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

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

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

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

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

Poppy in Jewelery

It’s Sunday morning and you’re no doubt munching on a poppy seed bagel or some other baked treat and you’re no doubt wondering; did these wonderfully delicious seeds sprout a jewellery symbol? Well, that’s why I’m here to help you though these difficult Sunday mornings by explaining the world around, so let’s begin!

Today’s symbol is a request and it’s not an easy one to discover in jewellery, but let’s run through some of its history before we get there.

Symbolically, the poppy is an easy symbol to find in funeralia; it has been in the popular lexicon since the times of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Simply, the flower represents peace, rest, sleep, eternal sleep, resurrection and consolation. The flower was used in Egyptian burial tombs, the Greeks used the flower in the shrines of Demeter and Diana (goddesses of the hunt and fertility, respectively) and most recently, its use for wartime remembrance has made it a popular symbol around the world.

But why is this so? Firstly, the colour of the flower and its relation to blood is important. It is when symbols are interpreted through their most basic characteristics that they are the most ubiquitous and popular. The simple nature of its colour makes the flower honest and cross-cultural in its interpretation. Use is another factor to understand; the poppy provides opium (causing sleep) and opium has been in use since the Neolithic period. Sleep and blood, two things which every one of us share and are necessary to the function of life.

Poppy in Jewelery

Which brings us back to jewellery. As stated, finding the poppy in funeralia (cemeteries, ephemera) is quite simple and has been so throughout the early modern period to today (which we focus on in this website). Finding it in jewellery as a primary symbol is rather a different thing, however. The symbol was used quite typically during the Art Nouveau period as a symbol or a motif in itself, but previously, the symbol was relegated to a secondary symbol. During the 17th and 18th centuries, during the height of the Baroque and Rococo influences on jewellery design, the poppy may be seen with other floral motifs in decorative borders or gold-work. This can be seen in rings and brooch designs from the time, but only when the styles are at their most opulent. It can be considered that it made a similar appearance during the early 19th century in pieces that started to take on the Gothic Revival styles, but once again in borders and flourishes.

The Neoclassical influence on society and the swing towards interpretative symbolism of the natural world and humanistic depictions is where the poppy can be seen, but not as a primary symbol (at least not in mainstream pieces). This is spurred on by the very nature of the Neoclassical movement; interpreting art from the ancient cultures, where the poppy was used as a popular symbol. It can be found relegated to scenery in mourning depictions, often surrounding the tomb, or appearing at the feet of the mourning character (male or female).

Poppy in Jewelery

Every year we wear the poppy as a sentimental jewel in its own right; John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ popularised the flower and its use for fallen soldiers in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and NZ for Veterans’ Day, Remembrance Day and the ANZAC commemorations as a poppy worn on the lapel resonates today. Clearly, this is one of the most ubiquitous and popular memorial jewels worn today.

So, there we have the poppy! So, finish your bagel (or other baked treat!) and remember the brilliant history of those tiny seeds on top.

Next week, we’ll have to earn our symbolism…

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

forget me not 20th century

I’m about to travel around the world for several weeks, so here’s an appropriate symbol to carry us through; the forget-me-not!

Flower symbolism conveys messages that are engrained within our culture, through the last two centuries of re-enforcing their statement as symbols. The 18th and 19th centuries Romantic movement helped establish a push away from the paradigms of ecclesiastical and traditional worship, while putting the focus back upon the natural world around and the passions of the human experience. Hence it is only natural (pun intended) that as the 19th century forget me not ringabsorbed much of the cultural shift back to traditional values during the Gothic Revival period, that many of these concepts would remain and be elaborated upon, but not revolutionised. What do I mean by this? Simply that the interpretation of flora into symbolism was aesthetically pleasing, symbolically safe (often with roots back to religious concepts) and were easy to interpret in jewellery design. The motifs worked well within the Christian concepts and symbols, so where many other symbols may cause the viewer to think twice, flora was defined and catalogued for easy interpretation and use.

“Forget-me-not, O Lord!” is what a poor German knight shouted as he fell into a river. He and his lady were picking flowers by the side of the river at the time, no doubt enjoying the beautiful day around them, and yet as fate would have it, the knight’s armour dragged him down to the bottom as he fell in. Upon his cries to the Lord, he threw the blue posy of flowers to his loved one and promptly drowned. This little tale reportedly dates to around the 15th century, but no doubt had different permeations along the way, as romantic stories often do. Hence, the concept of remembrance, eternal love and faithfulness grow from this.

forget me not 20th centuryAnother fable is that of the baby Jesus playing magician with his mother Mary. He was quite an articulate lad and thought how wonderful it would be if everyone could see her beautiful eyes forever. He touched her eyes and waved his hands over the ground below and then the magnificent blue forget-me-nots sprung from the earth. Relating back to my earlier points of how floral symbolism was safe in the context of religion, here we have the eternal memory symbolism not only implied with its name, but infused with solid Christian concept.

Now that we have the tales out of the way, the symbolism of the forget-me-not is obviously implied within its name. It should also be noted that the flower grows quite ubiquitously in Europe, America and Asia. Its first use in English literature is reportedly from c.1532 and is otherwise named Myosotis (mouse’s ear). Interestingly enough is the rise of the flower’s popularity c.15-16th centuries. This is what we, as jewellery historians, need to understand. From this, we have the popularity of the posy ring and its use as a love token in jewellery. The posy (poesy, posie, posey) emerged at a time when modern society was developing through a shift back to the personal and emerging from the middle ages and its strict adherence to ecclesiastical living. Giving a ring with an inscription on the inside as a token of love was a profound statement, it showed that relationships were increasingly interpersonal and not decreed before god. It was between the couple. Hence, the forget-me-not was used as a decoration (often crude) in some of these rings to denote its message of love and remembrance.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the use of the forget-me-not didn’t change, however, it did blend in well with the Rococo and Baroque excess of design well enough that it could balance with other flowers and leaf motifs. By the time of the Neoclassical period, its use was relegated more towards being a footnote in memorial jewel depictions painted on ivory. During this time and the rise of hairwork weaves becoming mainstream and popular, the forget-me-not did become a symbol used to create floral depictions from hair.

