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

Gothic Revival Brooch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Mourning

August 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mourning Silk Art

August 1, 2011

From Barbara Robbins comes this wonderful piece and an equally wonderful story!

Mourning Silk Art

“There is an interesting story behind this silk picture.  I bought it from my friend, probably about 4 years or so ago.  It was in perfect condition.  it had the reverse painted glass mat that they used to do.  I had to chose between it and an expensive teapot to go in the carry on, and I chose the teapot because i often bring needlework home in my hardside suitcase with no problems.  I put cardboard in front and behind it, and the put it in the clothes.  The Victorian ones make it just fine, but alas, the Georgian glass is just too brittle.  When I opened this one up, I cried as the glass was broken in several pieces. It was hopeless.  I put the picture, with the broken glass, on the floor in the corner, by my buffet where it sat for about two years.  I couldn’t even bear to look at it , remove the glass, and have it matted with a new black mat.  About two years ago, the night before i was to leave for London, the top of my Victorian dressing case suddenly came lose, and fell on my arm and on my pitcher and bowl, which was one of the few family heirlooms I own.  I was just miserable.  It was as though God had decided I couldn’t have that piece, and I knew I would have had a fit if my brother had done that.  I told my friend, who immediately told me she knew someone who could fix it.  After England, I called him, and drove across down with the about 10 pieces of the bowl (only the handle had come off the vase).  I decided to take the Shakespeare mourning piece (which I have sent you), and this one too.  This man is an artist: he restored the pitcher and bowl to where I can’t even tell it.  He said he could not restore the old glass, so I left the Shakespeare one, which is just cracked down the middle, alone for now as I hated to destroy the old glass.  This one, the lady with the harp, was beyond help though, so he had a lady cut a new glass and he painted a new one.  I had enough pieces of the old so that it looks exactly the same.  Now it hangs on my wall, and I know I can bring Victorian glass but not Georgian home in a hardside suitcase.”

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

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

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!

Read More:

Mourning and Sentimental Symbolism in Jewellery

Spotting Forgeries. Fakes and the History of Reproductions

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

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

Gothic Revival Brooch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hair Wreath / Art

January 21, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

1883 French Hair Art

December 17, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

c.1870 Mourning Art

December 7, 2010

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

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

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

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: c.1870

French 1851 Hair Art / MemorialThis sublime and elegant work still has the original maker’s details and appears almost untouched by age. The thick curls of the hairwork blend seamlessly into the hair artwork, creating several sentimental symbols.

Featuring two kinds of table and palette-worked hair, this French piece shows magnificent dimension in the willow, forget-me-nots and the over-arching hair, which is locked together in an eternity knot at the bottom.

This piece is important for several reasons, one being that it’s a prime example of French hairworking, which never reached the popular heights (due to more transient fashion on the Continent) as it did in the UK and US, but was largely popular for a time in the 1850s.

French 1851 Hair Art / MemorialFrench hairwork, and the jewels that encompass the hair, tend to be of a higher quality and more delicate than their English counterparts. Mourning culture, while popular, did not reach the heights of popularity that it did in England and the expense and quality of the jewels were farther removed from the poorer classes. Hairwork weaving is as grand in its construction, as with middle European hairwork, with a higher propensity for matching necklace / bracelet / earring sets.

In 1858, fashion magazine La Belle Assemblè referred to the French hairwork artist Limmonièr in a revolutionary light. La Belle Assemblè expands on the association with hairwork as a sentimental device and identifies it as a jewellery construction material in its own right, not simply “in which some beloved tress or precious curl is entwined”.

“(Old styles) gave the appearance of having been designed from a ‘mortuary tablet’. Have we not all met ladies wearing as a brooch, by way of loving remembrance, a tomb between two willow trees formed of the hair of the individual from whom their crêpe was worn, and which from its very nature must be laid aside with it? But the new hair jewelry made by Limmonièr is an ornament for all times and places. He expands it into a broad ribbon as a bracelet and fastens it with a forget-me-not in turquoise and brilliants; weaves it into chains for the neck, the flacon, or the fan; makes it into a medallion, or leaves and flowers; and of these last the most beautiful specimens I have seen have been formed of the saintly white hair of age. This he converts into orange flowers, white roses, chrysanthemum and most charming of all, clusters of lily-of-the-valley.”

Hair bracelets advertisement

La Belle Assemblè provides a very good advertising spiel for Limmonièr but also provides an insight into how the French perceived hairwork in 1858. By the latter half of the 19th century, hairwork was nearing a phase of unpopularity in France, though this article shows how hairwork was removed, or was attempted to be removed, from mourning and memorials.
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Dedication: TC 16 Novembre 1851
Year: 1851

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

Needlework and Art Needlework is one of the most personal expressions of mourning art, and this is due to the lack of a mainstream industry surrounding it. Pieces were constructed in the home, making their sentiments genuine and heartfelt, unlike the established memorial cards whose biblical verses and poems were already chosen. Being an primary part of the education of young women, weaving and needlework are essential in the personal creation of mourning items, specifically samplers and their evolution. Indeed, it was in the final exams at Dame School where samplers were tested, often taking a year to create.

Many of the techniques had their origins in Europe (England and France) with quite advanced stitches. Metallic, silk and chenille’s are all common materials found within a piece of quality. As written by Olberding, US mourning samplers involve more crewel work than cross-stitch, with some of the stitches being tiny long-and-short and chain stitches that give the appearance of engraving. Some of the backgrounds were painted instead of stitched and many silks came from China and fibres from England or France.

As the base fabric, velvet, silk or linen were incorporated. Designs were then put onto the base fabric (often by an instructor) while the students would fill in the lines and choose colours and threads with guidance.

When looking for styles in construction of samplers, DeLorme describes these techniques; “the simple cross stitch, most commonly employed in a young girl’s first sampler, was later to include satin stitch, French knot, running and outline stitches, seed and bullion, couching and crewel.” Mourning samplers with water colour painting in the piece, as well as coloured silk, wool, or chenille thread on silk or satin background are also prolific, according to DeLorme.

America, from around the 1780s inherited much of the needlework technique being done in Europe, and as a largely puritan society, their samplers reflected much of the neoclassical symbolism of their time. American and European samplers still quite easy to source due to the practising of folk art. Much like the hairworking industries, needlework is area specific and different areas reflect different work. Something in regional Germany may display quite different techniques than an English piece of the same time. At its core, however, the prerogative of the stitching and content are at the creator’s whims. Often religious symbolism is displayed in samplers, and with death as the constant in mourning samplers, religious motifs are not unusual. They hold a powerful connection to the upbringing of a person within their household and the beliefs of a household and community, hence anything from the alphabet to heavy symbolism are employed.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at some magnificent needlework pieces and try to find a distinction between different ethnicities and styles in art!

Hold the Shank

June 19, 2010

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

Read on for a quick guide!

Read the rest of this entry »

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