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

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

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

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

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For those who visit this site and experience a new/different area of jewellery that is part of cultrual and social history, I welcome you and thank you for your time to read my ramblings.

Art of Mourning has been around for 6 years now and I’ve been collecting for a further 10. The idea for writing down my knowledge came about from my hope to educate, inspire and ignite a new interest in this wonderful area of social/art history to promote new collectors and even a new industry based around the culture of mourning and sentimentality.

This is a concept based upon love, not morbidity or the affectation of death, but love itstelf.

So, to commemorate the occasion, please click over to an interview with me at Collectors Weekly to discover a little bit more about myself, search through the archives of Art of Mourning or visit the parent site itself.

> Link: Hayden Peters Interview with Collectors Weekly

As usual with mourning, there is never an end, but a continuity and memory of everything before and we have much ground to cover. Keep reading, as there is much to come!

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Mourning and Sentimental Symbolism in Jewellery

Spotting Forgeries. Fakes and the History of Reproductions

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

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

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

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Besty Robinson Obt 3rd Octr 1809 Pendant Sepia Hairwork

Firstly, let’s look at the context of this piece. During the first quarter of the 19th century, the world was dealing with some of the most rapid social change with a scale unlike any seen previously. There is the emergence of the independence of the United States in 1776, colonial Australia, the French Revolution and the continuing Napoleonic Wars, new discoveries and uses for steam power in transportation and electricity began to influence rapid transit, industry was on the rise and of course, then there was fashion and art. Fashion became more and more elaborate to match a society that was relishing their individuality and status. Dandyism was popular with young men and ladies reflected the popular neoclassical styles that had been heavily influenced art, creating the ‘Empire silhouette’ and losing much of the heaviness and pomp that had surrounded costume in previous generations.

So, how does this reflect upon this pendant? Firstly, let’s look at the sentiment itself:

‘IN MEMORY OF
Besty Robinson
Obt 3rd Octr 1809
AE 28 Yrd’s
Affectionate Wife,
Mother and
Friend’

Sentiments like this, worn so prominently on the person, were simply not typical previous to the neoclassical movement. As this movement developed, with the increasing focus on the person as the important individual, rather than the purpose of the family as a group or the church as an idyllic standard of living, the nature of the individual became paramount and beautiful. Love became something to be worn prominently, as fashion. This is previous to the Victorian installation of the family as virtuous unit under the crown and god and it’s amazing to see what the difference of thirty years can make. In difference, this is almost hedonistic and rampant narcissism through the standard of living culture.

But, there it is, a very large, very personal sentiment that still resonates today as being an incredibly loving memorial to one’s partner. ‘Mother and Friend’ are also two very important sentiments with this piece. Speaking from the perspective of the husband, the term ‘mother’ is almost superfluous (unless the deceased passed quite early in the relationship without having child), as the expectation of the lady as a mother, at the very least, the latter 19th century ideal of the female as the matriarch of the family is a given.

‘Friend’ is the most touching sentiment here, I think. Beyond all else, wife or a partner should also be a best friend and here it explicitly states that. I am somewhat emotional just looking at the piece now.

As for the quality of this piece, let’s look at the sepia work to the font. Note the very fine calligraphy; it’s not at all rushed, but very methodical and is the art for one side of the pendant. Certainly not an inexpensive piece, even the little flourishes surrounding the font and the mixture of upper and lower case show careful planning. It’s a personal sentiment, as well, so it was certainly commissioned with the sentiment in mind. Do note the slant to the name against the ‘IN MEMORY OF’ – this may show that the ‘IMO’ was pre-written and the sentiment below personalised.

Besty Robinson Obt 3rd Octr 1809 Pendant Sepia Hairwork

Then on the reverse, we have the dual hearts, an eternity knot of hair, initials and the sentiment ‘THE UNION OF HEARTS CONSTITUTES OUR HAPPINESS’. There is somewhat a French influence to this piece, from the quality, to the size to the etching of the gold. Stylistically, I would lean towards this being an American piece, however, there’s not enough data to substantiate this as of writing. Nevertheless, the sentiment seals the love that is imbued within the piece, it’s an eternal statement about the person who wore it and I should think that such a firm sentiment is quite a rare one and puts us, as the viewers, in an almost intimate proximity between the two lovers involved with this piece.

