After the previous looks at the Gothic Revival period and its affect on subsequent mourning jewellery, one of the things to consider is that while perception may lead to the Gothic Revival creating a period of jewellery design that was rather static, one must note that it only took the elements of the period, which were not unique to the period, but embellished, and used these concepts as a central motif.

Heavy black enamel was one of the most consistent styles that carried through. Black enamel had been considered a mourning motif for the previous 200 years, but when looking at Victorian style, note that the previous Neoclassical period was one of the strongest, unified mainstream styles ever to impact style on a fully Westernised scale. America, France and England adapted it in their own ways and it took over from a period where Rococo, Baroque and the memento mori symbolism had left off. Black enamel bands were popular since the 1500s and remained so throughout the 18th century, yet the adaptation through the Gothic Revival period and beyond produced rings like this to use the enamel as the bold mourning statement.

1850 Mourning Ring

The following ring comes from c.1850 and below, 1864, note the leap of the bold enamel to become prominent and also the change in font styling.

1864 Mourning Ring

Then let’s look at this piece from 1881, note again the enamel in play. This ring has adapted the Rococo Revival style and infused that within the black enamel on the shoulders. In terms of style, much of this can find its origins in the early 19th century, from the pearl-surrounded hair memento to the enamel itself..

1881 Mourning Ring

When it comes to styling, this particular brooch shows the Gothic lettering in full bloom. Yet the acanthus surround shows the 1860s influences, making the lettering a solid 30 years outside the idealised moment of the Gothic Revival. 30 years is a long time for any art style to be all-pervasive, but in mourning jewellery, the style makes the statement that could be understood 30 years before or after this piece was constructed. Its bold enamel, the hair memento leave no dispute as to what it is.

Mourning Brooch Gothic Revival

And then there are pieces like this from the late 19th century. Dating from 1885, this piece shows how the mourning style had become popular within the sentimental and non-death related styles of the same time. The culture had adapted well to the mainstream fashion of death and exploited it in other fashion designs.

late 19th Cenutyr Mourning Ring

When it comes to sentimental jewellery of the latter 19th century, styles had become bigger, alloys were typically in use and much of this was to accommodate fashion and the rise of photography in jewellery. Photography was a cheap means of obtaining a sentimental keepsake of a loved one and the technology was becoming more compact, enough to work perfectly in lockets. The latter 19th century, particularly post 1880, started to use silver as a popular material, yet base metals copied the look and feel of gold well enough, for mourning jewellery, Pinchbeck was quite common. In this, you can see the bold, enamel styles carry through with the statement of the Gothic Revival showing through. ‘In Memory Of’ and the standard statements were rendered in bold black enamel, often using the Gothic fonts and despite the inclusion of many mourning symbols, the adherence to the Christian paradigm in these jewels reflected the change bought about in the 1830s through the Gothic Revival.

So, there we have it. Three weeks of Gothic Revival exploration in culture and jewellery! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, as you never know what tomorrow will bring.

The Gothic Revival: Culture and Jewellery
Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
Part 2, c.1850-c.1900

With the seemingly ubiquitous and rather prominent rise of the Gothic Revival period, one must consider that the reaction to the Neoclassical period was.

Gothic Revival Brooch

Should we postulate that there was an internal fear of further revolutions? Or perhaps the Napoleonic Wars had provoked an era of stability that grew from a period considered to bring about the shift from god to the self which resulted in the destabilisation of government and monarchy, war, high mortality and also massive industry. If this thought is in any way certain, it was at least reflected in the reign of Queen Victoria, a reign which saw a return to Christian values, empire building and much greater stability. The affectations of fashion and culture play no small role in this stability.

Last week we looked at the Gothic Revival and its reaction to Neoclassicism as a conceited step to promoting medieval values. Through this, the jewellery worn for the purpose of mourning, a purpose that represented the family unit, created this art on the person. The very impression of the jewel worn at the neck, wrist or finger reflected the concepts of the church and monarchy from the outside in. The very ideals represented in the Church became part of the person.

These concepts, as seen last week through the emergence of the Gothic Revival style in the 1820s and 30s remained through the 1850s to 1900. For an time where the mortality rate was around 40 years old, several generations were influenced with the harder line of mourning, it was imbued within the cultural paradigm without a massive change of thought to create a stylistic change. Rather, the styles of the Gothic Revival period simply became adapted into the Rococo Revival period and many of the other art revival periods of the latter 19th century.

Look at the subsequent pieces. Note that the font changes, but the essential style remains the same.

