John Barry Miniature Portrait 1785

An oval double portrait miniature attributed to British artist John Barry (active 1784-1827); one side has sepia miniature portrait on ivory of a gentleman (the father) wearing a powdered wig with a verre eglomise border.

John Barry Miniature Portrait 1785

Upon the other side a watercolour portrait on ivory of a young girl (the daughter) in a rose gold frame set upon a light brown hairwork base. Note the symbolism in the border and the costume of the subjects.

John Barry Miniature Portrait 1785

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

Further Reading
> Symbolism Sunday Memorial
> Property of a Lady: 18th Century Costume, Mourning and Art in a Neoclassical Miniature
> For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow
>A Jean Petitot Louis XIV Enamel Pendant?

Neoclassical MiniatureExamples such as the one above, provide a rich palette for memorial symbolism and the skill of art itself.

Allegory is the central ideal with the subject of mourning and sentimental miniatures (as with most depictions during this time) . There is an overwhelming amount of variation between pieces from this time, their symbolism (Greek in style or not), but the piece above requires close inspection.

The woman in mourning represents many different things depending on the area the piece was produced and the painter. Commonly, the woman appears in white neoclassical dress, a perfect symbol of devotion in mourning. More unusual pieces transfer the woman from being a romantic ideal into a personal statement. This can be seen in pieces which depict the actual person who commissioned the piece. Depictions range from females in black dress without the neoclassical ideal of portraiture. Examples of this can be seen in Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. Personal pieces also include the figure of a male mourning next to the central tomb, urn or other motif. Male mourning pieces tend to be more rare, but their sentiment is greatly enforced due to their personal nature. A male mourning ring dating from this time can be found in the Rings section.

The piece above has the tomb as the central focus, with the child breaking free and flying towards the angel, who has outstretched arms, holding a wreath. The wreath depicts redemption, and this is enforced by the ‘Resurgam’ (resurrection) written on the tomb.

Shown in front of the woman is a garden, which had different meaning. The biblical gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, where Christ was arrested, leading to his crucifixion and resurrection, alludes to eternal life. The cypress trees that outline the background (hope of immortality and death) provide a stunning depth to the artwork.

Following the common themes of mourning miniatures, the weeping willow (resurrection through regrowth) is one of the most common.

The reverse of this piece has a cobalt glass surround, set into a bezel, set into a gold over copper rim and a hair compartment in the centre. In a future post, we’ll look at other miniatures and compare styles.

Further Reading
> Symbolism Sunday, The Willow
> Symbolism Sunday, The Cypress
> Symbolism Sunday, The Woman

Because we’re revisiting some fashion this week, let’s take another look at this spectacular miniature:

Let me begin today’s lesson by stating that to some degree, mourning jewels are fundamentally sentimental and quite personal. There is little to no doubt about that. Grief isn’t something that can be measured by price, it’s not an affectation and it’s not something that any layer of pomp can prove justification to.

18th Century Mourning MIniature with Contemporary WomanWhen it comes to jewels, no matter what the quality, they were worn for the ideal of grief, regardless of their quality and when you see a piece that not only defies the mainstream, or tradition, of popular at a certain period, you know you’re looking at something special. Does that make the piece any more sentimental than any other mass produced item from a catalogue? I think not.

This piece rises above the expectations of the time in which is was made, it produces a bold statement about the person who held/wore/commissioned it and it demands an immediacy of emotion that was rarely captured in miniature paintings, an immediacy and proximity to the subject that perhaps only photographs could manage to take.

Read the rest of this entry »

Once in a while a man comes into your life and things just seem better somehow.

A fine and jolly fellow – Georgian, but which George?

I don’t know his name but this gentleman is one of the very few pieces from my collection I actually wear. Possibly because, not only is he quite sturdy, he seems…jolly.

Unlike most of my collection, this lovely portrait miniature is sentimental in nature. I imagine, because of the light colours, his traditional portrait stance of three-quarter profile, his colourful complexion, his lovely smile, and so on, that this was commissioned during his lifetime.

