Often when appraising jewels, it’s easy to lose sight of their fashionable purpose, of promoting an aesthetic that is beautiful and enhances the nature of the wearer. This particular piece is easy to stand back from and simply admire.

Spanish sentimental pendant 1700

This particular piece is said to have its origins in Spain or northern Italy (possibly Milan), however, its composition is consistent with pieces on the Continent and in the UK for its time.

The regal nature of this piece, extenuated by the green and white enamel transcend the latter basis of symbolism and are used for the purpose of being opulent adornments to the hair memento underneath crystal.

Spanish 1700 Pendant Enamel

The fleur-de-lis pattern surrounding gives credence to the Continental flavour of the piece, but certainly the most extraordinary is the size, the use of the green enamel and the pearls which all indicate its source.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

Further Reading:
> Revisiting a Pearl and Blue Glass/Enamel Brooch: How Trade Opened Up New Possibilities in the 18th Century
> Louis XVI Royalist Supporter French Ring
> The Further the Distance the Tighter the Knot; Eternity and Romantic Symbolism on a French Sepia Miniature

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was a most exquisite pendant….

The front of the mourning pendant - note the use of pink. I can't imagine that this would have occurred in an English mourning piece. Travelling from continent to continent it now resides in Australia.

This story is about collecting. I promise there will be another tale about the potent beauty and sentiment of this piece. However, back to the land of far, far away, the land of collectors, it is called – The Internet.

A few years ago I fell in love. It was a complicated love, one born of desire for beauty, but one also springing from a much deeper place of empathy and respect. It was instigated by my sisters, they (under my instruction) went to Gray’s Antiques in London to collect a rather special ring that I had recently purchased. They were also under instruction to have a look at a few other pieces I was interested in. What they recommended was this extraordinary French pendant. They described the size, colour and detail to be something quite unique.

Detail

I looked at this miniature artwork on the internet on a daily basis. I coveted it greatly but just did not have the resources to buy it. I would estimate that I looked at it online at least once a day for quite some time and then – quelle horreur –  it disappeared.

As a collector do you ever realise (after the fact) that you feel more regret at having missed out on a new acquisition as it would have felt to spend the money you didn’t have? I have felt both types, but nothing is quite as bad as feeling regret once something slipped through one’s fingers. That is the double-edged sword of the internet. Being able to see an image of something daily, having it there seemingly available and accessible does encourage one to think that one has until  tomorrow, and tomorrow…..

So, when it disappears it can be quite confronting. Eeek – someone took my pendant!

A combination of sepia painting, macerated hair, pearls, watercolour & 3-d gold

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw the same pendant suddenly appear on the other side of the world courtesy of Ruby Lane! Immediate Wish List addition. I had learnt my lesson but to be honest, it still doesn’t solve the realism of not having the finances. But the original loss made me bolder, and when the dollar became a bit better, and with such generous things like lay-by (and living on rice) become options one can find a way.

A discipline which I try to adhere to (but often fail) is to refrain from purchasing things that I like at a moderate cost and save up for things that I love that are at a price requiring a bit more sacrifice.

What the land of  The Internet has provided to me, as a collector, is reach into a larger market. I have access to dealers in the UK, the US and the rest of the world which would have been unfathomable not that long ago.

The reverse with hair panel and inscription in French.

– Marielle Soni

Louis XVI Royalist Supporter French Ring
Excuse me while I marvel at this gem – please tell the crowd all about it, Barbara:

“this is Royalist Supporter jewelry, late 18th century, commemorating the deaths of Marie Antoinette, her husband Louis XVI and their son, the Dauphin. This high carat gold ring is set with a sulphide cameo encrustation portrait of the ill-fated Royal family. The portrait is set to a gold frame with the black enamel motto “Iis sont immortels (they are immortal), under crystal.  It is in perfect condition, but I couldn’t get the photo without a very small glare.”

Louis XVI Royalist Supporter French RingLouis XVI Royalist Supporter French Ring

Watering Can Ring French Sepia c.1780s

From the collection of the always wonderful Barbara Robbins comes this very interesting ring! Take it away, Barbara:

“This one is very interesting, and I think it is probably sentimental rather than mourning.  It shows a lady with a watering can.  The French words are “Je prendre soin de sa culture, ” which translated means “I take cre of your culture (nourishment), etc.  The words are pretty close to the top which makes me think that maybe this is not the original shank and case, though it is an old one and it fits quite well.  There could be another explanation for the words being so close to the top.  I don’t know.”