Bold, black enamel, embellished floral designs and the hair memento. While there are a lot of pieces to challenge this paradigm, these were readily available through catalogues and relatively cheap. There was not enough of a social push to change this, until around 1900. What caused such a change? By the 1880s, there was greater social stability than the 1860s throughout America and Europe, various mineral finds and the establishment of heavy industry as a necessary means of living and mass production, greater communications and mass transit along with clear divisions and seeming political stability had caused even greater fluidity of art and culture between nations. The paradigm established by the Gothic Revival period was starting to give way to less rigid structures of society and art, with new cultural influences provoking those once locked into their social/cultural paradigm a way of looking outside for greater ideas and influences.

But were these concepts universal? Did poor jewellery suffer under the weight of high mortality and political/religious indoctrination? Let’s find out next week!

The Gothic Revival period of the early 19th century is an extremely pronounced period of obvious consequences in art and architecture, but also heavily affecting in morality and cultural lifestyle. It is a period that overlapped other forms of mainstream style to eventually become the dominant visual presence, particularly in memorial jewellery and had left its mark for the greater part of the 19th century.

Gothic Pie Crust Ring Mourning

Firstly, we must look at this emerging style to conflict directly with the ideals of the Neoclassical period. Thought the Neo-Gothic movement had begun c.1740, it took around sixty years for it to reach mainstream thought, a time when Neoclassicism was at its height.

Gothic Revival Locket

Much of this thought was a reaction to religious non-conformity in an effort to swing back to the ideals of the High Church and Anglo-Catholic self-belief. This was a time when heavy industry was on the rise and modern society (as we consider it today) was established, a time of radical change that challenged pre-existing ideals of society. Though there had been growing small scale social mobility from the late 17th century, the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the middle classes having the opportunity to promote through society with the accumulation of wealth. Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, a designer, architect and convert to Catholicism, saw this industrial revolution as a corruption of the ideal medieval society. Through this, he used Gothic architecture as a way to combat classicism and the industrialisation of society, with Gothic architecture reflecting proper Christian values. Ideologically, Neoclassicism was adopted by liberalism; this reflecting the self, the pursuit of knowledge and the freedom of the monotheistic ecclesiastical system that had controlled Western society throughout the medieval period. Consider that Neoclassicism influenced thought during the same period as the American and French revolutions and it isn’t hard to see the parallels. The Gothic Revival would, in effect, push society into the paradigm of monarchy and conservatism, which would dominate heavily throughout the 19th century and establish many of the values that are still imbued within society today.

As we jewellery historians know, the best way to enact social change is through art and the stylistic affectations that surround us and influence our daily lives visually.

Gothic Revival Locket

Much of the latter 19th century pieces had their origin in this Gothic Revival period, the bold styles with black enamel as well as being larger accommodated the evolution of female fashion, which heavier crinolines and cuffs, seemed to be a perfect fit. Styles didn’t automatically become larger due to the Gothic Revival influence, much of the older styles adapted Rococo acanthus designs and incorporated Gothic fonts into the lettering of the dedication in the pieces, which emerged around the c.1800-1810. By the 1820s this style was influencing brooches, rings, pendants and lockets more and more, until the 1830s when it reached its height, particularly in terms of diversity. Through the 1840s it had become the standard and into the 1850s, there was the Hallmarking Act of 1854 that allowed the use of lower grade alloys. Reflecting this upon the larger styles of female dress, pieces could be larger and lighter to wear, yet still give all the bold, gold and black enamel prominence of the pieces themselves.

Gothic Revival Locket

Next, we’ll take a look at the Victorian society and how the Gothic Revival accommodated the culture and jewellery of the time.

Locket Courtesy: Marielle Soni

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

Ivy in the Graveyard

July 24, 2011

Here is another little photo I stumbled across which is quite pertinent to our recent post. We discuss symbolism in jewellery and here is one in the graveyard with a most beautiful dedication: “As the ivy clings to the oak, our memory clings to thee.”

Headstone from a small cemetry in West Australia

 

Enjoy your Sunday.

– Marielle Soni

Via GhostWatching comes this magical overview;

 

Just a Sample

June 22, 2011

Samplers sure are lovely, indeed, if you like them as I do, have a read through this area of Art of Mourning! Below are some images from the collection of Barbara Robbins:

Mourning Death Sampler

Mourning Death Sampler

Mourning Death Sampler

After the previous looks at the Gothic Revival period and its affect on subsequent mourning jewellery, one of the things to consider is that while perception may lead to the Gothic Revival creating a period of jewellery design that was rather static, one must note that it only took the elements of the period, which were not unique to the period, but embellished, and used these concepts as a central motif.

Heavy black enamel was one of the most consistent styles that carried through. Black enamel had been considered a mourning motif for the previous 200 years, but when looking at Victorian style, note that the previous Neoclassical period was one of the strongest, unified mainstream styles ever to impact style on a fully Westernised scale. America, France and England adapted it in their own ways and it took over from a period where Rococo, Baroque and the memento mori symbolism had left off. Black enamel bands were popular since the 1500s and remained so throughout the 18th century, yet the adaptation through the Gothic Revival period and beyond produced rings like this to use the enamel as the bold mourning statement.