As we know from our Art of Mourning posts (and Jane Austen), sentimental jewellery in the form of portrait miniatures was a very popular form of art. They could be miniature paintings or in this format where it also doubled as an item of jewellery. Not only were they commissioned for family members, they also acted as love tokens given to your affianced, or other such love interest!

Detail – note how seamless the construction appears.

My jolly fellow bears no inscription, so there is no confirmation of identity, nor date of execution. However, from his clothes and hair one would hazard a guess of around 1780 – 1810 or thereabouts? Perhaps those schooled in fashion history could shed some light on the date – please feel free to comment.

The reverse showing the entwined hair

He is painted on what is likely to be ivory, encased in thick domed glass and framed in a classic oval gold frame. The reverse holds plaited hair. Here is another clue that it is sentimental, two shades of hair entwined together forever – perhaps man and wife. It is also possible that the hair was added later; there is quite a lot of grey in the darker shade (his?) and then lovely lush red hair is his companion.

At any rate, I have worn him dancing, sipping champagne, dressed in my finest and celebrating with friends. From his flushed cheeks, gentle eyes and authentic smile, I think he quite enjoyed it!

– Marielle Soni

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was a most exquisite pendant….

The front of the mourning pendant - note the use of pink. I can't imagine that this would have occurred in an English mourning piece. Travelling from continent to continent it now resides in Australia.

This story is about collecting. I promise there will be another tale about the potent beauty and sentiment of this piece. However, back to the land of far, far away, the land of collectors, it is called – The Internet.

A few years ago I fell in love. It was a complicated love, one born of desire for beauty, but one also springing from a much deeper place of empathy and respect. It was instigated by my sisters, they (under my instruction) went to Gray’s Antiques in London to collect a rather special ring that I had recently purchased. They were also under instruction to have a look at a few other pieces I was interested in. What they recommended was this extraordinary French pendant. They described the size, colour and detail to be something quite unique.

Detail

I looked at this miniature artwork on the internet on a daily basis. I coveted it greatly but just did not have the resources to buy it. I would estimate that I looked at it online at least once a day for quite some time and then – quelle horreur –  it disappeared.

As a collector do you ever realise (after the fact) that you feel more regret at having missed out on a new acquisition as it would have felt to spend the money you didn’t have? I have felt both types, but nothing is quite as bad as feeling regret once something slipped through one’s fingers. That is the double-edged sword of the internet. Being able to see an image of something daily, having it there seemingly available and accessible does encourage one to think that one has until  tomorrow, and tomorrow…..

So, when it disappears it can be quite confronting. Eeek – someone took my pendant!

A combination of sepia painting, macerated hair, pearls, watercolour & 3-d gold

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw the same pendant suddenly appear on the other side of the world courtesy of Ruby Lane! Immediate Wish List addition. I had learnt my lesson but to be honest, it still doesn’t solve the realism of not having the finances. But the original loss made me bolder, and when the dollar became a bit better, and with such generous things like lay-by (and living on rice) become options one can find a way.

A discipline which I try to adhere to (but often fail) is to refrain from purchasing things that I like at a moderate cost and save up for things that I love that are at a price requiring a bit more sacrifice.

What the land of  The Internet has provided to me, as a collector, is reach into a larger market. I have access to dealers in the UK, the US and the rest of the world which would have been unfathomable not that long ago.

The reverse with hair panel and inscription in French.

– Marielle Soni

Nothing is quite so sad for me as to see an antiques dealer retire or go out of business. In this particular case, it was the former and I had to rescue all the jewellery I could from the Melbourne institution herself, Irene Chapman. Below is a lovely red enamel, pearl, 2 colour hairwork brooch, let’s take a look:

Red Enamel Navette Pearl Brooch

Red Enamel Navette Pearl Brooch

Red Enamel Navette Pearl Brooch

There is black enamel, gold and hair….and then there is black enamel, gold and hair. This fine example is of the latter. A fine Victorian gold and enamel brooch with a plaited hair insert and black enamel decorated with floral and foliate motifs.  The reverse is inscribed with the names of Agnes and Sarah Robinson who died in 1845 and 1860 respectively.  The brooch measures 4cm (1.6 in) by 3cm (1.2 in).