The 19th century is when the forget-me-not truly found its place as a central motif. Many rings, bracelets, brooches and mourning/sentimental peripherals showcased the forget-me-not as a primary motif, often boldly displayed on enamel. Often, other symbols (buckle/belt/serpent/cross) would complement the forget-me-not, rather than it being a symbol used as a design flourish or in repartition. Where the flower was used in more decorative areas of jewellery was in the Rococo Revival period, especially the latter 19th century, and lasted into the 20th century with its reliance on its romantic roots. Its use in the 20th century became much softer; in the forget me notEdwardian period, the romantic movement adopted the symbol and applied it (often in enamel) to lockets and by the time of the First World War, its relation to the remembrance of soldiers (carried through by poetry) and into the Second World War was assured.

Today, the forget-me-not is still as resonant as it was one hundred years ago and you can still find it as a popular motif in jewellery to give to a loved one.

So, I’ll be away for a few weeks, but the site will still be updated. Forget me not, jewellery historians!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

The Belt / Buckle / Garter in Jewellery History

Often a symbol can be so ubiquitous that it disappears from sight. It’s commonly used, often present with other symbols and it’s just accepted that it’s there.

Today, we’re going to turn those ideas around on themselves and clasp together the meaning of the belt/buckle in jewellery symbolism. If you’re a collector of mourning and sentimental jewels, there’s a good chance you’ve got several pieces with this symbol on it, be it a bracelet, ring, locket – the buckle can be seen in just about every form of jewellery. This is a symbol that became popular in the 19th century and its meaning is actually quite simple.

I’ll give you the answer, because it’s a Sunday and you’re no doubt tired and want to relax, then I’m going to go into more detail about its application. The simple answer is that the belt/buckle is much like the serpent, it represents eternity, fidelity/loyalty, strength and protection. As the symbol curves around and threads back into itself, creating an eternal loop, it threads through the buckle and tightly overlaps itself.

belt / buckle in jewellery symbolism

As an object of use, the belt dates to the prehistoric, basically as necessity dictates the use of a way to either hold up any clothing below the waist or fasten objects to the waistline for ease of access. This could be as practical as holding up a pair of pants or as precious as holding a ceremonial/ ecclesiastical object for decoration. The device is a perfect marriage of form and function. And to accompany this, as long as humans have been mining metals, at least recorded to the Iron Age, the buckle has accompanied the belt to hold fast to the waist.

From a high level perspective, the belt and buckle split the body in two, creating a clear delineation through the waist from the northern and southern halves of the body, but also holding the body together through this middle separation through its interconnecting and tight nature. As we move on, you’ll see how this relates to its context with other symbols.

Essentially, the buckle/belt motif relates back to this unbreakable strength of upholding loyalty and in turn, memory forever. Its eternal loop is combined by its strength with which it holds up the virtue that it contains. When related back to the family as a unit, a loved one who is lost would ordinarily break down the family and cause untold grief and sadness, however, the presentation of this symbol from a loved one as representation of the person who has passed on only intensifies the eternal strength and love for the person, as well as the strength of the family to stay together. This symbol also relates to love tokens, for this eternal loving strength can obviously be applied to the living; it is a symbol that is all encompassing. So, while many rings and bracelets took on the shape of the buckle in the 19th century, they don’t necessarily denote mourning or death.

Torch locket symbolism jewellery

There is where we have to look at the symbol when it is combined with other symbols to discover its nature in relation to the piece. Look at this particular piece with the upside-down torch. Note how the buckle is not only a decorative border, but it is in fact wrapping itself around the life cut short and strengthening this with an eternal loop that forever holds tight. This is important, as the love and gravity of the symbol are enhanced by the buckle.

belt / buckle in jewellery symbolism

When the buckle is worn as a complete motif, as it becomes the ring in this case, think of how it is worn. This buckle is tight around the finger, the sentiment of love becomes part of the body, in effect, creating that bond of eternal love around the very person. The person becomes the symbol.

belt / buckle in jewellery symbolism

Late 19th century rings are wonderful showcases for the depiction of the buckle – be it mourning or sentimental token.

Different constructions involving hinged buckles that open to reveal hair or enclosed hair with letters of a person’s name or dedication sentiment would be placed in panels over the hair itself, all creating the belt/buckle motif.

belt buckle garter in jewellery symbolism

It should be noted that you can find the belt/buckle motif on rings as secondary symbols in enamel, not just making the band itself. As it was a multi-purpose symbol, you can also find them in silver and other materials quite commonly from the latter 19th century into the 20th. For many sentimental jewels, the garter as a symbol does infringe upon the buckle symbol from time to time, in those particular cases, it becomes a symbol of chastity and virtue.

belt in memory ofbelt in memory of

Moving back into the idea of the belt/buckle in context with other symbols, this particular piece shows the buckle with the ‘In Memory Of’ sentiment. This once again reflects the eternal strength of memory and in this case, the dedication itself becomes the symbol, which has become enhanced by the belt/buckle. This is quite common from the mid 19th century on, the rise of the belt/buckle had become part of the cultural lexicon.

belt / buckle in jewellery symbolism

In the case of this bracelet, you can see how its decoration once again turns the wearer into the symbol of strong affection and love. Wrapped around the wrist, it promotes a strong connection of the wearer to the person who commissioned it.

As with all these symbols, loyalty and fidelity relates to the tightness of the eternal love motif that the wearer promotes through their keepsake.

There we have it! The belt/buckle combination is not just a beautiful border to your glorious jewellery, but also a magnificent symbol in its own right. I think that ends today’s lesson, so go and enjoy your beautiful day.

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

Let’s light the way this Sunday with one of the more unfortunate symbols in jewellery history, a symbol that would otherwise denote the pathway through the darkness, but here, shows the inherent darkness that we must face.

Yes, it’s Symbolism Sunday and it’s time to look at a motif through the eyes of a 19th century grieving family.

The torch is a symbol that represents several concepts, concepts which harken back to its literal interpretation, for when there is darkness, there is light to guide the way. One of these representations is hope. Hope, as a concept, provides an optimistic future that the birth of a child or the continuation of a family will bring. Without this continuity, the family would be lost to the darkness, without hope, tomorrow is lost. Hence, a torch as light, beacons the new day, the new era and a path that is brighter than what has come before.