1850 Mourning Ring

The following ring comes from c.1850 and below, 1864, note the leap of the bold enamel to become prominent and also the change in font styling.

1864 Mourning Ring

Then let’s look at this piece from 1881, note again the enamel in play. This ring has adapted the Rococo Revival style and infused that within the black enamel on the shoulders. In terms of style, much of this can find its origins in the early 19th century, from the pearl-surrounded hair memento to the enamel itself..

1881 Mourning Ring

When it comes to styling, this particular brooch shows the Gothic lettering in full bloom. Yet the acanthus surround shows the 1860s influences, making the lettering a solid 30 years outside the idealised moment of the Gothic Revival. 30 years is a long time for any art style to be all-pervasive, but in mourning jewellery, the style makes the statement that could be understood 30 years before or after this piece was constructed. Its bold enamel, the hair memento leave no dispute as to what it is.

Mourning Brooch Gothic Revival

And then there are pieces like this from the late 19th century. Dating from 1885, this piece shows how the mourning style had become popular within the sentimental and non-death related styles of the same time. The culture had adapted well to the mainstream fashion of death and exploited it in other fashion designs.

late 19th Cenutyr Mourning Ring

When it comes to sentimental jewellery of the latter 19th century, styles had become bigger, alloys were typically in use and much of this was to accommodate fashion and the rise of photography in jewellery. Photography was a cheap means of obtaining a sentimental keepsake of a loved one and the technology was becoming more compact, enough to work perfectly in lockets. The latter 19th century, particularly post 1880, started to use silver as a popular material, yet base metals copied the look and feel of gold well enough, for mourning jewellery, Pinchbeck was quite common. In this, you can see the bold, enamel styles carry through with the statement of the Gothic Revival showing through. ‘In Memory Of’ and the standard statements were rendered in bold black enamel, often using the Gothic fonts and despite the inclusion of many mourning symbols, the adherence to the Christian paradigm in these jewels reflected the change bought about in the 1830s through the Gothic Revival.

So, there we have it. Three weeks of Gothic Revival exploration in culture and jewellery! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, as you never know what tomorrow will bring.

The Gothic Revival: Culture and Jewellery
Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
Part 2, c.1850-c.1900

French Jet and Vauxhall Glass

February 22, 2011

As far as jet imitations go, French jet is one of the most common. For a collector, it’s hard to discern directly a piece of French jet, not because it’s to be confused with real jet in any way, but simply because many of the designs were so innocuous that finding a 19th century piece of French jet and identifying it from a piece of black glass used all the way through to the 1940s can be difficult. When French jet designs are used in more period styles, such as hat pins or showing more typical bold 19th century designs, then it’s much simpler, but there is an absolute abundance of French jet on the market that have been torn from buttons, trimming and various ancillary accessories.

English variations of French jet are called Vauxhall glass and you can often spot a piece of either French jet or Vauxhall glass from its cold touch, high reflective surface (strangely enough, like glass) and it will have a touch of red when held on some angles towards the light.

Quite often found in the trim to mourning dresses (particularly in the second and third stages due to its reflective surface and light weight), French jet was heavily produced and very cheap.

With the seemingly ubiquitous and rather prominent rise of the Gothic Revival period, one must consider that the reaction to the Neoclassical period was.

Gothic Revival Brooch

Should we postulate that there was an internal fear of further revolutions? Or perhaps the Napoleonic Wars had provoked an era of stability that grew from a period considered to bring about the shift from god to the self which resulted in the destabilisation of government and monarchy, war, high mortality and also massive industry. If this thought is in any way certain, it was at least reflected in the reign of Queen Victoria, a reign which saw a return to Christian values, empire building and much greater stability. The affectations of fashion and culture play no small role in this stability.

Last week we looked at the Gothic Revival and its reaction to Neoclassicism as a conceited step to promoting medieval values. Through this, the jewellery worn for the purpose of mourning, a purpose that represented the family unit, created this art on the person. The very impression of the jewel worn at the neck, wrist or finger reflected the concepts of the church and monarchy from the outside in. The very ideals represented in the Church became part of the person.

These concepts, as seen last week through the emergence of the Gothic Revival style in the 1820s and 30s remained through the 1850s to 1900. For an time where the mortality rate was around 40 years old, several generations were influenced with the harder line of mourning, it was imbued within the cultural paradigm without a massive change of thought to create a stylistic change. Rather, the styles of the Gothic Revival period simply became adapted into the Rococo Revival period and many of the other art revival periods of the latter 19th century.

Look at the subsequent pieces. Note that the font changes, but the essential style remains the same.

