In Memory of Collecting

For those who live in the wonderful state of Victoria, Australia; that time is upon you to do your antiquing duty! Yes, it’s the biggest and the best antique fair nearest to Melbourne; a place where you can go to spend excessive amounts of money and hunt for mysterious treasure.

I’ll be on the floor Tweeting and generally having a great time, so stop by and say hello if you’re near and make sure to leave that mourning jewellery for me!

Ballarat Antique Fair 2010
Sat 10, Sun 11, Mon 12 of March
Badminton Centre, Dowling St, Wendouree, Vic, 3355
> Website

Art of Mourning

December 11, 2011

In Memory of Collecting

Dear Mourners,

Since 2005, Art of Mourning has been your resource for memorial and sentimental jewels. As of today, Art of Mourning can now be found at:

www.artofmourning.com

This ‘blog’ will no longer be updated, rather, all updates will be found at http://www.artofmourning.com – which will keep you updated with everything related to memorial, mourning, sentimental jewels and art.

Please update your subscriptions and RSS feeds for the new site, I promise that there’s much more memorial madness to come!

The mourning era begins here!

Something That’s New…

December 5, 2011

Yes, I’m well on the way to building a new Art of Mourning that should be seen in the coming days. You’ll need to update your RSS subscriptions and bookmarks soon, however, you’ll see the inanimate become animate though letting theses pieces of jewellery live and breathe again! 2012 proves to be a very busy year, so be prepared for wonderment and excitement!

In Memory of Collecting

One of the things I love most, next to educating the world about the virtues of mourning jewellery, is informing people to go to your nearest antique fair and spend as much money as you possibly can! Being a lad who is situated in Melbourne, Australia, I have an obvious slant towards advertising the fairs nearest to me (if you have any nearby, let me know and I’ll post them on the blog).

This weekend is ‘The Way We Wear Fair’, which is one of the best, or dare I say, bespoke fairs that I go to. It caters to jewellery, clothes and antique/vintage fashion. Yes, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find some mourning/sentimental magic there.

So, if you live within a good drive of Williamstown, why not come along? I’ll be there, Tweeting from the floor, no doubt, and enjoying the moment. We can catch up and antique together if you like. See you tomorrow!

Admission Costs
Adults $12.00, Concession/Child $10.00 (10+), Family $30.00
Fair Hours
Saturday 19 November 10am-5pm , Sunday 20 November 10am-4pm
Venue
The Williamstown Town Hall, 104 Ferguson Street, Williamstown, Victoria
> Link to Website

Keep Calm and Carry On

November 11, 2011

Attention Mourners! There will be some slight changes to Art of Mourning over the coming days, so don’t be alarmed if things disappear, reappear or change about.

We’ve got some big things coming! Get excited and let’s keep moving to bliss, keeping the memories alive.

 

Following on from Part 1 of our little book review adventure, here are a few books that may or may not be essential to your collecting, but they are are great to have!

du Tertre, Nancy., The Art of the Limoges Box, 2003, Harry N. Abrams, Inc (Amazon)
This book certainly isn’t essential to the mourning or sentimental collector, but it does have some wonderful examples and shows the peripherals of what can be found in sentimental objects. The book is mostly pictorial and should really be entertained as such, a great little book for having handy on a lazy day or for referencing.

Evans, Joan., A History of Jewellery 1100-1870, 1953, Faber and Faber
Evans is one of the better writers on the subject of historical jewellery and this book shows why. With an unflinching knowledge of such a broad subject, she traverses the years with ease and shows some of the most intricate historical examples and how they weave into social history. Highly academic and highly entertaining, this book isn’t for the casual or the curious, you have to really look deep into the past for this one. Go get it, scholar!

Frank, Robin Jaffe., Love and Loss American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures, 2000, Yale University Press (Amazon)
Oh, how I adore this book. Frank really selects her pieces for display carefully, nothing seems arbitrary at all, as she weaves a solid, involving and intricate history of American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. I highly recommend this book to go with British Portrait Miniatures or The Portrait Miniature in England, you won’t be disappointed.

Hinks, Peter., Nineteenth Century Jewellery, 1975, Faber and Faber (Amazon)
There are some wonderful examples and anecdotes in this book by Peter Hinks, he unearths some little known facts about 19th century jewellery and that makes for a good companion piece to other jewellery books on the era.

Knowles, Eric., Miller’s Victorian Antiques Checklist, 2000, Octopus, (Amazon)
No, I don’t really know why this book is here at all, but I did buy it when the collecting beast was wildly prowling Eastern Europe for something shiny and old to buy. It only made those pangs a whole lot worse. Basically, it’s a pocket book that you can keep handy with a few photo references and small blurbs to go with each, as most Miller’s books are. Really quite good if you’re brand new to collecting and need a point of reference, also good if you’re starting out and need to know about other contemporary styles.

Luthi, Ann L. , Sentimental Jewellery, 2002, Shire Publications (Amazon)
Luthi is one of the finest writers and most knowledgeable people on the topic of sentimental jewellery, hence it is only fitting that this book is authored by her. For such a small book, this is deceptively full and quite handy for any collector. A great overview and a great point of reference with a very broad, global slant that covers all the necessary periods of sentimental jewellery. For the new collector, it’s one of the most invaluable books you can own, for the seasoned collector, you should have this anyway.

Over at my website Art of Mourning, I’ve got a reasonably comprehensive list of the essential books to buy if you like the old jewellery and I’ll repost them here with some brief thoughts:

Bell, Jeanenne., Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewellery, 1998, Collector Books (Amazon)
Bell’s book on hairwork jewellery is a nice overview of the form and gives many random facts, I feel that it’s a necessary book to have for references (especially with the catalogues in the back) and her knowledge of hair weaves really comes in handy when you’re evaluating pieces. Her writing doesn’t discuss much about the historical context of the pieces or the references, but it is a nice collection of facts.

Burke, L., The Illustrated Language of Flowers, 1856, A. Routledge & Co.
Rather essential if you’re keen on learning all about the classification of sentimental symbolism. Also helpful if you’re an art critique, as the symbolism was quite transient across mediums.

Burns, Stanley., Sleeping Beauty Memorial Photography in America, 1990, Twelvetrees Press
An absolutely wonderful overlook of its time and subject. Burns quite rightly narrows his gaze to American photography and really excels at an academic and also entertaining view of photography (for the layman and scholar).

Bury, Shirley., An Introduction to Sentimental Jewellery, 1985, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (Amazon)
Bury is one of the foremost writers and academics on the subject of sentimental jewellery and even this quick introduction to sentimental jewellery puts anything I’ve ever written to shame. She has a wonderful way of knowing her subject, balancing it with its time and giving it perfect historical context in relation to other jewellery, culture and society. Magnificent!

Campbell, Mark. (Kliot, J & K, ed)., The Art of Hairwork Hair Braiding and Jewelry of Sentiment with Catalog of Hair Jewellery, 1989, Lacis Publications
You probably shouldn’t be reading this site if you haven’t got a copy, downloaded a copy or at least have seen pages copied in other books.

A great look into not only the hairweaving process, but the industry and society of the time.

This book is also a wonderful reference for your hairwork jewellery – matching your pieces to the book will give you a very good insight into how they were constructed.

Coombs, Katherine., The Portrait Miniature in England, 1998. V&A Publications (Amazon)
This book gets into the depth of the miniature portrait and also is very approachable. If you want to look at miniatures and their relation to society and other jewellery, go get it. In another post, you’ll see a beautiful companion to this book based purely on American miniature portraits (more on that another day), so if you have this book, you’ve got a wonderful overview of early modern portraits. For those who just like a good picture, beautiful images abound!

Cooper, D., Battershill, N., Victorian Sentimental Jewellery, 1972, David & Charles LTD (Amazon)
Cooper’s approach to sentimental jewellery is also a nice overview of sentimental jewellery and it’s wisely focused directly upon Victorian. This book doesn’t aim too board, so it can focus upon the many different variations of Victorian jewellery and its symbolism. A great reference if you were wonderful what peripheral symbols were in Victorian jewellery and their inception. This covers jet and everything in between.

DeLorme, Maureen., Mourning Art and Jewelry, 2004, Schiffer Publishing (Amazon)
DeLorme’s views on peripheral funeralia are wonderful and a joy to read. This is very much for the new collector and also a good reference for the veteran. Her approach, while global in intent, exceeds at giving an American perspective. Great references, images and more! Go get it if you haven’t.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the limits of what a fake or a forgery is over at the Art of Mourning Facebook Group and I thought I’d open up the floor to a little discussion (feel free to join in over at the group) and add a bit of commentary.

I’ve mentioned before that I began Art of Mourning as a tool to put down as much knowledge as possible before my loved ones eventually require a mourning ring made up of myself and to dispel as much fiction surrounding a piece for the new collector or the seller who isn’t completely sure of what they have in their hands.

Once upon a time, an antique dealer once said to me that the best sellers in the world are the ones that listen to the collector and absorb the knowledge, as opposed to being seemingly knowledgeable over a large area of collectables. The collector has the passion, the collector is the boffin who spends their life in pursuit of a singular item.

However, it’s no secret that there are items out there which are reproduced for the singular purpose of monetary gain and to obfuscate the collector. These exist and are sold under the pretence of being something they are not, something which does not represent the past but is clearly being sold as a piece from the past.

For those who have been collecting antiques or are very knowledgeable about them, there’s an understanding that these items have always existed and there’s not much one can do apart from learning more about the subject and being deceived. Then, there is the new collector or person who may be fooled by the piece, thinking it too good to be true or a genuine item. Here is where there is a grey area surrounding whether or not to directly engage with them and identify that the piece is an obvious forgery, or to turn the other cheek.