Watering Can Ring French Sepia c.1780s

Watering Can Ring French Sepia c.1780s

I was going to write about more about memento mori today, but with presenting such lovely and emotionally charged pieces like this, I think it’s time to cleanse the palate with this refreshingly beautiful sentimental Neoclassical piece with sepia on ivory.

Le Plus Loin Le Plus Serre Mourning Pendant

Symbolism and beauty are two words to describe this French piece. The two birds (winged souls) tying together the knot of eternity and love as the ship is sailing away from the castle on top of a cliff face. The boat can be taken as a literal interpretation of sentimental distance, or as the passage of a soul towards the afterlife, however as the boat shows its passage towards the horizon, then one can expect that the symbolism falls into the latter. When combined with the eternity knot, the sentiment of love shows a love forever unbroken despite any figurative distance.

On the reverse, we have the very thick weave of the hairwork in a lattice, which is a style typical of many French pieces, as well as contemporary styles of the c.1780s – particularly in miniatures and large pendants. Of course, much of this is reliant on the hair available, as the industry wasn’t at its scale of the mid 19th century where hair was important and used in great quantities, hence often the hairwork used was at the mercy of what could be obtained.

French mourning pendant

When looking at a piece like this, one must consider the quality of the sepia art. Note how sharp and certain the lines are, there’s little area in the depiction for mistakes or parts where the attention to detail is lacking. The whole canvas of the ivory has been considered as to how to paint this piece, as is often the case with French pieces.

Along the Continent, the mourning industry wasn’t as ubiquitous; the higher the Catholic influences, the difference in the displays of mourning and the very different customs must be understood. Hence why when a French piece comes along, the general quality tends of often be higher, the same with much of the German pieces. There was a higher demand in England for mourning jewels to facilitate social convention, hence a greater output and much more variance between quality and style. One can discover an English piece with amazing quality or very naive quality.

So, note the waves and their individual undulating lines, note the attention to the brushwork where they grow thick to very fine, note how they change direction to show the coarseness of waves. Then the tree and how it interacts with the banner; note how the banner is curved along with the contour of the piece and the tree is nestled in quite comfortably underneath. From this, the individual leaves and branch are shaded, on a piece with gradients of one colour, this shows very high skill and planning.

I think the only the scale of the birds to the castle and and attempt at the rendering of the cliff face are the only parts which weigh this piece down (this from the cross-hatching of the cliff’s shading), but understandably the birds are primary focus to the symbolism with the knot, so the necessarily is understood.

That should be enough for today! Oh, look at that… Tomorrow is Sunday… I wonder what tomorrow’s lesson will be? Get ready for Symbolism Sunday, which may have something to do with the number 3!

Courtesy:Barbara Robbins
Country: France
Year: c. 1780-90
Dedication: “Le Plus Loin Le Plus Serre” – “The further the distance the tighter the knot.”

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

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

I was going to write about more about memento mori today, but with presenting such lovely and emotionally charged pieces like this, I think it’s time to cleanse the palate with this refreshingly beautiful sentimental Neoclassical piece with sepia on ivory.

Le Plus Loin Le Plus Serre Mourning Pendant

Symbolism and beauty are two words to describe this French piece. The two birds (winged souls) tying together the knot of eternity and love as the ship is sailing away from the castle on top of a cliff face. The boat can be taken as a literal interpretation of sentimental distance, or as the passage of a soul towards the afterlife, however as the boat shows its passage towards the horizon, then one can expect that the symbolism falls into the latter. When combined with the eternity knot, the sentiment of love shows a love forever unbroken despite any figurative distance.

On the reverse, we have the very thick weave of the hairwork in a lattice, which is a style typical of many French pieces, as well as contemporary styles of the c.1780s – particularly in miniatures and large pendants. Of course, much of this is reliant on the hair available, as the industry wasn’t at its scale of the mid 19th century where hair was important and used in great quantities, hence often the hairwork used was at the mercy of what could be obtained.

French mourning pendant

When looking at a piece like this, one must consider the quality of the sepia art. Note how sharp and certain the lines are, there’s little area in the depiction for mistakes or parts where the attention to detail is lacking. The whole canvas of the ivory has been considered as to how to paint this piece, as is often the case with French pieces.