Bold, black enamel, embellished floral designs and the hair memento. While there are a lot of pieces to challenge this paradigm, these were readily available through catalogues and relatively cheap. There was not enough of a social push to change this, until around 1900. What caused such a change? By the 1880s, there was greater social stability than the 1860s throughout America and Europe, various mineral finds and the establishment of heavy industry as a necessary means of living and mass production, greater communications and mass transit along with clear divisions and seeming political stability had caused even greater fluidity of art and culture between nations. The paradigm established by the Gothic Revival period was starting to give way to less rigid structures of society and art, with new cultural influences provoking those once locked into their social/cultural paradigm a way of looking outside for greater ideas and influences.

But were these concepts universal? Did poor jewellery suffer under the weight of high mortality and political/religious indoctrination? Let’s find out next week!

Bog Oak

February 15, 2011

While not considered to be an imitation of jet (as is often the common misconception), bog oak is a material used quite often in sentimental jewels and is visually similar in both its colour and by carving to jet that it’s worth having a look at. Much of its popularity comes directly from the demand of jet itself in the 1870s, which was large enough to provoke its imitators (vulcanite) and rivals such as bog oak.

Hailing from Ireland, bog oak designs often present Irish motifs, such as the shamrock and harp, but often castles are carved into brooches. It is a fossilised wood and quite easily carved.

Spotting bog oak jewellery can be somewhat difficult to the untrained eye, but it doesn’t take a high polish like jet, is actually dark brown and shows a wooden patina. Testing should not be necessary for bog oak, its style and construction is much more relative to its material.

The Gothic Revival period of the early 19th century is an extremely pronounced period of obvious consequences in art and architecture, but also heavily affecting in morality and cultural lifestyle. It is a period that overlapped other forms of mainstream style to eventually become the dominant visual presence, particularly in memorial jewellery and had left its mark for the greater part of the 19th century.

Gothic Pie Crust Ring Mourning

Firstly, we must look at this emerging style to conflict directly with the ideals of the Neoclassical period. Thought the Neo-Gothic movement had begun c.1740, it took around sixty years for it to reach mainstream thought, a time when Neoclassicism was at its height.

Gothic Revival Locket

Much of this thought was a reaction to religious non-conformity in an effort to swing back to the ideals of the High Church and Anglo-Catholic self-belief. This was a time when heavy industry was on the rise and modern society (as we consider it today) was established, a time of radical change that challenged pre-existing ideals of society. Though there had been growing small scale social mobility from the late 17th century, the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the middle classes having the opportunity to promote through society with the accumulation of wealth. Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, a designer, architect and convert to Catholicism, saw this industrial revolution as a corruption of the ideal medieval society. Through this, he used Gothic architecture as a way to combat classicism and the industrialisation of society, with Gothic architecture reflecting proper Christian values. Ideologically, Neoclassicism was adopted by liberalism; this reflecting the self, the pursuit of knowledge and the freedom of the monotheistic ecclesiastical system that had controlled Western society throughout the medieval period. Consider that Neoclassicism influenced thought during the same period as the American and French revolutions and it isn’t hard to see the parallels. The Gothic Revival would, in effect, push society into the paradigm of monarchy and conservatism, which would dominate heavily throughout the 19th century and establish many of the values that are still imbued within society today.

As we jewellery historians know, the best way to enact social change is through art and the stylistic affectations that surround us and influence our daily lives visually.

Gothic Revival Locket

Much of the latter 19th century pieces had their origin in this Gothic Revival period, the bold styles with black enamel as well as being larger accommodated the evolution of female fashion, which heavier crinolines and cuffs, seemed to be a perfect fit. Styles didn’t automatically become larger due to the Gothic Revival influence, much of the older styles adapted Rococo acanthus designs and incorporated Gothic fonts into the lettering of the dedication in the pieces, which emerged around the c.1800-1810. By the 1820s this style was influencing brooches, rings, pendants and lockets more and more, until the 1830s when it reached its height, particularly in terms of diversity. Through the 1840s it had become the standard and into the 1850s, there was the Hallmarking Act of 1854 that allowed the use of lower grade alloys. Reflecting this upon the larger styles of female dress, pieces could be larger and lighter to wear, yet still give all the bold, gold and black enamel prominence of the pieces themselves.

Gothic Revival Locket

Next, we’ll take a look at the Victorian society and how the Gothic Revival accommodated the culture and jewellery of the time.

Locket Courtesy: Marielle Soni

Vulcanite

February 8, 2011


Vulcanite was patented in 1846 by Goodyear (the same tyre manufacturer of today), as the patent specified a manner of mixing rubber and sulphur, then heating the mixture to one hundred and fifteen degrees Celsius. It produces a brown powder when scratched and has a faint odour of sulphur. Often, a vulcanite piece in good condition can be hard to discern from actual jet, but one of the signs to look for (next to burning it with a needle and checking for the smell – Jet smells of coal) is to look at the design and note if the piece is obviously moulded (such as the smooth, curved expanding band on this piece) or if there are the obvious carving marks.