I’ve written the articles below early on to try and identify what constitutes as a fake or forgery and I hope you can find the time to breeze through them. There are many other areas of forgery, usually found on eBay, that are new productions, but there is more difficultly in identifying repair work and revival periods.

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Contemporary Pieces

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Plastic, Odd Materials and Repairs

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Hallmarks

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Gold Content

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: How to Spot the Forgery

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries Conflicting Styles

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 6

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 5

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 4

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 3

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 2

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 1

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals: Spotting

So, please stop by the Facebook Group and lend your opinion!

For those of you who are new here, or who are not familiar with the wonderfully informative article that Hayden wrote about a mourning ring of mine, a ring I call the Ship Ring, please see the post from April 15, 2010. Here you will find the background for this post, in which thanks to a friend’s research, the identity behind the ring is brought to light. Once having learned to whom the ring is dedicated, the careful analysis presented by Hayden from last year’s post, and my own research into the personal history behind this ring can be seen as two separate routes of research that work in tandem with each other, helping us understand this ring in its entirety.

To summarize, Hayden’s analysis of this magnificent ring took into account a number of different aspects of the piece, that we shall see, make complete sense in light of the discovery of the true identity of the person mourned. In a nutshell, I purchased this ring online from an Englishwoman who really knew nothing about it other than it had been in her late husband’s family for over 50 years. The inside of the ring shank has the usual memorial dedication, with the date of death, and the age; however, in this case, rather than a full name, there are only initials (E. W.) with a crown, or coronet, in front of them. What intrigued me quite a lot when I first examined this ring, was a much larger coronet engraved on the underside of the bezel, along with a prominent initial “W” and then the two initials “A+T”. Here were pieces of a puzzle left to me to solve regarding the identity of the deceased: two coronets (inner shank, and under the bezel), initials E. W. on the inner shank along with the date of death (Dec. 1, 1841) and the age (83), plus two joined initials not matching the others (A+T). Where to begin?

Well, I decided to start with the coronet. I really felt that this crown was too large of a design to be a maker’s mark; it must signify something else, and something relating to the “W” below it. Not being familiar with English royalty and peerage, I had to do a bit of online research. I learned that in the peerages of the United Kingdom, the design of a coronet shows the rank of its owner. This is through the motifs of “strawberry leaves” and “pearls”, or “silver balls”, in two dimensional representations. The coronet under the bezel of this ring corresponds exactly to that of an earl. Because the coronet is featured so prominently on top of the initials W and A+T, and again on the inner shank before the letters E. W., I felt quite certain that this person was an earl; namely, the Earl of W___. But who could that be? Since I had the date of death, and the age of the person, I thought I might be able to discover who this was by utilizing these clues. Referring back to the post from April 15th of last year, you can read about how I used these to come to a possible identity, which, as it now turns out, is not correct. However, going with the assumption that this was an earl, I looked at all the possible earls of Ws, whose date of death and age matched the information on my ring. And I did come quite close; John Fane, the 10th Earl of Westmoreland. He had died on Dec. 15, 1841 at the age of 82. Pretty close, but not exact. Now, if you look at the photo of the inner shank of my ring, you’ll see that there was a piece of gold inserted on top of the original shank, and this piece had been engraved with “obit Dec. 15” .Would it be possible, I asked myself, if the ring had been mistakenly engraved- that is, the “5” from Dec. 15th left out, giving the date of death on the ring as Dec. 1? I thought it was possible, yes, but then we come to the mystery of the two initials, A+T. In my research of John Fane, I could find nothing that could relate to those two initials. So, for the time, I left that piece of information aside, and I moved to looking more carefully at the front of the ring. Here we have a ship, beautifully painted in sepia, moving away across the waves of the ocean. Surrounding the ship is a garter with a buckle made of seed pearls and hair. What of this ship? Did it refer to a naval career or one as a shipping merchant? No, I could not find anything like that for John Fane. However, as Hayden pointed out, the ship symbolizes the passage of the soul into the afterlife, and that certainly made sense here, for a mourning ring. And the garter? Well, I did find out that John Fane was made Knight of the Garter in 1793. Was all of this leading me towards the Earl of Westmoreland as the person commemorated here? I still could not be sure, but the use of the earl’s coronet, and the date of death and age on the ring so close but for one digit- these things made me feel I was on the right path. But now, what of some of the aspects of this ring that Hayden asked us to look at and analyzed? In reading his article, these could not be ignored and I felt that they played an important role in making sense of this ring. One of the main things to look at in dating rings is the shank. In the article we’re shown a comparison between this ring and one from 1786, with special attention paid to the sides of the shank and the way they connect to the front of the ring.

The similarity is quite apparent, and we see how the detailing of the shank in the ship ring shows the prototype for the style we see in the 1786 ring. This gives rise to the question of whether the ring was repurposed at the later date of 1841 to mourn a family member, but had been utilized previously in the late 18th century as a sentimental token. As we’ll see in the discovery of the true identity of the deceased, this is quite likely and makes perfect sense.

So finally- who is the ring for?  Thanks to a friend who is an experienced genealogical researcher, who took the information about this ring that I provided (the information contained in the post from last April plus my photos) and researched it based on the death date, I have learned that this ring mourns the death of Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Winterton. Who is she, and how did my friend connect the information with her? Well, he tells me that he looked to see who of import might have died on the date given in the ring, and then looked to see if the age and rank matched. A dowager Countess is the wife of a late earl; in this case, the First Earl of Winterton, Edward Turnour. And what was Elizabeth’s maiden name? Armstrong. And there we have our earl’s coronet, the W, for Winterton, A+T for Armstrong + Turnour, and the date of Countess Elizabeth’s death in London at the age of 83 on Dec. 1, 1841. And now, knowing all of this, the items that were previously analyzed by Hayden fall neatly into place. We have the ring shank, pointing to a date in the late 18th century; that is, earlier than the engraved date of 1841. Certainly the ring could have been a sentimental or marriage token at the time of the marriage of Miss Elizabeth Armstrong to the Earl of Winterton, which was in 1778. At that time, to commemorate the union, the coronet and initials on the underside of the bezel could have been engraved on the ring. And symbolizing never ending love, we have the garter, and buckle motif. That’s certainly fitting for a marriage. At some point, the ring was enlarged- we can see the solder lines of where a small piece of gold was added to the back of the shank to make it bigger. At this point, or perhaps later, for a reason I’m not sure of, a larger piece of gold was added to the inside of the shank. And then, when the Dowager Countess died, the usual mourning dedication, with the addition of the appropriate coronet before her initials was engraved to the inside of the shank. And here we have the solution to the mystery, and a confirmation of both the ring being tied to an Earl of W____, and to one with a history prior to its engraved date, with a purpose more sentimental than mourning when it was first commissioned and presented.

And so we see how diligent and patient research, backed up by facts, as well as an educated stylistic analysis, are both equally important in understanding the personal history behind a piece of antique jewelry and in fully grasping the purpose of the item and its relation to its time and its culture.

*For those who are interested, or may need help with similar research, my friend directed me to this website: http://www.cracroftspeerage.co.uk/  -this is a resource for British Peerage and Baronetage. Here is the page he found for the First Earl of Winterton, Edward Turnour. Reading down, you’ll see the entry for Elizabeth Armstrong, his second wife: www.cracroftspeerage.co.uk/online/content/index419.htm

Following on from last week’s revisiting of the property of a lady, let’s look again at the symbolism of the cypress from a previous Symbolism Sunday post…

Cupressus sempervirens, or the ‘Graveyard Cypress’ is one of the oldest classical mourning symbols used in Western and Eastern societies and its importance and longevity are are just as timeless as the tree itself.

Symbolism Sunday - The Cypress

Known as the ‘mournful tree’ by the Greeks and the Romans, the tree was sacred to the Fates and Furies as well as the rulers of the underworld. The tree would be planted by a grave, in front of the house or vestibule as a warning against outsiders entering a place corrupted by a dead body. Romans would carry branches of cypress as a sign of respect and bodies of the respected were placed upon cypress branches previous to interment. It is such for reasons as this that the tree still survives in the Muslim world and in Western culture, the cypress designates hope, as the tree points to the heavens. Here, there is a great continuity of usage for the tree, as despite its cultural interchange, it still remains understood for the same purposes in death.

It is the usage for its heavenly motif that we focus on for jewellery in the Neoclassical era, as the period of around 1760 is when the symbol came into regular mourning depictions, painted on ivory or vellum. The cypress is mostly shown in the background to the willow in the foreground of a mourning depiction, as the mourning woman would often interact with an urn, tomb or willow, but rarely with the cypress itself. Due to is constant usage in cemeteries and reflecting the classical usage of planting a cypress upon death, the cypress is still most commonly seen at the graveyard and the mourning depictions of the tomb or urn on plinth are reflective of that. The cypress’ seen flank the cemetery as they would in reality. Other depictions of the cypress may be the lonely cypress on a rocky outcrop or a singular cypress surrounded by other mourning symbols.

By the 19th century, the cypress was depicted in leaves and branches on jewellery, rather than the full sized depiction. In this way, it could be utilised with other symbols as the Neoclassical concept of depicting full mourning scenes had given way to more specialised and smaller depictions of individual symbols to convey a meaning.

So when you’re out walking around today and you see a cypress, hold a moment of silence and then go antique hunting on such a glorious day.

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

Kyneton Antique Fair, 2011

September 1, 2011

I’ve been to this fair for the last two years and it’s never let me down. Not only is it in one of my favourite areas (perhaps I’ll be living there soon!), but the town has many wonderful events surrounding this and the Daffodil & Arts Festival at the same time. So, if you appreciate good food and wine, you won’t be disappointed. When you combine that with amazing antiques, I think that pretty much sums up my reason for being on the planet. So, come along if you’re in Australia, spend a few days and enjoy!