Let’s now look at how that reflects upon the torch as enlightenment. Once the torch is lifted into the sky by its barer, there is an inherent reflection upon the torch as a beacon for intelligence, thought and progression into the future from the darkness that falls before it. Hence, it is the torch that shines the way for modernity (or liberté, égalité, fraternity, if you will). Thought, theory, truth, modernity and humanity come together in a design and a symbol of progression.

Let’s take that all in for a moment.

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

In today’s symbolism example, we have to apply these concepts back to the family as look at the design as an overarching motif.

We are presented with an upside down torch. Everything, the very essence, of the family that the upright torch represents is turned upside down and shut off, That bright light which would pave the way for the next generation is gone and lost, the continuation of hope is gone and so is the enlightenment that the family could progress with.

When combined with the Victorian views on mortality and the concept of the family (see the articles about the Gothic Revival period and its impact on 19th century culture here), we’re looking into a bold and very profound statement of mortality that has all the stoicism that the late 19th century generated in the family and the gravity of that symbol when placed over the heart in a locket.

This symbol is surrounded by the buckle, which if you’ve read my writing before, you know well enough what the means, but I will discuss it in another Symbolism Sunday, however, the upside-down torch is loss at its most basic.

Reflecting upon the symbol as that of lost hope, let’s look at how the Neoclassicists depicted this symbol a century before.

Faith jewellery sepia

Faith, hope and charity were (and still are) common symbols for their representation. Cross (faith), hope (anchor) and charity (heart) are still common motifs today (read more about them in my Symbolism Sunday about Faith, Hope and Charity). Their depictions on the symbols in Neoclassical art are often that of the weeping woman, surrounded by the willow and holding onto the (or surrounded by), the symbols which depict the grief. The grief becomes beauty and depicts a serenity that can be appreciated for its artistic merit, rather than its depth of meaning.

There are scenes of the woman clinging to the cross, even upon the anchor, which reflect an outpouring of grief, but the stoicism that the 19th century provides for the matter-of-fact Christian, high mortality, industrialised reality of the black-upon-gold symbolism is its own gravity, it is a statement that doesn’t overcomplicate the design, but enhances it beyond what the prior society would flow around the idea of the concept with humanitarian depictions.

Upside-down torch in jewellery

At this point in today’s lesson, remember that the upside-down torch is the life cut short, the loss of hope and enlightenment. Bereft of future.

Looking at today’s subject of a youth as the focus of the locket, it makes the symbol so much more poignant. The child which would, for the previous three hundred years, be characterised by white enamel becomes a statement for the family’s grief, be it masculine or feminine, the child is lost and the family suffers.

Furthermore to this, the flame as regeneration when held upright is lost. Flame burns, regenerates and feeds of the very air around it, lose this and you lose your familial regeneration.

Other interpretations of the torch are more romantic in basis or for their liturgic reasons, however, we’re looking at the upside-down torch and its representation in mourning jewellery.

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

The peacock in jewellery symbolismRarely does a symbol encompass so much and rarely does a symbol appear do visually stunning as a motif that its connotations are overcome by its simple beauty.

It’s another Sunday and you’re reading Symbolism Sunday, where I prepare you for a long day of lounging and absorbing culture and art. If I can entice you to leave the lounge and visit your local museum, then I’m doing my job!

The peacock is such a strong motif among so many cultures. Let’s begin with the Greek perception of the bird. Originally, the peacock was associated with the goddess Hera (or Juno), who placed the hundred eyes upon the plumage representing eyes of Argus as guardian of Io (one of Zeus’ lovers), whom Her punished – also they show the vault of heaven, with the eyes of the stars above.

We’ll move into the depiction of the bird in jewellery later in the article, but let’s focus for a second on its natural depiction. The bird has the magnificent plumage with the apparent ‘eyes’ that develop when the bird raises these feathers. Since the bird has been recorded in history, this has captured the imagination of society; cultures have attempted to understand and define these feathers within the greater symbolic understanding of their own lexicon. From a jewellery perspective, they’re simply beautiful, but to understand why the bird is so popular, we need to take a look at these cultural representations.

I don’t often like to stray too far from the Western symbolism and its representations, as they can cloud the meaning of the symbol within early modern jewellery, but the Babylonian and Persian representations of the symbol are for the guardian of loyalty and often used to represent royalty. In Hindu culture, Lakshimi is associated with the peacock (depicted blue), linked with patience, kindness, compassion, benevolence and good luck. Asian representations involve Quan Yin and the association as a signifier of love, compassionate watchfulness, goodness and nurturing. Essentially, Kuan Yin (Quan Yin) is shown with a peacock to show her as a protector of all creatures. As often with deity associations, the symbolism of the animal becomes the symbolism of the deity and vice versa.

And where do we go from here? Most of the interpretations of the peacock will relate to our study on jewellery, as once we start to take in the modern interpretations, we have to understand them before we can recognise them in a jewel or as a symbol for the self.

“Cauda pavonis” was the moment in alchemy when the purification of metal would transmute the mercury into gold; the purification of metals where the hermetic tradition understood that inside each metal, a golden soul was awaiting the moment to emerge. This moment was thought to take millions of years, however, alchemists believed they commanded a system of evolving the metals by burning the impurities of the lead. Transformation into a golden purity.

And what does “cauda pavonis” translate to? Why, “peacock’s tail”, of course! This also related to the moment of understanding that the human soul would comprehend, when at the point of rebirth, the soul would see no difference between the person and nature – all was linked. At this point, as with the impurity of the lead being burnt away, the soul would become a soul of gold.

There we have the perception of the peacock in a time when memento mori was becoming a statement of living, a concept that would be presented on the self as a series of symbols to denote mortality and judgement. So, when the peacock is used in jewellery symbolism a century later, were these perceptions kept?

We have to consider the Western, Christian connotations in all things when it comes to memorial and sentimental jewels. Recently I was asked about the greater scope of symbolism in the jewels, but the mindset of society is intrinsically linked with the Christian religion, regardless of how dissociative it tried to become through different art periods.