Often called ‘ebonite’, vulcanite was the most mass-produced rival to actual jet. Its ability to be moulded and not carved, along with a relatively low cost vs. labour to manufacture made vulcanite a material that was accessible to middle and lower classes of the 19th century, especially at a time when actual jet was the height of fashion. However, vulcanite, like other plastics has been seen to devalue the real thing.

Vulcanite could withstand high polishing and show a high gloss lustre in the same way as jet, but over time, the fading to khaki from black is a tell-tale sign. Vulcanite has a relatively low tolerance to sunlight so, finding pieces in their original condition isn’t hard (as there were many thousands of pieces produced), but it is becoming more difficult.

When buying jet or vulcanite, be vary wary and scrutinise your piece closely. One of the easiest ways is to spot the carving behind the memento (photo or hair) in a locket, as this wasn’t smooth and moulded like vulcanite, jet will often show the marks of the carver’s tools.

Bakelite

February 1, 2011

Bakelite is worth noting in the series of jet and its imitations, but the use of Bakelite in mourning and sentimental jewels is negligible enough to not worry about it as a direct competitor to jet for collecting.

Developed between 1907 and 1909 by Dr Leo Baekeland, Bakelite is a plastic, consisting of a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from an elimination reaction of phenol with formaldehyde filler. Be sure to test for Bakelite by scratching and receiving a black streak and powder residue. Often the word ‘patent’ is stamped on Bakelite pieces and the hot needle test, which, when applied, will give off the smell of phenol.

Bakelite was widely used in many household and industrial products, its use in jewellery is now considered quite collectable, but I’ll leave that for another website to detail.

1940s Bakelite Mourning Ring

However, Bakelite was used for mourning, memorial and sentimental purposes. During the 1930s and 1940s, there was a brief period where photographs were placed inside Bakelite/Celluloid rings, so it became quite an important material in its own right and shouldn’t be seen as a jet imitation.

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

Jet

January 25, 2011

Due to its black colour and easy translation into mourning costume, jet is a material which suffers from mourning connotations, when however it is one of the oldest jewellery constructing materials used and a fashionable material to wear. In actuality, mourning has a very small role to play in jet jewellery when one considers the scale of the industry and contemporary fashions, hence why it’s not a subject I cover often on Art of Mourning. However, it is a fascinating material and it does have a strong role to play if your focus is on 19th century mourning, so an analysis of jet is important for historian and collector.

What is Jet?
Jet is actually a type of brown coal, or fossilised wood of an ancient tree, containing around 12% mineral oil with aluminium, silica and sulphur. The trees which grew to produce this were similar to modern Araucaria trees and date from around 180 million years ago. Upon its death, a tree which fell/was carried to a body of sea water would become broken and waterlogged, then sink to the bottom and remain there to be covered by sediment. As it remained there, it would become compacted by the pressure and over time the wood would convert to jet. Chemical analysis has shown that jet was formed under sea water, however it has been suggested that softer jet was formed under fresh water.

Despite the names of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ jet, there is not a great difference in density between soft and hard, simply that soft jet is quite brittle and often cracks when heated.

The Romans coined the term ‘black amber’ for jet, as in the 19th century they had considered jet to be a hard resin. Jet conducts static electricity when rubbed on silk or wool and is also light, but under intense magnification, jet shows its origins as a product of wood.

Found in Russia, Germany, Turkey, France, Spain, Portugal, North America and of course, England, various densities of jet were mined and used, however the finest is considered to be from Whitby. Mining jet in Whitby began c.1840 and lasted to 1920, peaking in the 1870s with between two hundred and three hundred miners.

Early History

‘It is black, smooth, light and porous and differs but little from wood in appearance. The fumes of it, burnt, keep serpents at a distance and dispel hysterical affections… A decoction of this stone in wine is curative of toothache…’ – Pliny, Natural History, 1st century AD

Jet’s history dates to the prehistoric, as it was a material used for various artefacts (amulets, shaped as animals, beads, combined with amber, bones, teeth, etc) dating back 10,000 years in the France, Germany, Switzerland regions. More complete pieces have been found from Yorkshire to Scotland from 4500 years ago.

Romans used jet for rings, bracelets, dagger handles, necklaces, hairpins and die and excavations have found workshops dedicated to jet production in York (Eburacum). Pieces of possibly York origin have been found and are on display in Cologne.

In America, Pueblo Indians (around the Utah and Colorado regions) produced jet jewellery, combining it with shell and turquoise, which, in light of the Spanish jet industry, pre-dates the Spanish arrival in the area.