Kyneton Antique Fair, 2011
Friday, 2nd September 5pm-8pm
Saturday, 3rd September 5pm-8pm
Sunday, 4th September 5pm-8pm

Kyneton Town Hall,
Mollison Street, Kyneton 3444
Admission: Adults $7 / Children Free

Enquiries: (Aus) 0411 208 448 / friendsofkynetonmuseum@gmail.com

 

It’s always the odd one out.

Mento Mori Skull Pin Ruby Eyes

Among the more common questions I receive at Art of Mourning revolve around the strange, the unusual and the different. It’s often when I’m faced with one of these that I know there often won’t be a definitive answer, which is something many find difficult to grapple with, but it makes the learning of the piece all the more special.

So, after my initial complaint of ‘why, oh why couldn’t this be an easy one?’, I sit back and take a deeper look at the piece in question. The wonderful thing about memorial and sentimental jewels is that no jewel was given without at least some sort of sentiment attached and with mourning jewels, people automatically attach the title to anything with a memento mori symbol.

With that in mind, let’s look at this charming little skull and crossbones pin with ruby eyes. Defining a date for such an item isn’t an easy task, one must step back from it and consider these questions;

  1. What is the purpose of the piece?

  2. Why would it have been worn?

  3. What are its materials?

  4. Does the skull conform to any other popular styles of skull design?

Once you start to apply this thinking to a piece, you begin to get a better idea of how to understand it. Think of it as a big problem solving exercise and each piece of the puzzle will come together. Of course, I’ve spent half my life studying these items, but you can find more than enough information on the internet (this very site) or at your local library.

Mento Mori Skull Pin Ruby Eyes

So, to the questions! The purpose of the piece is rather simple. The function of the pin, being only small in size and lacking a fastening clasp or area at the bottom for a clip, hence the ornamental nature of the piece is underlined. Along with this, the ruby eyes offset its functional nature and create a more aesthetic quality (which conflicts with the purpose of the skull). So, was this a hat/tie pin or worn as a token on the lapel? Sadly, the true answer lies with the person who bought it (I’m hesitant to say ‘commissioned’, but we’ll get to that later).

Why would it have been worn? As discussed, this piece served a purpose, be it aesthetic or otherwise. Why it would have been worn is the prerogative of the wearer, but what we have to consider is not simply the mindset of the wearer, but the time in which a pin of this sort would be a noteworthy gift or in fashion. From this, we have a broad length of time, ranging from the mid/latter 18th century to the mid 20th. That is obviously quite a lot of time to cover, but it suits the method in which pins for decoration correlate enough with functional fashion to be anything more than a curious trinket and become a sentimental gift.

Mento Mori Skull Pin Ruby Eyes

Here is where we look at the piece and say that, underneath its age, we have a silver (unstamped) piece with ruby eyes, so it obviously wasn’t on the bottom end of when it was made. We can make assumptions of the 1880 period and the swing towards silver as a popular material and thusly look at the resurgence of the memento mori symbolism during that time as affecting this piece, or we can look to the previous century and assume that this is not about a dedication or memorial, but a trinket of mortality for a gentleman on a ‘grand tour’ of the continent. This would facilitate the use of the silver (rather than gold) and be an appealing gift.

Memento Mori Skull Walking StickThe skull is the most revealing aspect of the piece. This is mostly due to the symbolism – it’s not simply the skull, but the skull and crossbones. Its style is incredibly simplistic and naive, without a clearly defined style of skull or bones, which leans towards its being more trinket-based, rather than a fine, bespoke piece of jewellery. Grooves over the eyes and the large nostrils defy the 19th century and onward styles that craft the well-defined skull and the motifs that we recognise mostly today. That is, however, not taking into account the memento mori revival period of the latter 19th century (which was not ubiquitous, but certainly a prolific niche) which used silver to make pieces like this and other peripherals, such as walking stick handles. This style, popular in the UK, was also consistent through France to Eastern Europe and remained to before WWI.

Fraternal Orders are the other, more common, bodies that appropriated the skull and crossbones motif and this particular pin aligns closely with Mason styles that can be seen here. With this pin, the addition of the crossbones does skew towards a Fraternal derivative, as this defies the simple skull.

In our little journey, we’ve covered a lot of ground in trying to understand what this piece truly is. Much of the time, it’s obvious to see when something was created to deceive (a copy or style in order to fetch a higher price) or when it was simply made recently and not fully understood, but they often have a clearer prerogative and are easier to spot.

I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did, nothing pleases me more than to look at a piece of jewellery, no matter what condition or style and appreciate it like a glass of fine wine.

Take some of what you’ve learned here and apply it to your jewellery. Perhaps you’d like to join our Facebook group and tell the collecting community what you’ve found?

Monday Mourning

August 15, 2011

Memories are the essential reason for the creation of these wonderful gems that we adore so much and it is through the further learning and interaction with them that future generations can keep them alive in both the physical and educational sense.

On that note, it’s great to see that so many of you are out there and joining in! I created Art of Mourning six years ago to pass on the knowledge I have to keep these pieces alive and to educate as many as possible about them, now it’s become a busy Facebook page, a Twitter feed for everything memorial and curious and now there’s a growing number of contributors to the site!

Marielle Soni has written some fabulous articles (with many more to come) and now Sarah Nehama, jeweller and long-time collector, is the newest addition to the Art of Mourning family!

For those who are new to the site, why not go back through the archives, search for a random word or year, join in with the group on Facebook (feel free to say hi, post what you like and don’t be shy) and if you have a spare moment, here are some random links:

Like photography? Here’s a series on photography in jewellery (not for the faint of heart with post-mortem photography and spirit photography):
> Photography in Jewellery (Parts 1-7)

How about spotting some analysis for all you curious types?
> Is It, Or Isn’t It? Heart Pendant – First Impressions

The seeds are delicious and it can be used to make some rather addictive substances, but what about poppy symbolism in jewellery and art?
> Symbolism Sunday, The Poppy

Let’s look at a brooch, how it applies to trade in the late 18th century and why seed pearls are so damn lovely:
> Pearl and Blue Glass/Enamel Brooch: How Trade Opened Up New Possibilities in the 18th Century

Ok, if you’re new, welcome to Art of Mourning and if you’re a long-time reader – thank you. Without you, none of this would be possible and keep those memories alive!

My Own Grand Tour

August 10, 2011

I’m going abroad, departing on a treasure hunt in less than a week!

Although my destinations are further north than the traditional Grand Tour, nonetheless there is plenty for me to explore. However, I would love some input into suggested museums, particularly smaller or private ones in Prague, Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin. Do you know any that you would recommend?

The Victoria & Albert Museum London. I'm hoping to see some of Dame Joan Evans' collection there.

Also, and most importantly, can you recommend any antique markets, shops and dealers that might be off the beaten track?

I am definitely visiting Gray’s Antiques and Alfies Antiques in London, not to mention the V&A and British Museum – it would be a travesty not too.

Gray's Antiques London - my Nirvana

So, please comment or contact me with any suggestions for London, Vienna, Prague, Hamburg and Berlin. If my entree into the virtual world proves to be stable and functioning I will do my utmost to keep you posted of adventures and finds.

I promise to write!

– Marielle Soni

In Memory of Collecting

A collector is truly the fabric that binds history. Without the collector, the history and the stories of all that have come before would be lost, we carry this knowledge from generation to generation and honour all that has come before. And of course, to collect means to be a part of a bigger whole, a community of collectors and storytellers who can take the message of this history out to a larger audience.

I created Art of Mourning as a way to weave together collectors from around the world, as a place to use my knowledge to share and expand upon this magnificent facet of history in jewellery. Mourning, memorial and sentimentality are at their essence love and to keep those memories alive by sharing knowledge down the generations means that the history and the people involved with these tokens of affection will never die as long as they are remembered.

So, it is on this occasion, much like the established Facebook Group (which I welcome you all to join!) that I share the blog with other collectors and historians. Marielle Soni, a fellow collector, will be sharing her brilliant knowledge and passion for memorial jewels in future posts. Her insights and history of collecting will no doubt inspire and educate generations of collectors, so look out for her posts in the coming days and weeks!

Wow, take a deep breath and enjoy this wonderful miniature from Barbara Robbins – if you like what you see, why not visit and learn more about wonderful memorial miniatures!

Mourning Miniature in Original Box

Mourning Miniature in Original Box

Mourning Miniature in Original Box

19th century harp brooch

Obscura in New York (280 East 10th Street) is a brilliant store run by an equally brilliant man named Mike, if you’re in the area, please go visit and tell him that Hayden from Art of Mourning sends his regards.

I bought this piece there and I could harp on about it forever. Well, let’s do just that in this little excerpt from the Symbolism post on the Harp in jewellery:

“(the harp) is not only a visually opulent instrument, but the sound is almost ethereal. Some of the earliest depictions of the harp in art are from the 13th century B.C..E at Thebes, but in more recent times (from the 9th century C.E), Ireland adopted the harp as a national symbol in 1542 to symbolise Ireland in the Royal Standard of King James VI. Harps were associated also with David in the Old Testament and used as the symbol of St. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. But if seen on jewellery, or in funerary art, it can be seen as a symbolic of worship in heaven or hope. Look for the harp most commonly in Victorian charms and latter 19th century silver pieces in motif form, but only sparingly (often a lyre) in Neoclassical pieces.”

19th century harp brooch

I know it’s not Symbolism Sunday, but this one is worthy of a very big article, so I’ll show it here and write more about it in the future. I saw it in London and was immediately transfixed. There are several reasons why people collect; for some, it’s the having, for others, it’s the accumulation and compulsion, others, education and continuity. For me, I fall into the latter and when I see something with such strange symbolism or odd construction.