An overall pleasing composition created with a simple palette

The gold floral motifs are of exquisitely fine detail. The  scrolled borders are of extraordinary craftsmanship. This is a wonderful example of the traditional Victorian mourning aesthetic at a level far and beyond. I particularly respond to the completeness of this brooch – the grey hair, beautifully woven with brown, corresponds most pleasingly with the composition of the foliate design and the overall shape of the ornate frame. The eye is drawn across  and around in what is a very satisfying piece.

Dedications inscribed on the reverse

To Agnes Robinson ob. 15. May 1845. AET. 63. Sarah Robinson obt. 2 February 1860 AEt 79 – possibly sisters – you and/or your family had very fine taste and honour you well.

Detail of the fine floral motifs and inner & outer scrolled borders

– Marielle Soni

Jean Petitot Louis XIV Enamel Pendant

I’ll let the brilliant Barbara Robbins speak a little about this beautiful piece:

“Here is an enamelled portrait miniature of Louis XIV, the Sun King. I bought it from Michele, and of course, she said it was in the style of Jean Petitot, but my friend, Simon Millard, was with me at the time, and he immediately spied it and he thinks it is a Petitot. Jean Petitot was one of the main enamelers of royalty (1607-1691).  Anyway, if this is a Petitot, of course a later frame has been made specifically for it, and of course, we do know that was sometimes the case.  The frame is what I love. I love the “bow” motif with the ruby, and the white enamel reads “Amez oui vous Aime,” or “I love those who have loved me.”  I imagine the back contained  a crystal and maybe some hair, but sadly that is gone. I believe, on my next visit, I will ask Michele to have her jeweler to cut some glass for the back.”

Jean Petitot Louis XIV Enamel Pendant

Double Portrait Miniature Brooch

The serpent! What a wonderful motif, I think I can safely say that I consider it one of my favourite symbols and I think I’m in good company there.

We have a remarkable brooch here, it contains so much rich symbolism that you can’t look at any part of it and not be in awe of its sentimental function. Why is this so?

Double Portrait Miniature Brooch

Well, for starters, we have the serpent, a symbol which represents eternity, often to ‘love another for eternity’ (if the piece is dedicated to someone or from someone), also rebirth and immortality. In this context, the serpent is swallowing its tail clearly shows the ‘eternity’, as it forever creates a never ending circuit around the brooch. This is a very poignant thing to note when faced with the miniatures inside.

Double Portrait Miniature Brooch

Here, we have dual portraits of the same lady painted upon ivory, something which is very rare and quite unusual. We have to be careful here that they are exactly the same woman and not sisters, so without a solid dedication, we can only suggest that it is based on countenance, but it would not stretch the imagination to suggest so.

Double Portrait Miniature Brooch

What aids the context of the singular in the portrait is the hairwork itself, a single type, we can assume. For when this brooch was produced (c.1850-60), it uses the painting on ivory method that was relegated for those who could afford it and steers the piece into the realm of artistic interpretation, rather than the literal photograph that was becoming more and more ubiquitous for its time and used in jewels for sentimental reasons. Note also the romantic depiction of the subject; this isn’t a portrait that is directly there to capture the bare fact of the subject, but it is a portrait which elevates the subject into the mythic projections of love. This can be seen in the gentle pose of her, the open, supple mouth ruddy cheeks and large, auburn eyes – all of these things are idealistic. The subject is depicted on a dark background and from the costume in the profile, we can see another link to the anachronistic and idealised romantic fashion; this certainly isn’t a portrait meant for literal consumption in a formal society.

Double Portrait Miniature Brooch

What are we left with, apart from many questions? The same thing we’re always left with when looking at these jewels; love.

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.”

Sentimental MiniatureThese remarkable miniatures also from the collection of Don Shelton (Artists and Ancestors – Miniature Portrait Art Collection) show an astounding variation in memorial and sentimental symbolism.