As a popular and reasonably simple material to carve and construct items from, jet never completely disappeared as a usable material. It leant itself well to medieval construction, due to its properties of keeping away evil spirits and ecclesiastical jewellery used jet as a material liberally. By the 14th century, a jet industry emerged in, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. Jet turners and carvers formed separate guilds, producing mostly ecclesiastical jewellery, declining only by the point of the Reformation.

Late History
Despite the lack of a large jet industry in Whitby post-Roman times, jet was known and referenced during the 18th century, but products tended to be mostly crude.

Muller argues that the transition from lighter Regency-era dresses to the heavier crinolines and larger styles of the 1850s and 1860s required larger jewellery to work with them, hence jet’s lightweight appeal and larger size provided to perfect accompaniment. Jet was presented to the public at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and its popularity grew exponentially, facing almost immediate Royal patronage from France, Bavaria and of course, England. Thomas Andrews was the ‘jet ornament manufacturer to HM the Queen’ from 1850, and this would be a most prodigious position to hold, as upon Albert’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria only allowed jet jewellery to be worn at court. Society followed on from court etiquette and mourning fashion and culture swiftly became part of mainstream culture.

By the 1870s, the annual turnover of the Whitby jet industry was said to be over one hundred thousand pounds, with a jet craftsperson earning between three and four pounds a week. From 1832, there were only two shops employing twenty-five people to 1872, where two hundred shops employing fifteen hundred women, men and children, taking over the landscape of Whitby. Development of machinery, such as the lathe, also helped to facilitate the growth of jet production meeting the high public demand for jet pieces. However, demand was so high that soft jet was imported from Spain and France, mainly for beading (as previously mentioned, soft jet tended to crack and many surviving pieces reflect this today), giving the jet trade what was considered to be a ‘bad name’, hence the attempt in 1890 to trademark ‘Whitby’ as a quality of jet. Jet was also seeing great competition in lesser-quality imitations which were far cheaper and by 1936, only five craftsmen were left. By 1958, the last Victorian trained jet carver had passed on.

But was it just the competition of imitation jet that started its decline? The entire mourning industry was in a decline from the mid 1880s – an entire generation of a culture with once fluid fashion changes had been living under the shadow of mainstream mourning culture from 1861, due mostly to a queen perpetually in mourning. By 1887, for Victoria’s golden jubilee, she had started to lessen the mourning restrictions and re-emerge in public, but there was even a cultural shift that had begun with women who lived as the centre of household mourning starting to rebel against the older ways. Style had remained largely consistent with little movement since the 1860s, though women’s clothing had lost the heavier crinolines, bold mourning jewels remained bold and prominent. This female paradigm shift had started to become an outward rebellion, with some women even wearing their veils backwards as an act of defiance. The Art Nouveau movement emerged as a breath of fresh air, with its opulent, organic, styles, using nature as its dominant motif, rather than retroactively mining the past for revival styles. Jet was not conducive to this new art movement and did not adapt. Black stones used as a material following this period in Art Deco were often onyx or glass, which became, and remains, popular to this day.

Use in Mourning Costume
Jet was a wonderful material for use in mourning, obviously for its black nature and how that relates to the 19th century stages of mourning. First mourning lasted one year and a day, outdoor garments for this would be shown by the plainness and amount of crape, jet jewellery was permitted. After one year and a day, Second stage was introduced. This involved less crape and its application to bonnets and dresses became more elaborate. It was frowned upon if this period was entered into too quickly and it lasted nine months in all. The Third stage (or Ordinary stage), introduced after twenty-one months, involves the omission of crape, inclusion of black silk trimmed with jet, black ribbon and embroidery or lace were permitted. Post 1860, soft mauves, violet, pansy, lilac, scabious and heliotrope were acceptable in half mourning. This period lasted three months. The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine stated that ‘many widows never put on their colours again’ and this was quite a statement for the identity of the woman, which was held under the veil of mourning and family symbolism for the rest of her life. Hats, shawls, mantles, gloves, shoes, fans all changed during mid century, and pagoda sleeves from 1850-70 were fashionable, designed to be stitched to the outer sleeve to cover modesty from the lower arm and wrist. Wide skirts from the 1850s-70s, tie back fashions of the late 1870s and the ‘S-bend’ look of the early 1900s all were adapted to mourning fashion, without a clear definition of difference between them. Throughout the post 1880s decline, in the 1890s, women would wear their veils at the back of the head only, showing hair beneath bonnets at the front for first stage mourning. This defiance was quite bold and marked a large turning point for mourning structure.