This ring has some of the strangest Neoclassical symbolism and I open the door for interpretation! Take a look and comment below:

Neoclassical Symbol Ring Mourning

Neoclassical Symbol Ring Mourning

Another year and I can’t wait to discover new treasures. If you’re in the Melbourne area, come along and we can do some treasure hunting together:

MELBOURNE ANTIQUES FAIR brings the best expo of antiques and fine art to the traditional home of Melbourne’s Antiques Fairs – Malvern Town Hall in the leafy inner east.

This quality Fair presents antique furniture and décor, works of art (portraits, oils, watercolours), original prints & maps, Australiana, Art Deco, clocks & timepieces, bronzes, lamps, sterling silver, ceramics & glass, antiquities, jewellery and rare objects.

Choose eclectic objects to reflect your personality. Meet enthusiastic experts who know what today’s collectors are looking for. Start collecting!”

Gala Preview
Thursday, June 9, 6.30pm-9.30pm

Friday, June 10, 10.00am-7.00pm
Saturday, June 11, 10.00am-5.00pm
Sunday, June 12, 10.00am-5.00pm
Monday, June 13, 10.00am-4.00pm

Parking: On Street parking.

Transport to the door by tram to Cnr Glenferrie Rd & High St: Route 6, Stop 44.

I make no apologies for my love of antique/vintage costume, I grew up with costumiers and if it wasn’t for my love of history and fashion, I doubt I’d be writing to you now. So, if you have time this weekend, come along and enjoy!

Melbourne Show
27 – 29th May 2011

Venue
EXHIBITION HALL, MELBOURNE SHOWGROUNDS
Epsom Road, Ascot Vale VIC 3032

Times
Fri 27th May 2011     5.30pm – 9pm
Sat 28th May 2011    9.30am – 5.30pm
Sun 29th May 2011 10.00am – 4.00pm

It’s Sunday morning and suddenly I’m not there to entertain you over breakfast for a healthy conversation about old symbols in jewellery. What happened?

Well, fear not, I’m currently writing an article for publication and just returned safe and sound from a 6 week Grand Tour of the planet Earth, so I’m decompressing and finding out ways that my tour can actually benefit the collecting/academic community at large – for those who want to travel and discover jewellery and meet like-minded enthusiasts.

So, this is where I need you! If you’ve enjoyed the Symbolism Sunday posts, I need you to comment below, in the Facebook group or on Twitter and let me know what symbols you’d like me to discuss. I’m very interested in hearing what you want and would love to write about any symbol out there (yes, even the ones that are incredibly difficult to tie back to memorial and sentimental jewels).

If you need a little help with this, there’s the listing of symbols relevant to the jewellery over at the main Art of Mourning site here, or you can look around in your collection, on eBay, Ruby Lane, Rowan and Rowan or anywhere that sells fine jewels. Thrill me, jewellery historians!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Lamb

Mizpah

The Maltese Cross / Cross Formée

The Rose

The Greek Keys

The Urn

The Poppy

The Forget-Me-Not

The Belt/Buckle/Garter

The Upside-Down Torch

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

lamb in mourning jewellery symbolism

Sunday is the perfect day for sharing your table with your family and friends. You can break bread, drink wine and there is the all important roast! Hence, today’s Symbolism Sunday is dedicated to gathering your flock and celebrating the lamb in jewellery symbolism.

Let us take into account that the sheep/lamb is an animal of ancient origin. Lamb has been fundamentally important to the growth of civilisation, having its roots c.8000 BCE in a southern Anatolian area named Çatalhöyük. The sheep has been recorded in Cuneiform by the Sumerians for the purpose of gods/goddesses who represent/protect flocks and not only were they worshipped, but they were essential to the socio-economic growth of society.

So, as far back as animal worship is considered, sheep are part of the mainstream lexicon. These are animals which produced clothing, meat, milk and fertilisation of the land. The Egyptians depicted the god Khnum with the head of a ram, at the temples at Elephantine and Esna; one of the earliest deities, known as the Nile River’s source. This, in effect, shows just how fundamentally important the lamb was to society.

Lambs were also used in sacrifice towards deities in ancient cultures. The Greeks and Romans practiced animal sacrifice towards deities and it is from this that the concept of sacrifice carries on through the mainstream mind and transcends eras of culture. However, while there were connections of the lamb to deities themselves, it wasn’t for this that we see the symbol commonly used in jewellery from the 18th century.

As the symbol was re-appropriated for the Neoclassical era, that doesn’t have the direct connection to the resonance of the symbol that we’re necessarily looking for. What we need to consider are the Judeo-Christian values of the symbol, which resonate through the society that created this Neoclassical revival.

The Paschal Lamb (Korban Pesach/”sacrifice of Passover”) represents the blood sacrifice put upon door posts of the Israelites to deflect the angel of death from killing the first born of Egypt. It is from here that we have to focus upon the lamb as a sacrifice and how it relates to Jesus. The following passage from from Leviticus 4:32-34:

32‘But if he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring it, a female without defect.
33He shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slay it for a sin offering in the place where they slay the burnt offering.
34‘The priest is to take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and all the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar.

Here, we have a direct reference to the sacrifice of the lamb to atone for sins. The lamb is the symbol of purity and innocence; its sacrifice restores the balance of sin. This relates to the Angus Dei, as John (1:29) had stated;

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

God’s son on earth to take away the sin of the world. The dichotomy here is that the sacrificial lamb from the Old Testament was sacrificed for the sins of others, whereas Jesus knowingly became the sacrificial offering for the world.

Adversely, we have Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd’, another link to the jewellery that we’ll be looking at (I promise) soon:

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. – John 10:11

Now we enter the realm of a universal symbolism for the lamb and the shepherd; the protector and the protected. The nurturer who guards the flock and would willingly provide the sacrifice for their child. When one takes this into account for the jewellery that displays the depiction of the female shepherdess, we have a complete union of symbolism. There is the delineation between the religious context of the lamb/Christ and the lamb for its direct child/innocence context.

In Jewellery

There are several instances in memorial and sentimental jewellery where the lamb plays a very visible and direct role in the interpretation of symbolism. Much of these have the same relation to the shepherdess and her flock. This transmutes well through various mainstream styles in fashion, due to its ecclesiastical standpoint and also its depiction of ideallic beauty. If you’ve been reading along with me for long enough, you know that both of these things facilitate the changeover from the 18th to 19th centuries.

However, as popular as this symbol is, it’s been linked in the mainstream mind, reinforced every Sunday at your local Church with Jesus as the ‘good shepherd’ and a motif as primal as Western civilisation itself. Hence, when we consider the implications of this religious undertone and how it can appeal in the Neoclassical era, a time when much of this Christian identity was pushed behind the nature of the self, we are still left with a symbol that isn’t so overt as to make an instant statement about its purpose. It relates both to the person, the event/occasion and the religion to which it belongs.

These are the reasons why the lamb and shepherd (or shepherdess) are so consistent in jewellery depictions. By the Neoclassical era, it’s worthwhile to note that the sentiments of religion were not forgotten, simply not so indoctrinated into daily lifestyle and custom. Hence, when a motif, such as these, are used in a more prominent way to identify the grief or love of a person, then it reinforces the nature of the religious purpose as much as it depicts a beautiful scene.

Note this sepia piece, dating from c.1780-90 and its use of the lambs at the feet of the shepherdess as she holds the crook and writes initials into the tree. Depictions of Jesus in Neoclassical pieces would be considered anachronistic and certainly don’t fit with mainstream fashion and how culture had re-appropriated classical thought. With this piece, we have a woman (as much of the Neoclassical depictions display the shepherd), which becomes an allegory for Christ and also a representation of the self. Something of this nature would not be possible in the previous century. What we’re left with immediately places us in the scene of the female, relating her directly to the wearer or the person who commissioned it.

reverse with initials in pearl

reverse with initials in pearl

Then we take into account the lambs at her feet. These animals are nestled over each other, in an act of pure gentility, peace, comfort and love. The shepherdess is carrying the crook as to bring her flock close to her at all times and protect them from harm; the crook itself in other pieces (as seen earlier) can also morph into the very symbol of the cross itself, becoming a crosier. The initials in the tree are another wonderful feature that enhances the lamb symbolism in this piece, as she gently scrawls with a smile on her face the initials that we can assume are those of a child. From this, we have a beautiful sentiment of love and one that would be commissioned for the birth of a child as the pride of the mother.

sheep with cross in hairwork mid 19th century

mid 19th century

Moving back into the more literal depiction of the lamb/shepherdess combination, the motifs are used for mourning as much as they are for sentimental purposes in the late 18th century. Due to the aforementioned combination of connotations regarding the symbols, they related to the self, rather than a global concept. Hence, the motifs could be used in mourning of the death of a child or unwed woman. The key to understanding these motifs is that the female represents the mother and this is essential to understand the family dynamic of why they were created. A mother in mourning, displaying this affection and grief outwardly is just as important as showing a tomb depiction with a mourning character displayed. These motifs balance well with the more obvious mourning symbols, such as the weeping willow or other garden motifs, but aren’t as prolific next to a tomb.

jet necklace mourning sheep

Then we can look at how the 19th century interpreted these motifs. There aren’t any essential concepts that take away from the ideal of what they appear to be. If the viewer wants to see the lamb and shepherdess (moving towards just a female) in the piece, then that is their interpretation. It still has the basic religious meaning, and without the female depicted with the crook, it links back to the Christian motifs far stronger. However, it was still acceptable for the female depiction in the Romantic period of the 19th century and from the 1850s, finding this motif painted or in mosaic is not uncommon. It becomes not an immediate method of displaying affection as it does an allegorical one. The scenes are not current with the 19th century, a society increasingly industrialised, but reflecting upon the past, where the shepherd and romantic imagery were further removed from the society that displayed them. They were, in effect, becoming concepts of the ideal, hence their romantic nature.

jet necklace mourning sheep

From this, the idea of the lamb as a child is one of the most universal concepts. It is the symbol of this that is found at the grave of children for its simplicity of purity and innocence. For all the seeming tragedy of a sacrifice, the relation to Christ only enhances the gentleness of the symbol, by identifying with innocence, meekness, humility and gentleness.