The piece by Johann Adamek (1776-1840), who was an Austrian miniaturist, has quite a lovely portrait on the front, but the memorial sentiment on the back is most unique.

Quite Continental in its style (typical of France, Germany and Austria), the memorial scene of the classical woman showing her right breast exposed, weeping in front of a burning pyre on top of a plinth, all set in front of a blue background.

Johann Adamek minature (front)

Johann Adamek minature (front)

One thing that should be noted is the more abstract nature of the European mourning setting which takes more cues from classical art and embellishes it with greater levels of artistic depth and individuality than its British counterpart.

This is not unique to this piece alone, but quite common of more Continental pieces of the neo-classical period, there was less of a ubiquitous standard and more of an abstract nature given to the portrayals of the mourning scene or sentiment. Please view other pieces within Art of Mourning to identify many different forms.

Johann Adamek minature (back)

Johann Adamek minature (back)

It should be noted that the bird in relation to a sentimental image is also important; if the bird is a dove, then it can be further detached from the subject and more inclined towards a neo-classical ideal of peace/hope/heaven, if the bird a sparrow then love (dedication, trust), if the bird is a swallow, there’s motherhood or children involved. There are many neo-classical images of the woman holding the bird with a man looking upon her or involved with her (hand upon shoulder or body) which allude to motherhood, futurity and the prospect of a child. Many of these bird subjects often come back to the nature of the child.

Sepia MiniatureIn classical art, it has been suggested that the bird in the cage was relevant to an ‘awakening’ of the subject, be it in a sexual manner or a path to adulthood, I believe that what the relation of the bird is upon the subject (depending on how it references the bird) can define it being death or a new life. Be aware, though, that the bird as the subject without the human element or any context for the bird (no cage), the bird becomes its own individual symbol and is often the anthropomorphic establishment of its subject or often an ecclesiastical ideal (though this takes us to the Protestant iconography vs Catholic symbolic differences).

Often when critiquing a Neoclassical piece with art, you’ll often find me reference the quality of the painting itself. Be it colour or sepia, there’s often a wide degree of variation between pieces in how they are depicted.

Watercolour Pendant 19th Century Ship

Much of the variation comes form the instant nature of the art itself. Remember that memorial and sentimental art is very immediate. If a lover is parting on short notice and a token of regard and affection has to be bought or commissioned without pre-planning, then the jewel is born of necessity. If there is a financial issue that causes the person purchasing the piece to have to choose an item of lesser quality or even if the person wishes to embed their own art into a piece (such as their own placement of hairwork in a locket, photograph, personal memento), then it’s not so much about the level of the execution, but comes back to the personal nature of what the piece is for. Yes, these pieces can be naive, but they can also be unique and beautiful individuals, pieces that have no precedence and never will again. It captures the moment between people, that instant affection inside a jewel.

Which leads us to this piece. This particular painting is obviously very instant. Detail to the piece is quite low considering the complexity of the depiction and yet the hairwork on the reverse is quite delicate, with the Albert curl and gold wire cipher. This is set in a low-grade pendant and underneath glass, so what can we make of it?

Firstly, the symbolism is rather simple and direct. There’s little other allusion to context outside of the ship sailing into the distance and the Neoclassical female pointing to it sailing away. The cliff, tree and surrounds merely act as scenery, rather than enhancing the piece with further sentiments. Note the figure of the female herself. Her hair is set in a more contemporary style for the time, rather than harkening back to the Ancient Grecian idealised style, though her dress is classical in intent, but the flowing lines and folds of the dress are lost to simple strokes of the artist. The face is rather simple, the eyes are simple black dotes, as is the nose, yet the artist has taken care to shade the piece and give her more contrast than the art is perhaps worthy of. Then there is the ship sailing away, note the inclusion of the flags and their colour.