Use in Jewellery

Jet and Hair Earrings

One thing that is important to note is that jet wasn’t simply a mourning material, which is often a common misconception. It was another jewellery material and quite fashionable, hence giving tokens made from jet doesn’t in any way denote death. Often its black nature and use in early stage mourning gives the impression that it automatically defaults to death. However, brooches from the 1870s, pendants, lockets, trim, beading, necklaces and personalised mementos (such as pins) are quite commonly found as love tokens and items held in high fashion, with only a small percent being used directly for mourning. Jet was also used as a secondary material in many rings, such as jet beading surrounding a ring’s hair memento, creating wonderful embellishments. The ability for jet to be highly polished made it a lustrous and attractive material.

What to Look For
One of the problems with jet come from the multitude of imitations made to replicate it. Once can discover the origins of a jet piece, as it produces a brown streak when rubbed against porcelain, is warm to touch (as it is a poor conductor of heat and a glass imitation would be cold in comparison) and if you heat a needle and put it to a piece, it will give off the faint smell of sulphur. Look for imitations of jet where the piece looks like it’s moulded – jet was carved and couldn’t take the obvious rounded shapes of horn or Vulcanite.

Further Reading

Hellen Muller’s exceptional book Jet from Butterworths is a collectors primary point of reference to learn more about this remarkable material. Muller is without a doubt the leading historian on Jet and its history, so if you can track down a copy, prize it in your collection. I would also like to thank Muller for without whom, this article would not be possible.

Hair Wreath / Art

January 21, 2011

Hair WreathWreaths can be an exceptional symbol of love from the family unit, often constructed with the hair of the entire family. The simple nature of the weaves and the size of the pieces make them memorials that could be constructed at home, much the same as a sampler. They can relate to being a form of folk art, as they are culture specific and each is unique to its own family.

Frames range from the naïve to the opulent and the hair artistry can be as simple as weaves of hair into primitive flowers or rich bouquets involving several colours of hair. Sentimental words can also be found in hairwork wreaths, with the statement being the popular memorial of the time (such as ‘in memory of’).

Hair WreathWreaths did transcend the family unit, however, as professional weavers could be commissioned to produce a hair wreath. These would be displayed in the home, affixed to a wall or on an easel. This particular wreath shows a great depth in the kinds of hairwork, the fine work to the flowers and its organic design.

Post Mortem SketchPost mortem sketches like this one are a reflection of the personal decision of the family rather than being a popular device of the memorial industry. Being a popular curiosity and industry in its own right, post mortem photography was quite common in the United States and to a lesser extent Europe.

Post Mortem SketchSketches, however, can be produced by the family for the family (in the same way as a sampler) or commissioned, but was not as popular as its technological counterpart. Pieces like these are rare and unique memorial items.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: c. 1840
Dedication: AE. 46

1915 Needlework SamplerA marked change from the earlier funerary symbolism can be seen with this piece, so a softer, more gentle ‘heavenly’ approach, showing cherubic angels and very soft colours.

1915 Needlework SamplerThis style still exists in different shapes and forms today in funerary art. The needlework in this piece is an excellent example of design and colour usage to present a well-balanced and professional piece. Notice the fine detail and dimension to the angels and flowers, which work incredibly well with the needleworked text.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: c. 1915
Dedication: Nearer My God to Thee

1914 Memorial Sampler

January 11, 2011

From 1914, this piece shows the great difference in style from the previous century.

In many ways, it is more naive, though has the symbolism of the anchor and cross.

1914 Needlework SamplerUse of ribbons in this piece may have been a personal preference by the weaver, but that shows just how unique these pieces are. The formal style that was popular not long before (and still popular at the same time as this was produced), is simply not used because of the personal nature of the piece and its defiance of external stimuli.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: 1914
Dedication:

“In loving memory of our darling boy Thomas Holden
Who died Feb 11 th, 1914
Aged 14 years.

“A lovely child a father’s pride a mother’s hope with tears of love
For we were constant by his side till he was call’d to heaven above
Deeply Mourned

To Aunty From Edith

Mary Urbas Photographic MemorialMade for the young Mary Urbas, this piece was a purchased and tailored (possibly by the funerary arranger) to accommodate her image. The poem, much the same as grave inscriptions, was chosen by the family from a series of poems as was the artwork.

Mary Urbas Photographic MemorialThe frame and the artistry of this piece is a testament to the art of the early 20th century, as this was the standard for funeral art. Its frame is original (with corner embellishments) and its symbolism from the angels to faith, hope and charity are exquisite.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: 1904
Dedication:

Loving Rembrance of Our Dear Daughter, Mary Urbas, who died, April 7, 1904, aged 2 years and 9 months

Gone, But Not Forgotten

We had a little treasure once,
It was our joy and pride;
We loved it, ah, perhaps too well,
For soon it slept and died.
All is dark within our dwelling,
Lonely are our hearts to-day,
For the one we loved so dearly,
Has Forever passed away.

English 1892 Mourning SamplerSet in its original English Oak frame with a metal backing, this superb sampler raises a lot of questions about its creation and function.