So, as we can see, the lamb is not just a cute animal or a tasty dish, but there’s quite a lot more going on than meets the eye. It  motif still popular today, a motif that is easy to identify, beautiful enough to wear on a charm, pendant or bracelet. A motif that still resonates all the love and empathy as it has for the past two thousand years.

On that note, go spend the rest of the day with family and be thankful for all you have!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

Mizpah

The Maltese Cross / Cross Formée

The Rose

The Greek Keys

The Urn

The Poppy

The Forget-Me-Not

The Belt/Buckle/Garter

The Upside-Down Torch

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

I’ve got a lot of love for this fair and unfortunantly I’ll be in Europe and not available to go, so if you’re around the area, please go along and make my jealous by writing about your experiences in the comments!

35th Annual Geelong Antique Fair 2010
Event Date:
Fri, 14/05/2010 – 10:00am – Sun, 16/05/2010 – 7:00pm

GEELONG WEST TOWN HALL
Pakington Street, Geelong West, $8 entry, $6 concession

OPENING HOURS
Friday May 14th 10.00am – 7.00pm
Saturday May 15th 10.00am – 7.00pm
Sunday May 16th 10.00am – 5.00pm

Mizpah Ring

Let’s get all along the watchtower for today’s Symbolism Sunday! It does indeed look like such a lovely day outside, perhaps it would be best to grab a blintz or a bagel (why not both?) and find a comfortable seat. It’s days like this that we never should be absent, but if we were, I’m sure the LORD would be looking down on both of us.

That was certainly long winded and I am in no way apologising for it. Why? Because it’s Symbolism Sunday and we’re going to delve into one of the most widely used dedications/sentiments/motifs in 19th century jewellery – Mizpah!

Mizpah Ring

Mizpah is a concept that was grasped upon during the second half of the 19th century, and with most 19th century concepts and allusions, we carry them with us today, though perhaps not as strongly as it had been then. The jewellery produced around this Mizpah concept varies widely and fits so well into the 19th century paradigm of gift giving. It also fits perfectly into the romantic allusions of the time, as opposed to the far pre flagrant values of the Neoclassical era. By the time of the late Victorians, Western Society had changed dramatically, the concepts of physical borders and cultural territory had bent towards empire building and the world had become a global entity, run by heavy machinery and mass production. This is so important to establish before we look into why jewels and tokens like Mizpah became so popular, without the context, the symbol itself is relegated to its bare minimal symbolism and that’s too narrow a concept when such a popular motif underpinned so much. The motif is still produced today, more as a curiosity than it had been as a raw sentiment, having a resurgence in World War I (a time when mourning and sentimental jewels fell from favour) and still produced regionally as a token of affection.

Mizpah Brooch

From this, we have to consider that the modern mindset and culture is vastly different than what it had been in the 19th century. The values and social implications of what we see around us in advertising and even how we interact with our co-workers and family would be devastating to Western cultural social standards. To overtly display lurid affection would do yourself a discredit and if you had a family association, they too would suffer for those indiscretions. Hence, a concept such as Mizpah (which we will get to in a minute) held a level of gravity between lovers. While it is seemingly safe by today’s standards, the depth with which it would be given held a very loving sentiment.

Let’s look at the dedication itself. To do this, we need to go an analyse Genesis 31:49:

And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.

Mizpah itself is literally a ‘watch tower’ or ‘lookout’. There are several Mizpahs in ancient Israel and this brings the dedication into more context. As we develop this understanding, we’ll look at how the dedication developed other meanings as it went along. From a basic standpoint, the ‘LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent from one another’ is the most fundamental point of this bible verse. Simply that the fungible nature of love is transformed by the Lord as it is conducted through Him, making the love pure, holy, honest and completely with virtue. Between us, the Lord will watch when we are absent, as opposed to looking up at the stars and knowing your loved one is looking at the exact same stars, or that your heart is so full of love, your loved one will feel it no matter where they are. It’s also a dedication of safety. It denotes that the loved one, if on holiday, war, off to work, will be under watch and protection of the Lord. That the dangers of the world will be prevented from affecting the loved one, the token itself becomes a token of protection, as much as one of love.

Let’s look at the passages themselves in context:

44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
45 And Jacob took a stone, and set it up [for] a pillar.
46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
47 And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
48 And Laban said, This heap [is] a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
49And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
50 If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take [other] wives beside my daughters, no man [is] with us; see, God [is] witness betwixt me and thee.
51 And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold [this] pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;
52 This heap [be] witness, and [this] pillar [be] witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.
54 Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.
55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.

Here, Mizpah is a covenant and a warning. It’s underlying concept is that of love and protection, however; protection for Laban’s daughters and protection against harm. Jacob and Laban sealed this with sacrifice and the sentiment begins. There is a much larger concept to take into account here, especially when we think of how the Mizpah tokens were given and received. Mizpah, while often thought of as being simply their basic love/protection context show a far greater resonance in terms of the pact made between giver and bearer of the token. There is almost a threat involved if the pact is ever broken by the two, bolstering the sentiment of love. That two people could enter into such an agreement is fundamentally profound for two lovers to enter into.

Mizpah Brooch

We’ve seen why this pact is so profound and fundamental, but why so necessary? As previously mentioned, there was the great impact of high mortality, large scale war, empire and mass transit/communications/production. From a simply production standpoint, Mizpah were wonderful tokens of gift giving, but the necessity of having to give them, particularly in the second half of the 19th century is so important. During this time, we have to consider that in 1876, Queen Victoria was crowned Empress of India and that the sun never set upon the British Empire. To get to this level of distinction, many lives were lost and much conflict was to be had. Traditional kingdoms were branching out across the world to claim their own empire (French Colonial, German), causing a massive shift in the established cultures where they were encroaching upon. Even the Americans were fighting with Mexico/Civil War/Spanish – it seemed as if there was no part of the planet free of conflict.

Mizpah Brooch

Chances were that if a loved one was going to war, the methods of fighting were still based in infantry and there was a good chance they would not return. Therefore, this tiny little charm becomes so incredibly necessary for the memory and love. It may be the most profound token of affection that one could give. Its loaded symbolism of protection and love spoke volumes when given during this time. This is also a reason why so many pieces spread out through the world.

Reversely, a solider may buy a colonial piece abroad, as there was no level or quality with the Mizpah pieces. Base metals or precious metals, with stones or without; it didn’t matter, they could be purchased from the source and taken back, the sentiment was always the same. This continued into World War I for exactly the same reasons.

That really shows why Mizpah was so essential in the 19th century and how it got so popular. The sentiment, the protection, the culture and the society were all perfectly suited towards each other.

Mizpah Brooch

How could/can these pieces be seen? Brooches, rings and inscribed in lockets are the most ubiquitous. Yet, they are on virtually every form of jewellery peripheral and as stated, vary wildly in quality. You can find the earlier pieces around the mid-19th century, right at the end of the height of the Gothic Revival and directly in the centre of the Romantic movement. Look for pieces to be hallmarked, though there are production lines today which put fake stamps inside to emulate the 19th century pieces and garner high value. It’s often hard to tell, as the production values are almost identical, however, look for signs of wear and age.

Mizpah BroochUse with other symbols is also important to note. The message itself is such a strong one that it often is the primary symbol, however, you will often find it balanced with one or two hearts (denoting the lovers, if the hearts are separated, then there is the distance shown). It is not uncommon to find the full Genesis verse balanced with the Mizpah (either on the reverse or on the right of a brooch), shown with an arrow intersecting the Mizpah text, joined with a laurel, forget-me-not, horseshoe, scroll, oak, acorn, dove, branch, painted in enamel or just about any of the hundreds of Victorian symbols for love, affection and memory. The more curious of the Mizpah pieces, at least for me, are the ones that do adapt to the changing art styles. Those that break free from the rigid Victorian revival art styles and Romantic symbolism and take on Art Nouveau, Art Deco and more modern styles. It is the ability of a motif to adapt that keeps it alive.

And so I say to you Mizpah! Keep safe, keep well and don’t forget to feel some affection on this lovely day.

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Maltese Cross / Cross Formée

The Rose

The Greek Keys

The Urn

The Poppy

The Forget-Me-Not

The Belt/Buckle/Garter

The Upside-Down Torch

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

Maltese Cross FobIt’s that time of the week again and we’re going to cross our symbols a little. Normally, this wouldn’t be the best way to go about it, but today’s Symbolism Sunday is a request and I’m just a boy who can’t say no. In fact, this is a great opportunity to dispel a few concepts around a symbol which has enough connotations in its own right. To do this, we have to be specific, so today’s lesson is going to move in some strange circles before we get to the heart of it.

If you’re a religious person, perhaps you may want to go to your Sunday morning service before reading this one and if you’re not, grab yourself a coffee, perhaps a nice breakfast and let’s begin!

The Maltese Cross (or Amalfi) is an unusual symbol. It has quite a lot of history behind it and its connections to the cross and how we see it in jewellery usage vary from the accurate appraisal to the incorrect usage as a terminology to refer to similarly styled pieces. To understand why this is so, we need to look at the Maltese Cross itself, what it represents, then look at the Gothic Revival period and then take a walk up to Golgotha with the cross itself.