Saint Augustine wrote of the peacock’s antiseptic qualities and incorruptibility, based upon the perceptions of the bird’s flesh not decaying and the association with the bird in Christ’s resurrection. Bringing this back, as most symbols do, to the natural world; the belief was that the bird loses its feathers in the autumn and grows them in the spring. Once again, seasonal resurrection, much as the harvest of wheat (fertility) and all other naturally occurring symbols. From this, we’re leading into the associations of the peacock in jewellery that we can identify. When we see the peacock, we need to understand what the person who was commissioning or wearing these pieces were considering when using them to represent themselves. Firstly, we must think sentimentality and memorials, then we must consider why that would be worn.

Moving back to the natural, the perception of the all-seeing church is defined through the naturally occurring ‘eye’ motifs in the plumage of the bird. Reflecting this with Christ’s resurrection and that of the alchemical purity, we have the same concepts occur again, the peacock becomes a modern phoenix; renewing and remaining immortal.

That’s what it boils down to (excuse the pun); incorruptibility of flesh, immortality and integrity.

It’s a Sunday and you’re no doubt growing impatient over this discussion, so I’ll answer the question ‘where do I find the peacock in jewellery?’

That’s not too hard. The piece above shows a connection of symbols (which, if you ask nicely, I’ll discuss in another article) from the late 18th century, a time when the Neoclassical style overcame popular art, culture and society. From this, we have the same Christian connotations, but with the overt nature of them being pushed behind in favour of alluding to the nature of the symbol through the symbol. Here, the peacock was used a symbol in conjunction with others to denote the above – incorruptibility of flesh, immortality and integrity. You can find it in bracelets, rings, pendants and other peripheral jewellery painted on ivory. From the 19th century, you can find the symbol standing on its own, often encrusted with jewels and given as a token of love/affection for the same symbolic reasons.

By the 20th century, the peacock became part of the decorative lexicon of the Art Deco movement, influenced by the paradigm sift in the late 19th century to using natural designs in jewellery. This came as a shift away from the 19th century revival periods and the many years of stylistic stagnation that individual designers broke free from (hence the rise of Art Nouveau), so in many ways, the peacock had found its presentation in jewellery for its own plumage, rather than be relegated to its symbolic nature. The Pre-Raphaelites understood the past and broke free from its paradigms by re-interpreting style, a kind of revival in itself, but presenting a solid statement against the mainstream style that had kept the late 19th century in a very formal paradigm. Finding a peacock motif (peacock eye, colours of the plumage, symbol entwined in a design) would not be uncommon and mostly set in silver.

One cannot forget the colour of the bird; its colours are important for the materials used to represent them. Opal, foil backed glass, sapphire, topaz and aquamarine would be used to represent the plumage. This was not a rule, as the motif often overrode the natural beauty of the bird and it became the shape of the bird to be the primary symbol (which could be filled with any other coloured stone).

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Symbolism Sunday, Wheat

February 27, 2011

It’s another Sunday and you’re no doubt very hungry this morning for a good brunch, so to get you in the mood, let’s take a look at one of the more prolific symbols in neoclassical pieces; wheat.

Wheat has its symbolism baked deeply into the Bread of the Eucharist (Mark 14:22-24), a motif resonant of everlasting life through the belief in Jesus, this is when the motif is bundled with grapes. Within funeral art, we must also consider that wheat within the divine harvest would eventually be reaped (note the link back to the memento mori scythe symbol), denoting the life cut and the renewal (or resurrection) of the soul.

Why is wheat such a popular motif during a time when jewellery and art symbolism was retreating from heavy ecclesiastical symbolism? Its beauty as a symbol and apparent ambiguity as an appealing symbol makes it one of the symbols to survive the Neoclassical period through to the Gothic Revival and into the Victorian paradigm shift back towards monarchy/church/family values. Thinking that Neoclassical values led to a fundamental reaction against the church would be incorrect. Looking at the Church of England during the Restoration period on through the 19th century, there was a swing towards the importance of the self and though the values of the church were historically being challenged, there wasn’t a movement to challenge the fundamental beliefs. Hence, Neoclassical symbolism interprets much of the traditional Christian motifs into Neoclassical depictions. This is why such a magnificent symbol has lasted through to today in jewellery design. Even at a time when symbolism had reached its zenith as catalogued and indoctrinated in the mid to late 19th century (without the multiple Neoclassical interpretations), wheat was used a prominent symbol. This could be seen even in the high influx of silver pieces post 1880, with wheat flanking a centralised symbol or dedication.

Etched in bracelets, rings, lockets, set in enamel on silver or gold, encrusted with pearls, the wheat sheaf is one of the symbols that lasted into the first quarter of the 20th century on existing memorial jewellery, even when the industry itself was reaching non-existence.

Wheat flanking the hairwork in gold

Another reason for its popularity is that the wheat sheaf was one of the simpler and more decorative weaves when tableworking hair. as such, it can be found in mourning wreaths, brooches, lockets, rings, woven with gold wire, feathered or simply glued into position. Because of this versatility, wheat became more of a prominent symbol, particularly in the 1820s-60s, in hairwork, rather than a secondary symbol (though it was used for this purpose as well).

Now you can proudly go out, order your eggs on whole-wheat toast and marvel at the symbolism you’re about to eat. Enjoy the day!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Symbolism Sunday, Pine

February 20, 2011

Symbolism Sunday - Pine Stick Pin

The pine cone is at the top!

 

Yes, it’s another Sunday and yes, this is a blog predominantly about mourning jewellery and right now, I’m pining for an easier symbol to write about. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the pine pops up here and there, but linking this back to jewellery should be a lot of fun. Here we go!

Pine has a long history of being one of the most commercially viable materials on the planet, its use for wood in some of societies most fundamental structures can’t be understated. Their biodiversity, evergreen nature, use as a food source and ubiquity bring them to the the forefront as a plant which has sustained cultures and it is only natural that they would be interpreted as such,

For this, the pine represents fertility, regeneration and fidelity. Naturally, we can consider that fertility is a given for its prolific growth (if you’ve ever noticed an abundance of pine cones while walking through the forest, you can understand why), regeneration, as the plant can be grown and harvested for materials and fidelity, as the tree is sustaining. Creativity, life and immorality are also associated with the pine.