Originating in the Finchley Cemetery outside of London, it gives a heartfelt poem to Mary Coleman from her child (presumably daughter, if in fact created by her). However, this piece also has the number of the grave written in needlework on the bottom and the cemetery name.

English 1892 Mourning SamplerQuestions from this arise as to its original function; was it made to be used at the cemetery mausoleum (given its metal backing), or was it a household memorial that provided extraneous information? Either way, the piece is devoid of graphical embellishment and very prominent with its text, which isn’t unusual for samplers of this time, hence not indicating it being a marker specifically.

A beautiful and proud piece, it’s very heartfelt and sentimental in its personal nature.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: 1892
Dedication: Mary Coleman

1892 Mourning Needlework SamplerMuch like the piece from 1886, this piece from 1892 is far superior and shows a very experienced hand in the layout and construction. Its balance with the frame is exceptional and the positioning of text is superb.

This follows the form more common with the latter half of the 19th century in its simple, bold, formal style, though is no less more attractive.

A Joyous Christmas

December 25, 2010

White Terraces destroyed by eruption 1886. A joyous Christmas.

White Terraces destroyed by eruption 1886. A joyous Christmas.

Even if you’re not terribly religious, Christmas is undeniably a sentimental time, one that can at the very least be spent with loved ones. So, from myself at Art of Mourning, I hope you have a wonderful day!

1886 Mourning Needlework SamplerThe open weave of this piece and the bold type make it very plain in its way, but it follows its form well with the frame. Simplicity becomes more and more common as the samplers evolve, as can be seen in the earlier, more elaborate pieces with full memorial scenes. This favours a simple symbol and text.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: May 18th 1886
Dedication:

In Loving Memory of John Smith Who died May 18th 1886
Aged nine years and one month

Not Gone From Memory
Not Gone From Love
But Gone To His Father’s
Home Above.

He is not dead but sleepeth near

1883 French Hair Art

December 17, 2010

1883 French Hair ArtAnother perfect example of French hair art and a wonderful companion piece to the 1851 artwork previously shown on the blog.

To be noted is the continuity between the two pieces and how the traditional methods of hairworking had not changed, but rather simplified.

1883 French Hair ArtThe presentation is much more free-flowing, with the date wrapping around the hairworking, showing thought to its construction and taking into account the material of the hair itself (in its length and colour).

Compare this to more folk-art or lesser quality pieces in Art of Mourning and be sure to note the brilliant subtlety of this particular piece.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Dedication: LB 4 Janvier 1883
Year: 1883

Mourning Needlework PhotographBeing a later piece, this sampler lacks formal design and opts for a flowing leaf and flower pattern.

Mourning Needlework PhotographThe photograph as the central insert shows that the age is latter 19th century, but the skill it is executed with is elegant enough to compete with earlier pieces.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Country: U.S.A

1858 Mourning Needlework SamplerFrom 1858, this sampler is shows mature and experienced stitching. The two trees bow down to the women mourning next to the plinth and urn, with flowers and the depiction of a bird (possibly a parrot) directly in the centre.

1858 Mourning Needlework SamplerAs well as the design, the personalisation of this piece in that there are two daughters (one possibly a wife) in the frame weeping is an extraordinarily nice touch to a very sentimental and well executed piece.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Dedication:

“In Remembrance of a beloved Father / He little warning did me give But
Quickly Called to my Grave O Haste
To Christ make no delay For no one nose
there Dieing day. 1858 / “J H,” it is signed, at the bottom, “A H.”

c.1870 Mourning Art

December 7, 2010

Here is an unfinished aspect to this work of art and a balance between realism and the surreal. In the foreground are medicines upon a table with a draped curtain sweeping in.

The dying subject with the angel above lays in bed and the most prominent figure of the woman kneels and prays in front. Notice how the piece becomes more immature and unrefined as it moves from left to right, underlining its unfinished nature.

1870 Mourning Art DrawingThe plant, angel, table and woman seem to be the most detailed and that leads to the thought that perhaps this is simply created for its artistic purposes and not intended to be a true representation of a scene. However, it may have an element of truth in it being a personal artistic piece, as it may reflect the person whom created it.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: c.1870

1855 Needlework Mourning SamplerColourfully styled and showing practice in the use of the needle, this piece shows a wonderful rendering of the plinth and willow. By the mid 19th century, the neoclassical art that was so popular had been eclipsed by other styles and what remained were more stylised concepts than the organic neoclassical depictions of the late 18th century. This can also been seen in the jewellery of the time, pieces that still retained symbolism in favour of bold statements are more inclined to have less symbolism and greater formal styling.

1855 Needlework Mourning SamplerOf note is the use of the alphabet in the sampler, a common practice for the more home-based sampler creations. Match this with the previous piece from 1797 and you’ll see a strong continuity.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: June 22 1855
Dedication: Thomas Isbister

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