For a symbol that has quite a specific title and, one would think, a specific purpose, the Maltese Cross is seen cross-culturally in everyday life. The symbol itself was first depicted (or at least, recorded) on currency c.1567, being the 2 and and 4 Tarì Copper coins. The Tarì was used in Sicily, Malta and southern parts of Italy c.913-1859 and stems from Muslim origin and manufacture, as a currency it was quite popular. It was the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, Jean de la Vallette-Parisot (c.1494-1568 / Grand Master from 1557-1658) under whose leadership provided the minting of these coins, hence the relation back to the nature of the cross as a Christian symbol and also its identification as Maltese.

Characteristics of the Cross
We must now reflect upon the style of the cross and its characteristics. What is it about this cross that seems to capture the imagination enough so that it is such a popular symbol in so many of our day to day lifestyle? Firstly, note the indentations on the points of the cross and how they form an arrowhead shape with eight points. This is incredibly important to distinctively spot a Maltese Cross in our jewellery collecting, whereas many of the pieces popular in the early 19th century are based upon the Cross Formée (stemming from the subgroup of Cross pattée / St George Cross). Naturally, the cross as a motif is has its Christian basis, however, the Knights Hospitaller evolved the design, which stemmed from Crusader interpretations for other Christian warrior identifiers.

Symbolism of the Cross
Reasons for the mistaking of the Maltese Cross for its use in jewellery not only stem from its characteristics. The symbolism behind it, relating to piety, loyalty, generosity, bravery, glory/honour, contempt of death, helpfulness towards poor/sick, respect for the Church are all ideal reasons for why a piece of jewellery would be constructed and worn. In terms of symbolism, many of the pieces we have in our collections don’t have this level of detail. These are the reasons why the cross is so widely used in coats of arms around the world (namely Australia), aviation, medical services (particularly ambulance), sporting clubs and various other institutions. Bravery, loyalty, piety; all the things which construct the foundations for a respectable service or unity of like-minded individuals. Hence, this is why we see the Maltese Cross so frequently in society. It is produced and worn as an item of dress in uniforms, so it becomes more than simply a motif on a flag, it becomes physical and much of this has to do with why our jewellery collections have pieces referred to as the Maltese Cross, when this is a symbol that splintered from what much of us understand or collect.

Relation to Jewellery
The first half of the 19th century saw such a radical swing away from the culture that had preceded it since the second half of the 18th century. Christian values were starting to rebel against the seeming decadence of the Neoclassical society and art around, or at least reclaim the religious underpinnings that had dissolved when society started to merge into a more humanist view of the world. Where the symbols of death had been obvious in earlier jewellery of the 17th century and early 18th, figures of personal scenes of people in mourning were typical. The cross as a symbol of final judgement was almost anachronistic in its formal style and when used, relegated to a secondary symbol in many of these pieces. It was the person, front and centre, depicted next to an urn or tomb, weeping or looking away to watch the soul depart.

Cross Formée pin 1820
And then we have the Gothic Revival. The symbols that pushed their way back into mainstream society were not simply stark and bold as a sudden revolution back to Christian values, but they infused with the current mainstream style and blended the classic Christian motifs with the Neoclassical designs to produce pieces like the above. And what do we have there? You might think that it is the Maltese Cross, but it is the Cross Formée (note the lack of indented points), used as a way to reclaim the same ideological identifier as the Crusaders who developed this style of cross themselves. The Gothic Revival was capitalising on literally ‘reviving’ the Gothic period, its art and simplistic style. Here is a cross being re-appropriated for its time. A cross that was developed between c.1144-1271 is now becoming mainstream fashion. And while it isn’t the simple grand statement of a straight cross, it has enough style and flourish to be consistent with an opulent time in art. Notice how this cross is encrusted with foiled flat topped almandine garnets with glazed locket compartments, displaying hairwork and the names ‘Marmaduke Hart Hart’, ‘Agustus Tulte’, ‘Caroline Gordon’ and ‘Ja(me)s Peard Ley’. The humanist nature of the piece is not lost in any way, it’s beautiful, decorative, displays the dedication of the people who were loved and still has all the Christian symbolism that one would expect from a pious household. So, just because the Gothic Revival meant a swing back to Christian ideas, it didn’t dissolve what had come before.


This was a style that persisted into the 1840s, which was followed heavily by the return to the stolid cross itself. As you can see from the piece above, it’s a prime example of an agate Gothic Revival cross in memorial jewellery, with the heavy gold-world reminiscent of the Rococo style and dedication of hairwork and name. But pieces like this are still sold today under the impression of a Maltese Cross, when that has its dedicated eight points.

Here is where we need to consider one again the symbols at play. The Maltese Cross has its aforementioned symbolism, but here we have a stylised cross and it is a symbol that, as it became more and more adapted into the lexicon of an official cross for countries and institutions, there wasn’t the demand for its seemingly established symbolism to represent the self. However, regular crucifixes worked in the same capacity as one would expect from this style, so why not simply use a crucifix in the latter 19th century?

So, who is to blame for all of this mess? Well, I’m going to blame the Crusaders, just because I can. Otherwise, it’s simply a matter of interpretation!

‘Oh Hayden,’ I hear you say, ‘the Maltese Cross was still produced as a decorative item in the 19th century!’ Well, that’s true.

The Maltese Cross could be found as a charm or as a pendant on a fob chain. Much of this denotes the connection of the wearer to the institution, be it ambulance, police, relation to Malta or the Knights Hospitaller themselves. So, it has never left the cultural lexicon as an item of jewellery for as long as these institutions survive or for as long as its symbolism of strength, loyalty and piety remain.

I think that should do for the Maltese Cross. It certainly is a wonderful item, but one that just needs a little more clarification before you go antique shopping on this lovely, fine Sunday and see a cross that’s referred to as ‘Maltese’.

What are you waiting for? Finish your breakfast and go shopping!

(oh all right, let’s see some more of that cross, just because I like to look at it)

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Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Rose

The Greek Keys

The Urn

The Poppy

The Forget-Me-Not

The Belt/Buckle/Garter

The Upside-Down Torch

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

Rose Brooch 1890It’s time to wake up and smell the roses with today’s Symbolism Sunday! Before we begin, just let me tell you how much fun I have fitting so many dreary puns into my articles, so I know it’s an early morning start, but don’t let that spoil your day.

Of all the symbols that I discuss on the site, the rose is one of the most understood and the most culturally ubiquitous. This is a symbol which has survived through different eras of popularity has become one of the primary symbols of love today and due to its variety, there are several different meanings for each. So let’s place a wild rose upon the door and get to some confidential matters surrounding the rose…

To begin with, let’s look at the characteristics of the rose which benefit its prominence within the cultural lexicon; firstly growth. The plant, part of the ‘Rosa’ genus, has over one hundred species, native to Asia, Europe, North America and Africa. The plants are extremely resilient, growing in abundance, hence they are constantly present in modern human cultivation and therefore at the front of our minds. Next is colour. Roses are grow from white/pink to red/yellow, however various species have been cultivated to grow in many other varieties of colour. The physical nature of the rose is very important to us as well. We have a flower with its very dangerous thorns, so already it relate back to the inherent beauty of the flower and its subsequent danger. When you balance this with its love connotations, the obvious perils of love become clear. As well as its pleasant colour, the smell of the rose is sweet and its natural perfume cannot be overlooked.

Various uses for the flower involve ingestion to decoration, it is truly a versatile motif for us to consider. The rose hip is used for tea, preserves, such as jam and marmalade and the oil production from the seeds is used in various cosmetics. Perfume is one of the major products of the rose and once again relates to its natural scent. The by-product of this being rose water, which if you’ve had a good Turkish Delight (a good way to start your Sunday), you can imagine the glory of good rose water. The rose has also been used for its medicinal purposes in Asia, but it is for the rose’s decorative talents that we focus upon it today.

This is Symbolism Sunday and it’s not a gardening show! You want to know about the symbolic meanings of the rose before you dive into your Turkish Delight and cup of rosehip tea for breakfast.

Ok, let’s look at the rose in its normal state. Obviously, the rose is a symbol of love, but if I give a rose to my loved one, it also shows that I think this person is beautiful, that there is unfailing love and hope. It’s no wonder that Valentines Day is so reliant on this flower to symbolise its message. However, a cabbage rose is considered to be an ‘ambassador of love’, while a white rose represents ‘I am worthy of you’. Think of that next time you’re presented with a white rose!

The red rose, however, is a more unusual one. The red rose is the most popular colour given and has several meanings. The red colour itself denotes passion, with an association to Venus (love, fertility and beauty) in Roman mythology and in Greek mythology, Aphrodite is said to have named the flower, while Chloris created it. As the story goes, Chloris was wandering through the wilderness on one fine day, then low and behold, the beautiful, nubile corpse of a nymph was discovered among the bushes. Chrlois, being herself a nymph who did enjoy things like flowers, growth and Spring, turned this corpse into a flower. Aphrodite bestowed beauty upon the flower, Dionysus offered a sweet scent, Zephyr pushed aside the clouds with a mighty West Wind and Apollo shone down all the power of the sun to make the rose bloom. Eros has also been associated with the rose (silence), leading into the phrase ‘sub rosa’ (under the rose / to keep a secret) which was established with the Romans placing a wild rose on the door where secret discussions were underway. Secrecy, love, beauty and passion (regardless of what the passion may be referring to) are all part of the symbol’s meaning.

c.1230, the appearance of  the poem “Le Roman de la Rose” appeared, itself using the rose as the name of the protagonist and the symbol of female sexuality. Naturally, for its time this French allegory was considered quite controversial at the height of the Middle Ages. It was translated to from Old French to English as ‘The Romaunt of the Rose’ and consistently retold.

As a Christian symbol, the red rose is adopted as the presenting the blood of the Christian martyrs. The Virgin Mary is associated with the white rose, hence its relation to purity, virginity and innocence. Notice from this the same relation to white enamel and its application to memorial jewels. As legend would have it, the rose grew in Paradise and did not have a single thorn upon its stem. Once again, you have Adam and eve to blame for any thorn-related injuries you suffer while doing the gardening, as when they were expelled from Eden, the beautiful nature of the rose remained, but the thorns appeared to remind us all of our lost paradise. The Virgin Mary, being without the original sin, is referred to as the ‘rose without thorns’ for this very reason. Indeed, the five petals have been likened to the five wounds upon Christ.