Watercolour Pendant 19th Century Ship

The hairwork makes this piece easier to date and gives the naïve painting context. With its curl and attention to detail in the table-working, this piece stems from around the 1820s, a time when the Neoclassical style of large miniature paintings had been on the decline, with smaller, angular jewels and sharp, clean lines in enamel and stones/pearls surrounding hair mementos taking their place. Hence the instant nature of the painting or the lack of style can be understood as either being a primitive interpretation of the earlier styles, rushed for necessity, a personal sentimental gift or a pre-designed and cheaply bought token of affection.

Travelling miniaturists sold pre-designed miniatures to a public for lower prices and would customise scenes to either incorporate a loved one (say, a soldier’s face may be inserted into a piece during the Napoleonic Wars). If one were to consider this as well as the instant nature of the piece, the symbolism with the ship and the time it was created, then one may consider it to be stemming from the Wars of the time, however, this of course is supposition and the only truth can be told by the person who commissioned it.

Either way, the facts remain that it is indeed a curiosity, still wonderful to look at and entertaining to consider!

Let me begin today’s lesson by stating that to some degree, mourning jewels are fundamentally sentimental and quite personal. There is little to no doubt about that. Grief isn’t something that can be measured by price, it’s not an affectation and it’s not something that any layer of pomp can prove justification to.

18th Century Mourning MIniature with Contemporary WomanWhen it comes to jewels, no matter what the quality, they were worn for the ideal of grief, regardless of their quality and when you see a piece that not only defies the mainstream, or tradition, of popular at a certain period, you know you’re looking at something special. Does that make the piece any more sentimental than any other mass produced item from a catalogue? I think not.

This piece rises above the expectations of the time in which is was made, it produces a bold statement about the person who held/wore/commissioned it and it demands an immediacy of emotion that was rarely captured in miniature paintings, an immediacy and proximity to the subject that perhaps only photographs could manage to take.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.”

Charles I Miniature Pendant with Pearl

I don’t think there’s enough that I can say about these Charles I pieces. To me, they represent the inception of an industry that certainly was on the verge of being one of the most culturally important movements in modern history, due to its cross-cultural pervasiveness and obvious necessity. Yes, I’m talking about the industry of mourning.

However, there is also the way that death was adapted by the oncoming industrial revolution and the inception of social movement. In some ways, the affectation of mourning speaks about the superficial nature of the human condition, with our fickle concerns of outward presentation and adherence to human-imposed social conventions.

Charles I Mourning Pendant Royalist Enamel Blue

What has this to do with the Charles I pendant on display here? The beheading of Charles I created a royalist movement that provoked society to adapt tableaus in dedication to the fallen king, with a disregard to the monetary context of the dedications – surviving portraits of Charles may vary in quality from the finely painted to the naive. However, there is quite an effort to present the man with respectful quality, regardless. This royalist movement was one that could transcend the socio-economic demographic and allow for the lower classes to express their grief/loyalty (even when the pieces were covered or hidden in lockets), as opposed to more insular cultural outlooks, which focused more on the immediate family/work paradigm without the greater social awareness. Communication was becoming faster, social borders were crumbling and the presentation of the self to this greater social audience was becoming more and more important.

Hence, when a piece like this was worn, albeit enamel side up (the pearl is a later addition), it still conveys a message about the wearer to the society around them. It shows obvious status and wealth.

Looking at the piece itself, Charles is looking off (not engaging the viewer) with sadness, hence its meaning as being a royalist piece is established (hardly the demeanour of a king still alive), the portrait itself, shows the face is painted to a pre-established ideal of the king and not painted in personal company with the man himself though the miniaturist has taken careful detail to shading of the hair and attention to the costume – often portraits of Charles would be closer in to the face of the subject. On the reverse, we have the blue enamel and this side doesn’t demand that the wearer turn it over to reveal the portrait. In this case, the portrait is personal and worn over the heart, while this enamel reverse can be presented with all the sophistication of class status that it deserves. If the wearer commissioned the blue enamel with the intent of royalty in the face of such a personal sentiment is truly the prerogative of the person who commissioned it, however, it is more likely. The piece is set in silver and retains much of the popular late Baroque design in the flower and enamel that would be expected.