Besty Robinson Obt 3rd Octr 1809 Pendant Sepia Hairwork

Overall, this piece shows us how far society had come and changed during the early 19th century. Today, we’re not so far removed from them, as society is still as volatile, borders are changing, more so than ever, we’re rampant consumers who parade ourselves in costume to the world and new discoveries are found each day, but at the end of it all, it’s love which defines us and binds us.

Tomorrow I take a look at how damage affects cost in jewellery and I hope you all join in on the Art of Mourning Facebook Group, where you can meet like-minded individuals, post your jewellery pictures and have a chat!

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

Not Lost But Gone Before Bracelet Clasp
Two of the greatest art styles to affect mourning and sentimental jewellery are neoclassicism and romanticism, looking back to classical ideals, a renewal of antique art and thinking, which permeated through to architecture and even literature.

This example holds the words ‘Not Lost But Gone Before’ and exemplifies this style, with its urn (harkening back to the Greek style and draped for mourning), though it is trapped in a contemporary setting of a church and cemetery. Painted with sepia and hair, this is a beautiful example of its form and time.

But what can we discern about the piece and its relation to the period? This piece would have been strung with pearls or hair, quite possibly the former and worn on the wrist quite prominently. Much of the neoclassical jewels are quite large in size, being the fashion of the late 18th century. Depictions of the neoclassical ideal in art were now greatly available to be worn and popular enough to generate their own industry. Much the same as the post Restoration period had spurred on a great industry of mourning culture to a mobile society, neoclassical art was popular enough to cover everything from formal/traditional art, architecture, fashion and of course, jewellery. It was only natural that jewellers and the mourning industry would adapt to this new popularity.

So much was the culture of mass production facilitating the need for these jewels, that travelling miniaturists would carry pre-painted ivories from town to town in order to sell and do customisations to a piece, in order to personalise it. This was also at the cusp of the burgeoning hairwork industry of the late 18th century. Sentimental jewels were now not only becoming part of the mainstream, but there was enough variation to facilitate different levels of class, as opposed to the industry in discovery 100 years previous.

How can this be seen in pieces today? This piece has a high level of personalisation in the depiction of the church and the urn. Firstly, it shows the obvious Christian symbolism mixed in with the neoclassical symbolism, which is not as common as one may think. Neoclassicism ushered in an enlightened period of person first, church second, hence while there is still religious symbolism, much of the time it’s alluded to, rather than overtly stated. Here, we have the church standing proudly in the distance, even the cypress pointing to the heavens gives the church validity in the nature of final judgement/heavenly passage. Then there is the urn and the plinth, with the obvious harkening back to the neoclassical and contemporary mainstream symbolism for death.

As well as all this, the setting is in a church-yard cemetery with the headstones strewn across the ground. Firstly, the scale is completely amiss with the piece, it’s been created with fine detail (note the shading to the urn, roof of the church and the grass), but obviously the headstones are small and the urn would dwarf the church and much of its surroundings. In a sense, yes, the focus of the piece is directly on the urn itself, which is where it needs to be, but even by looking at the fence next to the church, we see that the perspective is even further off.

So, as a collector, what are we to think? I would suggest this piece moves into higher quality. It’s not the fine art of what you would expect by a full colour French piece, but it shows fine detail, a unique depiction and an immediacy in the painting that is truly unique. One could make much more personal observations of the person who commissioned this just by the symbolism, however, you can read between the lines of this little discussion for my thoughts and anything direct would simply be supposition.

Memento Mori Pendant Fob Silver Painted Skull EnamelOne of the greatest misconceptions and one of the reasons why the term ‘faux’ is applied to a piece of jewellery happens when there’s not a great understanding of a piece or the reason for its creation.