As we move towards the symbol of the rose for mortality purposes, we also have to understand how the rose is depicted. If the rose is a bud or flower, this will denote the age of the person at time of death and is especially important when viewing Neoclassical pieces. If the flower is a bud, then you will find the age to be often twelve years or younger. If in partial bloom, a teenager, full bloom in the early or mid-twenties. Particularly this is important as this is considered the ‘prime of life’, though for times with higher mortality rates, those who made it beyond might have various other symbols to denote long life. The broken rosebud relates back to the young person again, this time with a life cut short. If rosebuds are joining, then there is a strong bond between two people, such as a mother and child who may have passed at the same time. The rosette is reserved for the Lord, messianic hope, promise and love (note the religious addition to the more personal reasons for the rose symbolism of love). The wreath of the rose is beauty and virtue rewarded, connecting to other forms of floral wreath and garland. A more modern approach to the colours of the roses are the colours being identified as dark pink; gratitude/appreciation, light pink; admiration/sympathy, white; reverence/humility, yellow; joy/gladness/friendship and black; death.

Like most floral motifs and Romantic concept that we accept as being ancient in this age, we have the 19th century to thank for many of our perceptions and values. The rose became heavily cultivated with the introduction of the evergreen China rose in the 19th century, but there was a high degree of interest in the flower during the 18th century. The red/white rose had previously become the symbol of the House of Tudor (Henry VII – Elizabeth I), adopted after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. This was the finish of the War(s) of the Roses, between the House of York, which had the white rose and the House of Lancaster, which had the red. As it was united, the Tudor Rose became the symbol of England. It should be noted that the national flower of the United States is also the rose.

So, if any of this has settled in yet; the rose was a popular flower. Ok, now let’s get to the good stuff.

Where will we see the rose in early modern jewellery history, specifically mourning and sentimental jewels? Much of the use of the rose is in relation to the popular art of the time. We must look at the 17th century as the best place to start. Here, we have the Baroque motifs merging with the mainstream memento mori motifs, which would later be adopted by the Rococo. Whilst it would be most common to find the skull, crossbones, scythe, hourglass, angels and death figures set under faceted crystal, the other side to this was the popularity in personal initials set with gold wire and balanced with other motifs. From this, the rose (often a personal statement or in relation to a family coat of arms) could be depicted. As well as this, the earlier mentioned Baroque gold-work with heavy natural flourishes often involved a multitude of flora in decoration, which is where you might also spot a rose.

Posy 17th century ring rose symbolism

Note earlier how the rose was taking connotations for love and female sexuality c.13th century? Consider this with posy rings popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. Personal motifs and sentiments hidden inside a ring. Once again, the ‘sub rosa’ concept of keeping secret, yet retaining that passion comes into play. Much like with the forget-me-not, the rose can be found inside (and sometimes outside) of the posy band as a decoration.

Moving into the Neoclassical era of c.1760-1820, we can find the rose as a secondary motif in memorial and sentimental depictions. Often in sentiment depictions, the rose would be a motif given between a scene of two lovers. In mourning depictions, we have to look at the above connotations of what the rose means in terms of age and placement. If at the feet of the tomb or the mourner, one must consider the rose as a life cut short, yet still retaining that loving aspect discussed.

By the 19th century, the influx of various styles that captured and morphed the views of the natural world into mainstream art all captured the rose to some degree.

Gothic Revival Ring with Rose Motif

Note the border decoration

The Gothic Revival period was quite strong on simplicity and boldness in the presentation of the mourning subject, without the excess of the Neoclassical depictions. Big, bold enamelwork was typical, however, the period did take into account the heavy Baroque borders in much of the gold-work from 1830-1840s, which is where the rose will be in these forms of jewellery. As a motif on its own, the rose was not a mourning sentiment that grew beyond the physical grave and it was a rather racy symbol for love sentiment to be proudly displayed. Not to say that it wasn’t, but the shift back to wholesome Christian values made the outward display of love and affection more ambiguous and less overtly passionate in intent.

The Neoclassical Revival periods, the Rococo Revival and also Baroque combined with the Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite movements from the mid to late 19th century had a tremendous impact upon the artistic and design landscape in memorial and sentimental jewels. Changing social values meant that in the latter 19th century, the rose would be seen more as an individual love token, often in silver, or embossed into a locket (also commonly silver). Increased mobility lead to the need for parting tokens, greater fallout from wars (Civil war, Indian conflicts) and higher population vs. industrialisation led to higher mortality, which impacted the nature of the self and how passions could be distributed in public. The latter topic also being the catalyst for greater access to metals and precious stones, leading to the creation of love tokens and also the rise in more organic jewellery designs, such as the Art Nouveau movement. A movement which adopted a passion for the natural world in organic designs and the use of materials within to enhance the organic nature of these jewels through colours and techniques. The rose, once again, took centre stage and dominated fashions and designs, as what better way to justify the love of the natural than with the symbol for love itself?

I think that’s a good place to end today’s lesson; it’s such a universal topic and one that defines us today. For anyone who has ever worn a rose in their lapel to someone with a rose on a locket, the perpetuation of this symbol will go on for a long as we’re walking the earth and I know that I take a lot of comfort in the thought that passion and love defines us and will live forever.

Now go outside and smell the roses!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Greek Keys

The Urn

The Poppy

The Forget-Me-Not

The Belt/Buckle/Garter

The Upside-Down Torch

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

Hold the Shank, Redux

April 22, 2011

One of the easiest ways to spot the age of a ring is from the shank. Don’t believe me? Well, you’re in for a shock. What’s the best way to tell a piece verging on Rococo from Baroque? If you’re excellent with your Stuart Crystals, then you know your stuff, but for the rest of us simple folk, we need a good point of reference.

Read on for a quick guide!

Read the rest of this entry »

Greek Key Brooch Victorian

Good morning, jewellery historians! It’s time to unlock your doors, welcome in that fresh sea breeze and start preparing a lunch of dolmades, olives, lamb, feta cheese, kolokythoanthoi and don’t forget the saganaki. Today we’re going to get Neoclassical for a while and discuss an ancient motif that still resonates with us today. A motif that has been adapted by boutique fashion houses, adorns the crests of kings, appears all around us in architecture and even pops up from time to time in those wonderful memorial and sentimental jewels we love so much.

That’s right, today we’re going to be discussing the Greek Keys in early modern mourning and sentimental jewellery! We need to be a bit more specific on this one, as a single article on the subject certainly wouldn’t do the motif justice and I would be here for several years trying to fit it all in. But, sentimental and mourning jewels are what we’re all about, so let’s begin…

To understand the motif, we need to go all the way back to the Greek Geometric Period, a time when the Mycenaean civilisation was in decline, c.1200-1050BCE. During this time, there was a wide dispersal of the culture across the Mediterranean, with reported mentions of the ‘Sea Peoples’ and the decline of the traditional Hittite and Mitanni kingdoms. Many of the reasons for this sudden change in the social/cultural/political paradigms of the region are part of much conjecture, however, what is important for us to focus upon is that where once these established kingdoms with clear art styles relating to specific periods and often the rules of kings were now under massive cultural upheaval and shift. The permeation of a set style could be related to migration, rather than direct trade; cultures were becomingly highly mobile.

The period was considered the ‘Dark Age’ of Greece, due in part to this destabilisation; loss of centralised commercial/power base, literature (Liner B script) and the abandoning of towns/villages showed a collapse of structured civilisation. Hence why much of the knowledge of the time and region comes from burial sites and the art of the time, much of what existed upon pottery. Dating from c.11th century BCE, the art began to emerge, showing simple concentric circles applied by method of brushes and a compass, intersected horizontally along the vessel with heavy (often) black lines. So, the importance of the motif is its relation towards dating from a period with very little documented evidence and what it does show is that industry continued during these Dark Ages, including metal production, farming and weaving. The technology to produce this pottery is another reflection on the continuing advancement of culture, with improvements in glazes, superior potter’s wheels (new shapes, ability to be fired at higher temperatures).

We want to look now at the Early Geometric period (900-850 BCE), where the Greek Key begins to take shape. Here, the meandering pattern is applied to vessels, which had now become taller and glazed in a method of a layer of clay, which produces a metallic colour after firing. Following this, the Middle Geometric period (950-760 BCE) showed an increased focus upon the meandering key motif, whereas it was previously relegated to a secondary flourish, it now had central placement on the vessel. Possibly the most important era in relation to our collections is the interpretation of the Late Geometric Period (760-700 BCE), a time where the vessels had reached their zenith and the meandering pattern had become intrinsically linked to the re-established (or at least organised) Greek society. The meanders of this time involved circles, swastikas, crooked lines and were balanced with many natural motifs, be they mythological/romantic scenes or simply the decoration of the natural world itself.

The importance in the identification of this motif can’t be understated; the Greek Keys are representative of their cultural use within Greek culture, from their architecture through to their obvious use in pottery. Their adaptation and dispersion throughout cultures is resonant of this; while the style itself can harken back to the natural world (consider it a depiction of the sea or two ribbons winding around to create an eternal concept), their adaptation is a reminder of a classical culture at the height of its enlightenment – culture, art, strength and sophistication are all resonant in the Greek Keys.