And how does this all reflect upon us today? Well, essentially, it gives us all a great appreciation for the industry that surrounds us, but personally, I simply like to enjoy looking at this magnificent piece.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

18K solid case and clasp fittings elaborately engraved and enameled, housing portrait of (yet) unknown sitter of watercolor on ivory with a small surface crack to the ivory. This piece came from a Maryland estate, and believed to be painted by John Wood Dodge, American (1807-1893).

What a magnificent and complete bracelet, with its clasp and hairwork intact. Pieces like this are truly individual, nothing can match or compare to it, because its materials and subject permeate every level of its construction.

Note the enamel to the back of the clasp and how the use of enamel was becoming fashionable for larger items of jewellery, after being pushed aside for the lines and art of the neo-classical pieces.

I could look at this piece all day. It’s a true work of art, there’s no other way to describe it.

Well, one more picture and I’m going to enjoy the rest of the day.

Courtesy of Sarah Nehama.

Horatio Nelson’s death in 1805 during the Battle of Trafalgar was a landmark in the Napoleonic Wars and also for British society.

With his growing legacy as a national hero, many items, from jewellery to household objects were created to commemorate him.

Nelson mourning rings were created in limited number and as proof of the man’s influence in British history, the rings have been replicated several times in recent history. This particular piece follows the style of others like it, bearing the name ‘Nelson’ on the back. However, there is a danger with analysing such a piece; the imagery (with the ship) does lend to being dedicated to Horatio Nelson and the piece does lend from the times, but there is the possibility of another dedication in the name ‘Nelson’.

The rendering itself is rather simplistic and naive, however, the hairwork is quite finely styled, with two colours of hair, feathered curls, flowers and wheat sheafs, set with pearls on milk glass.

Neoclassical MiniatureExamples such as the one above, provide a rich palette for memorial symbolism and the skill of art itself.

Allegory is the central ideal with the subject of mourning and sentimental miniatures (as with most depictions during this time) . There is an overwhelming amount of variation between pieces from this time, their symbolism (Greek in style or not), but the piece above requires close inspection.

The woman in mourning represents many different things depending on the area the piece was produced and the painter. Commonly, the woman appears in white neoclassical dress, a perfect symbol of devotion in mourning. More unusual pieces transfer the woman from being a romantic ideal into a personal statement. This can be seen in pieces which depict the actual person who commissioned the piece. Depictions range from females in black dress without the neoclassical ideal of portraiture. Examples of this can be seen in Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. Personal pieces also include the figure of a male mourning next to the central tomb, urn or other motif. Male mourning pieces tend to be more rare, but their sentiment is greatly enforced due to their personal nature. A male mourning ring dating from this time can be found in the Rings section.

The piece above has the tomb as the central focus, with the child breaking free and flying towards the angel, who has outstretched arms, holding a wreath. The wreath depicts redemption, and this is enforced by the ‘Resurgam’ (resurrection) written on the tomb.

Shown in front of the woman is a garden, which had different meaning. The biblical gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, where Christ was arrested, leading to his crucifixion and resurrection, alludes to eternal life. The cypress trees that outline the background (hope of immortality and death) provide a stunning depth to the artwork.

Following the common themes of mourning miniatures, the weeping willow (resurrection through regrowth) is one of the most common.

The reverse of this piece has a cobalt glass surround, set into a bezel, set into a gold over copper rim and a hair compartment in the centre. In a future post, we’ll look at other miniatures and compare styles.

Minature Lord HTo celebrate my birthday, I think it’s only fitting that we look back at a wonderful piece of a gentlemen that looks remarkably like myself.

Miniature portraits often consisted of posthumous subjects, as the above may possibly depict. The gentleman is wearing complete black, cravat and coat and his hair is worked through the surrounding pendant. From the British School in the beginning of the 19th Century, the artistry of this piece moves beyond the typical classical ideal and shows an excellent personalised portrait.

To the reverse is cobalt blue glass and more hairwork.

Opening this one up for questioning; would you consider it to be a post-mortem portrait due to the nature of the costume? What are your thoughts and how would you date an item like this?