So, how was it interpreted in jewellery? The pine was used in sentimental Neoclassical depictions post 1760 painted on ivory or vellum. Very rarely was it a central symbol or one that overtook other trees, but it was sometimes depicted in miniatures of sentimental scenes between lovers. The pine cone was used in the 19th century for charms and embellishments, however, it was never a symbol that grew to any great prominence.

And there we go! Pine is a wonderful tree to look for on a Sunday and if you find one used in jewellery, let me know and I’d love to show it on the site.

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Symbolism Sunday, Ivy

February 13, 2011

The evergreen ivy crawls and creeps towards the sky, forming a union with whatever it may be clinging to, making the two almost inseparable. What a wonderful thought for a Sunday morning?

If the fundamental conceptual symbolism was lost in that little introduction, evergreen represents life and eternity (essentially immortality), along with clinging attachment. During the 19th century, it would not be uncommon to give a gift of ivy in order to express fidelity, friendship and eternity. For the ancient Greeks, ivy was used to crown victorious athletes and for the Romans, intellectual achievement.

From these concepts, ivy is one of the plant symbols that expresses itself well from its natural format to its interpretations. All one needs to do is describe the plant and the meaning reveals what it is conceptually. Due to its classical heritage, ivy is a symbol that lasted throughout the medieval period into the modern, being an embellishment on illuminated manuscripts, used in many of the Baroque and Rococo designs from the 16th-18th centuries and would constantly be used in Victorian art.

Due to this, it survived as an embellishment in rings, pendants, slides and bracelet clasps, particularly from the post 1680 period, being reinterpreted from around 1760 in Neoclassical depictions (painted on ivory, vellum as a secondary motif), then through the 19th century as etched in gold and silver or painted in enamel. Its versatility, as mentioned previously, is its lack of reliance on direct religious context and more upon its natural/classical meaning, making it a beautiful decoration and one with an essential meaning.

So there we have a neat look at ivy! If you see some on your travels today, break off a sprig and offer it to a loved one, then let them know what it means. It’s Sunday, enjoy!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

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

Let’s light the way towards the new week with this illuminating look at the lantern (excuse the puns, I know it’s a Sunday morning and that’s no excuse at all).

Neoclassical Brooch Lantern

Take a moment to sit back and reflect on what the literal interoperation of the lantern is, or better still, what are its uses? Fundamentally, the lantern provides light. Light, in its context helps lead the way forward, towards the future and pushes aside the surrounding darkness. Where long path before us is useless without the light from the lantern to show us the way. Lanterns began by magnifying the light from a natural source, in this case, fire (regardless of what it was lit by) and lanterns can be held by one individual or the benefit of many. Regardless of the size, be it a lighthouse or a small device, the lantern is a symbol which as personal as it is global. Indeed, from this small description how how the lantern works and considering what you already know about symbolism in art and jewellery (sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar), can you draw your own conclusions about the lantern?

Lantern Lady Brooch Neoclassical 18th Century

Indeed, the lantern when depicted is often just that, it is the spark of life that lights the way before us, when held up, as in this brooch, it is ‘lighting the way so that others may see’, which is an allegory to god. This may be in the physical context, or in the spiritual, so that the spiritual path finds its way through the darkness (death) from the light. And don’t reject the concept of light as being shedding purity on its surroundings, or that the light itself is the warmth of love.

Foc Lantern Charm

Fob LanternIn jewellery, you you’ll see the lantern used in the occasional Neoclassical piece or used as a fob or charm in latter 19th century / first half 20th century jewellery. It’s a motif that isn’t the most common, but it is one that resonates today with clear symbolism and hasn’t been affected by other connotations. Today, however, it’s more of an anachronism, simply because changing technology has pushed it out of the mainstream mind – lanterns are not used as they had been traditionally, there’s no reason turn burn oil or any other fuel to gain fire for a hand-held lighting device, batteries and electricity have been the norm for the last century, so when the lantern is depicted in symbolism today, it’s more for its romantic allusions, rather than being heavily literal.

Lantern FobAlso, I’m going to eschew the Eastern examples of the lantern, as they move outside the sphere of mourning and sentimental influence that I focus upon inside this website, however, many of the lanterns depicted in jewellery items have their roots in Eastern pieces.

So, another Sunday, another symbol! Enjoy your day, dear reader, I think we all need a bit more light in our lives!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Elephant in Neoclassical Jewellery

They say that an elephant never forgets and in this case, if you remember last week’s Pelican symbol, you know that I like the strange motifs in sentimental art. We have a lot to thank the elephant for in jewellery and sentimental art, believe it or not. No, I’m not coddling you, the elephant is quite common, though for different reasons.

There are various cultural and social issues which caused the influx of elephants in jewellery, be they used as a material or a symbol itself. Let’s look at the common symbolism surrounding them. Intelligence, hence the concept of the memory of an elephant and nobility are the first ideas to appreciate.

The elephant was used in China and most popularly, by the Persian Empire. Alexander the Great adopted their use and the introduction of their stature into the Western mindset was complete, as even the example of Hannibal riding elephants through the Alps in campaigns against the Romans is still in our modern vernacular. This retention in the Western mindset survived through the middle ages and has built the elephant into a symbol of strength, nobility and passion. The creature is strongly built and conveys wisdom along with its inherent strength, very important things to consider when viewing depictions of the elephant in symbolism.

So why is the elephant so important to us? Firstly, the elephant provides us with ivory. When we consider how important that is for our sentimental jewels and how important this was for the continuity of jewellery from Greek and Roman times, ivory has been one of the most defining materials surrounding how sentimental jewellery was designed. It was also used thoroughly in handles, instruments and daily items as a predecessor to plastics. It has been suggested that four thousand elephants were killed for their uses in 1831. So, there is the appreciation of this, particularly in Neoclassical pieces, ivory is one of those material staples that was so important. But what about depictions of the elephant? The elephant in the 18th century could be found on the occasional Neoclassical depiction, but they are very rare. The example above shows the elephant with trunk raised, which denotes optimism, good fortune and luck. When combined with the female figure and the pelican from last week, I believe you can follow the path to what this particular piece is trying to suggest (comment below if you want me to do a full article on it).

