely rare and command a high price. Examples exist from Switzerland, France, Germany and England. As written by the Taft Museum:

Memento Mori Watch Closed“The skull and watch are part of the standard subject matter of 17th-century vanitas still lifes. Vanitas is from the Latin for “emptiness” or “untruth,” from which comes the English word “vanity.” Such pictures depict objects that have an underlying moral message—usually about the fleeting nature of physical reality. Therefore, it is not surprising that the skull and watch, two reminders of the passage of time, should merge in a single object. The use of the skeleton hand, however, is unusual.”

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