Sentimental MiniatureThese remarkable miniatures also from the collection of Don Shelton (Artists and Ancestors – Miniature Portrait Art Collection) show an astounding variation in memorial and sentimental symbolism.

The piece by Johann Adamek (1776-1840), who was an Austrian miniaturist, has quite a lovely portrait on the front, but the memorial sentiment on the back is most unique.

Quite Continental in its style (typical of France, Germany and Austria), the memorial scene of the classical woman showing her right breast exposed, weeping in front of a burning pyre on top of a plinth, all set in front of a blue background.

Johann Adamek minature (front)

Johann Adamek minature (front)

One thing that should be noted is the more abstract nature of the European mourning setting which takes more cues from classical art and embellishes it with greater levels of artistic depth and individuality than its British counterpart.

This is not unique to this piece alone, but quite common of more Continental pieces of the neo-classical period, there was less of a ubiquitous standard and more of an abstract nature given to the portrayals of the mourning scene or sentiment. Please view other pieces within Art of Mourning to identify many different forms.

Johann Adamek minature (back)

Johann Adamek minature (back)

It should be noted that the bird in relation to a sentimental image is also important; if the bird is a dove, then it can be further detached from the subject and more inclined towards a neo-classical ideal of peace/hope/heaven, if the bird a sparrow then love (dedication, trust), if the bird is a swallow, there’s motherhood or children involved. There are many neo-classical images of the woman holding the bird with a man looking upon her or involved with her (hand upon shoulder or body) which allude to motherhood, futurity and the prospect of a child. Many of these bird subjects often come back to the nature of the child.

Sepia MiniatureIn classical art, it has been suggested that the bird in the cage was relevant to an ‘awakening’ of the subject, be it in a sexual manner or a path to adulthood, I believe that what the relation of the bird is upon the subject (depending on how it references the bird) can define it being death or a new life. Be aware, though, that the bird as the subject without the human element or any context for the bird (no cage), the bird becomes its own individual symbol and is often the anthropomorphic establishment of its subject or often an ecclesiastical ideal (though this takes us to the Protestant iconography vs Catholic symbolic differences).

The Georgian Eye

March 17, 2010

Of the more unusual sentimental portraits to come from the late 18th Century (and to survive into the early 19th Century) was the use of eye portraits.

Eye portrait 18th century

Eye portraits are rare and highly sought after, but there is variation between them. In the portrait shown, the setting conforms to the portrait of the eye, but later examples show a tear-drop setting with a black enamel surround. Some also show a down-turned eye. These are not always to be considered mourning pieces, but certainly sentimental. The tear-drop setting with the black enamel surround is certainly a mourning piece and quite an odd point in the evolution of the style.

Eye portraits are considered to have their genesis in the late 18th Century when the Prince of Wales (to become George IV) wanted to exchange a token of love with the Catholic widow (of Edward Weld who died 3 months into the marriage) Maria Fitzherbert. The court denounced the romance as unacceptable, though a court miniaturist developed the idea of painting the eye and the surrounding facial region as a way of keeping anonymity. The pair were married on December 15, 1785, but this was considered invalid by the Royal Marriages Act because it had not been approved by George III, but Fitzherbert’s Catholic persuasion would have tainted any chance of approval. Maria’s eye portrait was worn by George under his lapel in a locket as a memento of her love. This was the catalyst that began the popularity of lover’s eyes. From its inception, the very nature of wearing the eye is a personal one and a statement of love by the wearer. Not having marks of identification, the wearer and the piece are intrinsically linked, rather than a jewellery item which can exist without the necessity of the wearer.

Use of materials developed along with the size of the settings of eye miniatures, as pieces were surrounded by precious stones and became larger due to altering fashion. A good reference for the evolving trend of the shape of early 19th century jewellery can be seen in the Rings section, where settings and the shape of the mementos changed quite dramatically from 1790-1830.

There have been a number of eye portrait forgeries due to their desirability and low production. Collectors should be cautious when purchasing a piece to ensure its authenticity.

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