1920s Elephant

During the 19th century, one must understand the importance of British India Empire (British Raj) and how that reflected back on the British Empire as a whole. Between the 1850s and 1940s, India opened up to a social class that could afford jewellery and other peripherals, hence tokens bought during a vacation or voyage to India and bought back to England are quite common. Elephant BroochCharms, brooches, necklaces and nearly every kind of jewellery could be accommodated for and with the intrinsic link of the elephant to India, the purchase of elephant depictions in brooches and charms is quite common. Manufacture wasn’t isolated to India, however, the symbol was typical for manufacture in Europe as well. As for its symbolic purposes, the prior example of the trunk raised is most common for its good luck connotations, but the simple depiction of the elephant is often enough.

Elephant Hair Rings 19th Century

Oh, and what else do we have the elephant to be thankful for? Elephant hair was also used in sentimental jewellery, though to a different extent as that of horse hair, which was often used to emulate human.

Elephant FobWell, there’s a Sunday you won’t be forgetting for a long time to come! Next time you see an elephant, give him/her a hug for their wonderful donations to your collection, because who knows where we’d be without them? Rest, relax, it’s Sunday!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Hair Wreath / Art

January 21, 2011

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

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

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

Here’s one I doubt you ever thought you’d be reading about on this particular website! The pelican isn’t a symbol that instantly denotes love or mortality, or is it one that makes an appearance often in jewellery art. However, there it is and today is Symbolism Sunday, so let’s get to it.

Pelican and Elephant 18th Century Sepia Brooch

First and foremost, the pelican is linked with the passion of Jesus, the Eucharist and self-sacrifice. Instantly, with those as a guide, we have a context for the pelican in sentimental jewels as all these relate to the theme of death and resurrection, but from where does this stem? The concept itself is a medieval one, with the idea that the pelican was attentive to her young and would offer her own blood during times of famine. Hence, the concept comes back around to to body of Christ (Corpus Christi) as the divine pelican.

In jewellery? The sentimental Neoclassical depictions are where you will find the pelican, although sparingly. In the example above, note the female figure holding the pelican, denoting her motherhood and the offering of herself to her young, hence the symbolism is quite fitting, but not an overt symbol that carried through to later jewellery in a large fashion. You can find examples of the pelican on its own in brooches and charms during the latter 19th century in base metals or the occasional gold and silver piece.

I do like the unusual ones the best, so who knows what next week will bring? Enjoy your Sunday!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Arrow and Quiver in Sentimental Pendant 18th Century

It’s often the symbols which resonate with us today that mean the most; the symbols which we intrinsically understand for the same reasons why they were understood several hundred years ago. What keeps this kind of thought mainstream and in the popular mindset? Often, it’s the reinterpretation of the symbol throughout the ages and its ability to adapt to different forms of art, other times it simply reflects how Western culture has developed from the same roots.

The arrow and quiver, when associated with love is no different, out of context, there is the warlike nature of the symbol and its use associated with conflict. This is often the use of the symbol itself, being a weapon of ancient characteristics, even involved with primitive hunting. However, when you put the arrows and quivers in the same breath as ‘love’ and ‘sentimentality’, then you have a different perspective. Who is most commonly associated with this motif?

Cupid in Victorian Bangle

Why, Eros or Cupid, of course, who has been reinterpreted through the ages, particularly in the 19th century, as the instigator of love, shooting his golden arrow to the heart and inspiring love (though I’ll refrain from focusing on his other lead arrow which inspires hatred).

For Neoclassical depictions, the arrows and quivers can be seen in various depictions, often a secondary symbol to a primary motif. Note how the love birds are sitting on top of the quiver in the first example; this is a good depiction of various symbols working in tandem to provide a unified symbolic message.

You may even find the arrow broken, which depicts the life cut short, but often it’s the interpretation of this surrounded by other symbols that helps influence its meaning.

Arrow Victorian Brooch

The arrow is also found quite prolifically through 19th century jewellery in brooches, pins, pendants and in various materials (being conducive for both gold and silver). Its love sentiment is is till understood today, so many of these styles are still in production.

It’s Sunday, what are you doing reading about old jewellery? There’s a beautiful world right outside your door, so go enjoy it and come back soon!

Brooch and Bracelet Courtesy: Things Gone By

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Symbolism Sunday, The Knot

January 2, 2011

Further Pendant Knot Symbolism

The further the distance, the tighter the knot. That’s the sentiment of the above piece and the subject for our Sunday morning sojourn into symbolism.

Knots in jewellery and their particular focus as a symbol of eternity and love rare ancient concepts that span both the East and West. We’re blessed with how prolific they are in mourning and sentimental items for the very nature of their symbolism, but their appearance in different permutations in cultures is ubiquitous and strangely correlating with concurrent meanings.

Why would this be so? Well, let’s take a look at the knot itself. The symbol itself is woven in on itself, enough to consider that two individuals are tying together to establish an interwoven union where two become one in the symbol. Next, there is the understanding of the knot becoming tighter as the two ends become further apart. Once again, distance only makes two people closer through its very nature. The knot also loops around on itself and travels in an eternal twist, for the love between the couple is forever undying. Put all these together and you have a rather special and beautiful symbol, one that encompasses much of the basis of what sentimental jewels are created for.

Celtic Knot Lover's RingThere are quite a few variations on the knot, one of the more popular being the Celtic knot, which is dated to around 450 CE, which is often referred to as the ‘mystic knot’ or the ‘endless knot’. In this, there is the allusion to birth and rebirth. The expression ‘tying the knot’ is thought to be where the couple had their hands bound in an endless knot as part of the wedding ritual, however, there are several other explanations for this related to the wedding ceremony itself. One of the more enticing explanations from E., M. A. Radford’s The Encyclopedia of Superstitions is that:

“In the seventeenth century, one or two of the bride-favours were always blue. These were knots of coloured ribbons loosely stitched on to the wedding gown, which were plucked off by the guests at the wedding feast, and worn as luck-bringers in the young men’s hats.”