If the piece was made to deceive the person buying it by being constructed as a forgery or replica, then there is ample reason for it to be justified as a fake. However, many times, it’s a lack of the simple education surrounding the knowledge of a piece that can change the perspective of a dealer or collector and reappropriate the piece to be more realistic to its intent.

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Stuart Crystal 17th Century Ring Memento Mori

Rings of the late 17th century are the predecessors to many of the ring styles that followed through to the 19th century. They are also becoming harder and harder to find, as many were worn for their intent (as opposed to being hidden away as keepsakes) and they’ve survived many modern recessions that saw some beautiful pieces get broken down and melted for their gold.

So, when a piece like this appears, it’s worthwhile to take note. This particular piece is a testament popular art and sentimental symbolism of the late 18th century and shows many of the conventions that bred the mourning industry.

Firstly, we have the memento mori symbolism, which is often what many collectors gravitate towards. This particular piece is unusual, as the two cherubs are flanking/carrying the skull and crossbones that forms the central part of the motif under the crystal. Underneath this is the hairwork memento, of course. I should point out that the common title for crystal of this period is ‘Stuart Crystal’, due to the reign of the Stuarts, however, I often tend to refer to the material as simply ‘crystal’, due to latter pieces not under the reign with crystal being produced. The crystal is often faceted, with later examples often being domed or curved and the shape is essential to dating pieces. Look for more rounded bezels to be earlier (c.1680) examples and octagonal/harder edged examples to be closer to c.1700.

Stuart Crystal 17th Century Ring Memento Mori

Next to the cherubs is the gold wire cipher initials on top of the hair, which is also common of the time, often for sentimental or fashion, rather than just for mourning. The hairwork underneath was quite often material, rather than hair, but examples vary.

Stuart Crystal 17th Century Ring Memento Mori

The setting of the ring is pronounced on the finger, showing enamel under the bezel, another common feature, that in this piece shows much of the wear. As for the shank, there is loss to the enamel acanthus motif/design that runs down the sides of the band, but this is often the first area where much of the loss can occur with these pieces.

Certainly, what little of these rings exist in the world should be coveted and protected. They hold a style which existed and remained adapted though c.1660-c.1740 and were used across much of the mainstream jewellery design of the period.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

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

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

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

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

A famous area for producing enamel the second half of the 18th century, Bilston in was renowned for its artists and craftsmen. The closing of the Battersea enamel factory in 1756 provided the basis for the rise of the Bilston enamel trade, which had existed before this time.

Mourning Bilston Enamel BoxManufacturers and materials had migrated to Bilston after 1756 and the standard of the boxes improved greatly. Boxes such as these were sold as trinkets, many made by small, family run businesses. The subject matter of these boxes were intended to be popular, so to produce and sell in numbers. This piece featuring the weeping widow at the grave with the willow above shows the level of quality produced.

The fine cross-hatching work against the white background provides a stark contrast for a memorial piece and reflects the sepia work being done at the time this piece was constructed. More than likely a patch box due to it having a mirror underneath, this shows the extent of the memorial industry and its effect on mainstream culture at the time.

Hairwork Frame and Miniature Portrait 18th CenturyHairwork memorials can come in many different forms, sometimes as mourning pieces and sometimes as love tokens. This, dating from the latter half of the 18th century, is one of the most extraordinary pieces to survive to this day.

Hairwork Frame and Miniature Portrait 18th CenturyThe enormous amount of hairwork placed under the frame in a luscious weave with the miniature portrait in the middle makes it an incredibility portrait as much as it is a memorial.

Hairwork Frame and Miniature Portrait 18th CenturyThe young girl, whose hair is obviously as opulent as the hair in the frame is painted very delicately inside the ring of the joined snake (eternity – with black enamel on its body and blue enamel around the eyes). Such an odd and beautiful piece is a wonderful example of a personal token of affection.

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