What is also important is that while the motif can be an affectation, it did adapt through cultural shift. From Philip II of Macedon (who used the motif on his shield) to Alexander the Great and the subsequent rise of the Roman Empire, we see that the art and culture of the Greeks permeated through the Mediterranean and Asia. By the time of the Byzantinian Empire and society’s progression into the decline of the Roman Empire leading into the Dark Ages, the Greek Key motif in all its geometric, bold simplicity has never been forgotten. Because the motif is so simple, so profound and so ubiquitous (as geometric shapes often are), they have been used by various other cultures in completely unrelated methods, such as the early Chinese of the Shang Dynasty and even pre-historic art. For the purposes of this article, we’ll stick to what’s relevant for us to know when we’re looking at our jewels.

Goodness gracious, and here I was thinking we were talking about jewellery today! What on earth happened? How could such a simple motif cause all this verbosity?

Neoclassicism! If you’ve been reading along, you know that the Neoclassical movement is one of the most important artistic shifts to impact sentimental and mourning jewellery. Far be it as a simple affectation of the times; it certainly changed the Western social landscape.

Opulent and dominating

 

The Greek Keys relate heavy to the change in Rococo to the geometric adoption of borders and flourishes in jewellery and art c.1760. Note that the Rococo period is heavy flourished with opulent, dominating gold acanthus/floral patterns. Even ring bands were twisted in scroll motifs and designs, the art of the time is almost always complimentary to its subject For example, the twists and borders in gold-work enhance the nature of the subject of the piece (be it a stone/crystal/hair memento). The ‘Georgian Heart’ design benefits heavily from the excess of the Rococo Period, whereas the memento mori symbols begin to suffer as the symbols became anachronistic in these heavily natural designs.

Hello, Rococo

Hello, Rococo

 

So, note that the surrounding style benefits its time. Hence, the Greek Keys and the return to geometric shapes during the Neoclassical period not only make a grand statement about the return to classical art and culture, but also compliment the shape of the pieces. Much of the Neoclassical jewellery puts the focus directly on the subject. This is in the case of painted ivory depictions of mourning and sentimental scenes, painted miniatures directly relating to the subject, larger hair mementos and symbolism (such as the urn) encrusted with stones or paste. These are the subjects of the piece and these are the elements which project the empathy of the wearer outwardly. Far from the excessive domination of heavy motifs, as in Rococo, the geometric nature of the Greek Keys as a border was ideal to frame the subject of the jewel. This isn’t just the Greek Key itself, but a return to the navette shape, the oval shape and clean, simple lines that resonate from the earlier Greek pottery.

 

Serpent navette ring late 18th century

Clean, geometric, navette. Late 18th century

And how wonderfully did this return to simplicity enhance the statement of the jewellery at the time? Navette, oval, circular, rectangular, these are the shapes of the period c.1760-1820, with the oval taking precedence during the Regency Period.

But leave it to the Victorians to revive a revival period and use it to their benefit. C.1860, a resurgence of Neoclassical style led to the Greek Key motif being used again, but this time more prominently. At a time when empires were being built and the ability to assert dominance through mainstream art/culture, especially by adhering to the great empires of classical times, was essential. As such, while the motif is not counter-cultural as a rebellion to the prior Gothic Revival or even the Romantic periods, it bolsters an increasingly powerful and global society. This is a motif that would remain in the cultural lexicon well into the early 20th century within jewellery design.

Greek Key 1866 Locket Swiss

For examples of the keys in use, let’s first look at this Swiss locket from 1866. The keys are balanced with the symbol of the Lily of the Valley (happiness/purity) and in blue enamel (considered royalty), showing the motif as standing out more than a decorative border. Importantly is the high quality of the piece an how the design was considered in the actual manufacture of the pendant. The design isn’t simply placed arbitrarily on the piece, it becomes part of the shoulders of the piece itself.

Greek Key Brooch Victorian

More commonly in use were the keys in this style of brooch. It was a profound border and eternal/love sentiment, one which worked within mainstream art, was easy to design into a piece (rather than a serpent, which would have many similar connotations) and also enhance the subject of the piece itself, in this case, beautiful hairwork.

The motif was ubiquitous for its time, seen in everything from rings to bracelets to earrings. Its ability to be adapted cross-culturally is important as well. It wasn’t something held in proprietary by the British; the Americans, French, Italians and basically any culture that resonated with classical aspirations not held under the weight of religious direction could adapt the motif without any issue.

Guilloché engraving is also another aspect of the Greek Key revival, though this engine turned engraving technique has more of a tenuous connection with the keys. The entwining line design shares many similarities with the concept of the Greek Keys (as do many other entwined eternal symbols), but as this is a popular method (with and without enamel), its connection isn’t a statement of the same concept.

Gosh, if you’ve made it this far, I think you deserve the lunch you started preparing some time ago. Personally, I think the Greek Keys are such an important and beautifully simple motif that I could wax lyrical about them for days. There is much more to take in on account of them; how they were used in relation to cameos and how the disintegration of the traditional empires and the rise of mass production/communication/travel in the 20th century post WWI led to its decline through the popularity of more naturalistic art styles (such as Nouveau). But, I think you have enough to consider in terms of mourning and sentimental jewels.

Go pop that ouzo and nosh on some olives!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Urn

The Poppy

The Forget-Me-Not

The Belt/Buckle/Garter

The Upside-Down Torch

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

In the interests of my fellow Melbournian collectors who visit the blog, I like to keep everyone updated on the local events (if you want me to highlight a fair in your local area, please let me know, it could be anywhere in the world!).

1912 Titanic Mourning BearToday is an obscure one but as I’ve highlighted before, things like the Titanic Mourning Bear do pop up in some capacity, so it’s relevant and a hell of a lot of fun.

This one is:

The Annual 28th Doll Fair

Malvern Town Hall (Mel Ref: 59 D7)

April 16th (Saturday): 10am-4pm
April 17th 10am-3:30pm

Urn in jewelery

Here’s a surprising one for a Sunday morning! Why so surprising? You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d already written about it, lord knows I’ve written about everything in between. The urn, that proud symbol of elegant beauty that holds our earthly remains, that symbol you’ve no doubt seen many a weeping mourning standing beside, that symbol of the Neoclassical period which seemed to appear on nearly every mourning peripheral. And yet, as popular and magnificent as this symbol was (and still is), it seemingly disappeared from jewellery after the Gothic Revival period. Why is this so?

As a side note, if you can’t tell yet, the urn is my favourite symbol, it resonates with a timeless elegance and stern authority that I’d like to think I try to convey a little of. Nonetheless, it’s Symbolism Sunday, so I’ll try to dispense with the narcissism.

The urn itself is a vessel, or more specifically a vase, which naturally have their beginnings in pre-history when humanity began gathering items in order to carry them. We won’t be dwelling on this form of history, but rather the ancient Greek use of the urn in artistic depictions. The urn itself had evolved as a decorative item, often with art displayed upon the vessel itself prior to Greece in neighbouring Mediterranean societies, but its interpretation in jewellery design stems mostly from the Greek and Roman scenes in art and their reinvention during the Neoclassical period.

Usage of the urn had never wavered, however. Cremation of the body and the collection of ashes in the urn is a method that survived ancient civilisations well into the Dark Ages. The name itself is derived from the Latin ‘uro’, meaning ‘to burn’, so no matter what the shape of the vessel the title was always ‘urn’. This is a concept that never left the mainstream mind and its uptake as a Neoclassical symbol and its consistency as a funerary motif is simply a natural evolution for the urn’s depictions.

While burial became the more popular method of interment, the urn still retained its status as a symbol of death, testifying the death/decay of the body and into dust and the departed spirit resting with god.

This brings us to the draped urn. I’ve written about drapery in a previous Symbolism Sunday, but here we’ll focus on its most important use in relation to the urn. The draped urn itself often denotes the death of an older person, however, the drapery is often a constant when in relation to death. Interpretations of this can be when the shroud drapery denotes the departure of the soul towards heaven in relation to the shroud over the body, the drape is the partition between life and death or that it is guarding the sacred contents of the urn itself. In jewellery, finding the urn draped or undraped is quite common, but why is it so?

urn ring

As hinted at before, the urn is a motif that reached incredible heights of popularity in Neoclassicism due to its interpretation from the original classical depictions. It was a motif that was easily lifted from its source and fulfilled all the classical resonance that a revival period needed to convey the style of its respective era. With the focus back upon the personal nature of mourning and the departure of the direct link towards god, death itself became something worn prominently in mainstream fashion. The urn was a perfect way to show this, draped or undraped. Sitting on top of a plinth, column or tomb, the urn is often the central focus of the mourning depiction. The mourning character in the depiction (male or female) is often interacting with the urn in some way, either leaning against it weeping, sitting near it, standing beside it or looking at it directly. This links the personal nature of mourning from the person into the jewel itself. The mourner is the wearer or the person who created the dedication and the urn represents the loved one. Consider that; there’s a direct link in methodology of the urn to the self, this is why the urn is the central motif and not the mourner.

Consider that when looking at a brooch, ring, bracelet clasp, pendant or any other peripheral from the late 18th to early 19th centuries. The urn is the concept that should draw the eye and take precedence over everything else.

18th Century Mourning MIniature with Contemporary Woman

Yet, it is a symbol that disappeared soon after the first quarter 19th century. If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you’ll know that the Gothic Revival period played a key role in reverting society back to more ‘traditional’ values and using a direct relation to the body in the urn conflicts with the burial/god connection which was part of the social understanding of life and death, that Christian values returned to a life under god. You can find the urn in use to around the 1820s, but many of the latter uses in jewels are anachronistic in the same way that memento mori would have been during the late 18th century. However, in funerary, the urn was still retained and is to this very day. In fact, its use in architecture in the latter 19th century / early 20th century was quite typical, but it had largely disappeared as a motif to represent the self in mourning.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the urn in future editions, but for now, sit back, relax and know that you’ve earned a comfortable day!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Poppy

The Forget-Me-Not

The Belt/Buckle/Garter

The Upside-Down Torch

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

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