However, we’re here for jewellery, so where can you find the knot and what would you expect?

For Neoclassical pieces, you can’t go much further than the depiction above that explicitly uses the knot as a primary symbol and sentiment. Look for the knot to appear in many Neoclassical mourning and sentimental depictions, either as an overt statement or relegated to a symbol being held by a central figure or as a flourish depicted in the art. Often, this can be as subtle as a knot painted onto a plinth or tomb.

Knot Brooch

Knot in hairworkIn hairwork, the knot is quite often displayed with the hairwork of a couple being interwoven and the symbol itself is implied without appearing as the primary focus of the symbolism itself. This is quite common from around the 1780s to the late 19th century in bracelet clasps, brooches, rings and other forms of peripheral jewellery that would house a hair memento.

Knot Brooch

Knot BroochThen there is the knot as a primary focus, which is very typical in rings and necklaces. The knot is most often seen with the Celtic influences, but many second-half 19th century rings retained a knot motif, often seen as a twist, in various styles and materials. Knot RingKnots in necklaces were also popular from the 1860s onwards, with the necklace itself twisting into a knot around the chest. Chains were also tied into the concept of the knot, used in bracelets, necklaces, links in fob chains and other items as well.

Knot Necklace

So, there you have it! The knot is quite a popular and commonly used motif today as it was then. Much of this has to do with its very eternal nature and pure connotations, free from everything but the most simplistic concepts of love and affection.

Oh, is it really the first Sunday of 2011? My, where has the time gone? If you’re on holiday, go out and relax and if you’re just enjoying the day, spend it with your loved ones and tighten that knot between you!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Symbolism Sunday: The Grape

December 26, 2010

Vulcanite Necklace/Pendant with Grapes

It’s the day after Jesus’ birthday, so let’s look at a symbol that represents the man himself. Being a website about mourning, I decided to pick out something a tad less morbid for the day. So, there you have it, grapes represent Christ and often the promise of a delicious fruit or a nice wine. What else? Oh, grapes and leaves symbolise the Christian faith.

“But Hayden,” I hear you cry, “it’s the day after Christmas and I’m full, tired and want to do nothing but browse the ‘net all day!”

Well, all right.

Grapes on a Victorian Locket

Enamel Grapes

The grape can also represent Dionysus, but we’ll look to the more familiar variations for this symbol. It is not uncommon to find the leaf used in Christian churches or funeral funeralia, as they also show the triumph of victory over death and the joys of heaven (see how that ties back to my first paragraph?).

In literal terms, look at the symbol itself and note the behaviour of the grape. It is a plant which grows in abundance and one of the earliest cultivated crops known to mobilised society, hence the connection to the symbol bearing fruit for the harvest. Here is an element of birth/rebirth within the representation of the grapes and also its connection to victory, as the ripe harvest shows the promise of the fruits rewards being reaped and turned into the production of sustenance for the future as well as a product which promotes happiness. In this, there is the link towards Dionysus, with the vine being worn by cult members to represent a god closely connected to wine (also the bull, serpent and ivy) and its intoxicating effects. Interestingly enough, there are parallels between Dionysus and Jesus that stem from the transubstantiation of water/wine and resurrection, but I find that these reinforce the symbol’s intent and its use when worn in jewellery.

The motif can be found in Neoclassical pieces, but much more commonly in the second half 19th century pieces, where it is often embellished in lockets, pendants or manufactured as charms. When used in Neoclassical depictions, the symbol is often a secondary motif, relegated to being a symbol that works in conjunction with its surroundings to enhance symbolic meaning, such as wrapped around a column or plinth, combined with oak, held by the human subject of the depiction or bordering the piece itself. In the 19th century uses, post 1840 and the re-introduction of Christian family values (which we’re going to discuss in the new year quite in-depth), the symbol becomes one used prominently and often alone – note the use in the pieces above. These two pieces are using different materials, but both show the symbol as the central focus to the piece itself. Much of this usage is directly because of its Christian leaning as a symbol and for the very reason that the symbol conveys a positive message of rebirth/birth.

There you are, I hope you all had a lovely day yesterday and that you got some terrific jewellery as presents!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Symbolism Sunday: The Daisy

December 19, 2010

Daisy Nouveau Locket

The daisy is one of those symbols used quite liberally in jewellery. It’s dainty, pure and quite pretty as a flower, so how does that translate to symbolism? Well, quite rightly, innocence of child, youth, gentleness and purity of thought are the primary thoughts behind this, so when seen in jewellery and given as a love token, it’s a beautiful loving sentiment without being so overt as a rose may be.

jewellery symbolism daisyThis is why much of the second-half 19th century jewellery seen as love tokens take the style of the daisy. You often find a ring with a central stone or material surrounded by other stones or materials (think a diamond in the centre with pearls/opals/garnets/turquoise) surrounding in a daisy motif. This style is still heavily produced today.

Daisies were also used quite liberally in much of the late Victorian silver work, such as lockets, as it was a floral motif that merged in well with the Neo-Rococo Revival styles of the Victorian era and then into the Art Nouveau period.

jewellery symbolism daisyNice and short this week, far from the madness of last week, so go out and have fun on this glorious day! Take some time to smell the flowers.

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

Symbolism Sunday: The Oak

December 12, 2010

Associated with such superlatives as hospitality, stability, strength, honour, eternity, endurance and liberty, it’s not hard to see why the oak is such a revered symbol.

Oak Locket

Note the acorns and oak leaves

 

Countries such as England, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the US and several other countries have all claimed the oak as their national tree – and why not? With age, strength and longevity being associated with it, the adoption of the tree as a national symbol is good fortune.

How does that affect funeralia? Jesus Christ’s cross was said to be made from oak, often children’s graves are placed under or near an oak tree (from pioneer cemeteries) and it is used on military tombs. Combined with the acorn and the oak leaves, the entire symbol can stand for power, authority or victory.

And in jewellery? The leaves and the acorn (as spoken about earlier) were often found most commonly in late Victorian jewellery, however you’ll find an entire depiction of the oak occasionally in Neoclassical sentimental pieces, painted on ivory and often in the background. Usually, the oak is less prominent than the willow or the cypress, which are far more common.

That should do for the time being, now look outside and see if you can spot an oak!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

No, not the forget-me-not! The border!

Whether you like it or not, there’s a very good chance that you and your ancestors have interacted with the Acanthus in one form or another. Don’t believe me? Well, just because you’re sitting at home and enjoying your Sunday doesn’t mean you have to be so contentious! Oh, all right, the acanthus is one of the most heavily used plants in decoration – if you’ve seen a Corinthian column, then you’ve more than likely seen the leaves as decoration. Own one of those fabulous Rococo Victorian Revival pieces of jewellery that I’m always harping on about with their ‘flourishes’? There you go.

So, from this, we know that it was a staple of Greek architecture and art, adopted by the Romans, carried through Byzantine architecture and revived for the Romanesque movement. You can find acanthus leaves decorating Medieval manuscripts and wood carvings, so there were quite few periods of art since that haven’t been touched by this magical plant at one stage or another.

When it comes to funerary art, the acanthus symbolises the heavenly garden. It is one of the oldest cemetery motifs, acanthus is associated with the rock ground where most ancient Greek cemeteries were placed.

But what about jewellery? Well, I’ve breezed through its importance in classical art, so it’s only natural that it would make an appearance during the Revival Periods, but it’s a form of embellishment that could be translated in gold to frame almost any style in between. The more stolid Gothic Revival of the early 19th century (look to around 1830-50) even had the acanthus used as a motif (though quite a lot smaller), and why not? It was used during the original Gothic period in one manner or another, so for as long as there has been a mourning industry, this design has made appearances. Though, whereas in the Neoclassical Period, you’ll see it used less in the gold work and more in the painted symbolism, it was still around. For the early 19th century Regency era, it was used less so, as cleaner, straight lines ruled the day, but when there was cross-pollination with the Rococo period of the 1740s (styles were never killed off completely), then you’ll find it used as an embellishment here and there. By the mid-19th century Rococo Revival, then it made its full bloom once again.

Well, it’s a Sunday and you should get outside to enjoy the day. Consider this article to be the rather rambunctious Apollo making unwanted advances on your reclining Sunday Acantha Brain-cells, so now you can lash out at your screen, where the enraged article will turn you into an acanthus plant. Wow, that one was a stretch, even for me, but if you could wrap your head around that horrible analogy, you just took in the myth behind the plant.

Go, play!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

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

1680 Slide with Memento Mori Symbolism

I know I covered this one briefly last month, but last week we looked at the harp in symbolism, so let’s carry through the musical flavour and play some more music on the trumpet!

Yes, the trumpet is quite often found in early modern jewellery, those of you who have mourning or sentimental pieces from the 17th century would more than likely have a piece with a cherub blowing a trumpet set under your faceted crystal. Quite a popular motif in the earlier days of the industry, but less so as the Neoclassical movement ushered in less direct symbols for death. So, the memento mori pieces would often have the cherub, the trumpet and a skeleton or depiction of death, but what more can we tell about it?

Resurrection is the main concept of its ideal symbol, but also when used in other contexts, victory (it’s hard not to think of a military fanfare without a trumpet) is the reason for the symbol. But also, there’s new life triumphing over death when used in some symbolism, but the concept of that is really the prerogative of the person who wore/commissioned it.

Trumpets are one of the earliest recorded musical instruments, so it’s not surprising to find that they have many uses in art history. Most commonly is the used as a symbol of heraldry, this when linked back with the cherub/angel symbols shows the arrival of the soul into heaven.

So, a rather fun one this week! Go enjoy your Sunday and listen to some good music with trumpets in it.

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

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

Symbolism Sunday: The Harp

November 21, 2010

1881 Hard Locket
It’s such a lovely Sunday, that I thought I’d bring down the mood a bit and talk about death. Surprised, you wonder, considering the site is called ‘Art of Mourning’? No, I suppose not. However, when you think of the harp in death, what’s the first thing that you think of? Angels wearing white robes, reclining in fluffy clouds with halos and playing gently on golden harps or lyres, flapping their wings in time while in the background are giant golden gates and a white light.

Ahh, if you thought of that, then perhaps death doesn’t seem so morbid… Oh, and you’ve been watching too many films. However, one must wonder why these images are in our head? Why is heaven so idyllic and why has this been a popular thought since the 19th century? Well, part of it is to do with much romantic art and literature of the time and the other part is to make heaven seem like a place of serenity you want to go to. It’s a place that takes you away from the doldrums of life, the stress, the hardships and the work. Gentle harp music helps sooth this, as it 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.

Well, that was fun! Let’s see what will happen next week…

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

Drapery

The Acorn

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

Symbolism Sunday: Drapery

November 14, 2010

The Drapery in Neoclassical ArtThis one is cheating a little, but it is a Sunday and you should be relaxing or collecting on a Sunday (pretty sure that’s in the bible somewhere), but drapery on an object in mourning is an important thing to look out for in any form of funerary art of jewellery.

It’s one of the symbols that can define a piece as being clearly mourning, rather than being for sentimental purposes. How so? For starters, a pre-existing photograph is simply a keepsake, however post-mortem, drapery over the photograph or portrait with a black curtain would introduce the sentiment of mourning. It’s really quite simple. Another example may be drapery across an unbroken column. The column is usually broken, symbolising life cut short, however, with the drapery over the top of the column, it masks the strength of the unbroken intent and creates the mourning pall across it. From draping/covering the body upon death, the symbolism of the covering as a curtain closing on the life is simple and rich.

Drapery isn’t a Victorian invention, but rather an ancient one, having strong roots in Hellenistic / Classical Greek art quite notable for mourning are various funerary stele depicting drapery across. However, one shouldn’t consider basic drapery as being a sign of mourning across all art, it is specific to its subject, rather than just being an artistic practice of style and technique. Always judge the drapery across the object or symbol for its purpose, otherwise a charming depiction of someone reclining could turn into something slightly more morbid.

Ok, that was simple! I wonder what there will be next week…

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Acorn

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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