Along the Continent, the mourning industry wasn’t as ubiquitous; the higher the Catholic influences, the difference in the displays of mourning and the very different customs must be understood. Hence why when a French piece comes along, the general quality tends of often be higher, the same with much of the German pieces. There was a higher demand in England for mourning jewels to facilitate social convention, hence a greater output and much more variance between quality and style. One can discover an English piece with amazing quality or very naive quality.

So, note the waves and their individual undulating lines, note the attention to the brushwork where they grow thick to very fine, note how they change direction to show the coarseness of waves. Then the tree and how it interacts with the banner; note how the banner is curved along with the contour of the piece and the tree is nestled in quite comfortably underneath. From this, the individual leaves and branch are shaded, on a piece with gradients of one colour, this shows very high skill and planning.

I think the only the scale of the birds to the castle and and attempt at the rendering of the cliff face are the only parts which weigh this piece down (this from the cross-hatching of the cliff’s shading), but understandably the birds are primary focus to the symbolism with the knot, so the necessarily is understood.

That should be enough for today! Oh, look at that… Tomorrow is Sunday… I wonder what tomorrow’s lesson will be? Get ready for Symbolism Sunday, which may have something to do with the number 3!

Courtesy:Barbara Robbins
Country: France
Year: c. 1780-90
Dedication: “Le Plus Loin Le Plus Serre” – “The further the distance the tighter the knot.”

For a collector of the memorial and sentimental, it’s quite common to find white, black and blue enamels, but when you find a contrasting colour, you have to take notice.

With this very early 19th century pendant, the gorgeous red guilloche enamel surrounds the hair memento and is generously surrounded with paste. In this case, the sentiment is purely love, red meaning passion. If you were to look at the hair inside, notice the elegant ribbon bow entwining the simple palette worked hair, almost as if it had been cropped off the head of the lover and simply placed inside (while obviously there’s a bit more work involved than that).

Due to the use of this for its sentiment and the tight weave of the hairwork in the back, this piece matches closely with other French pieces of the time, so it wouldn’t be difficult to make this assumption.

Cause For Concern?

May 2, 2010

Now, here is a piece that has caused a lot of distress to many people in the past. If you’re a French jewellery historian, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The first thing to recognise is the translation of the piece, which in its original French is: “pour vous tout seul” that roughly comes out as “all to yourself” (please forgive this horrid translation). A dealer in Paris attempted to sell this piece to me with the understanding that it was a mourning piece. When the lid is closed, the appreciation is one of a skull, however, since then I’ve known a little better.

The inscription as well as the motif (plus the faith, hope and charity), lends itself to being more familiar to marriage and not death. It was told to be documented in a French jewellery book and belonging to that of a French Marquis.

But let’s look at the facts. The stones used are diamonds (eyes), rubies (shank and interior) and the countenance is more that of a face rather than that of a skull. The bezel has a rosette formation and the translation is dedicated to someone. You have stones which are more used for precious sentimentality, so that doesn’t equate to mourning or otherwise, you have a face that may or may not be a skull (it’s been worn down) and the dedication is leaning towards subject sentimentality. It also has white, black and green enamel.

So what is it? A good question. On the whole, let’s look at that rosette bezel. 1760 was its prime, but you could get it back to 1740 if you were keen. Is it French? Why, yes it is. Are French pieces different to English? Quite a lot. How different? They were different cultures and one preferred to be ahead of the other in that respect. Could this have been for an English person living in France? Not according to its provenance, but perhaps (though unlikely). Why? Well, the piece was seemingly constructed in France, it bears no other hallmarks and has French writing. Ok, so it may be French, but is it mourning? Ah, what do you think of the face of the piece? It looks like a smiling face or Venetian mask. Anything else? Well, the face has dark around the eyes near the diamonds. Look at the head and chin, those areas are worn down. Why is this? Those areas may have been worn down due to age. So, what are those areas wearing down? Metal or enamel? Enamel. Hm, so how do you know what it looked like before the enamel was worn down? I don’t. So why impose your theory? Because the face is white. Ah, so a skull and a mask can both be white? Of course. Then, we’re at an impasse.

The most telling part of this wonderful piece is the inscription. The construction of a hinged face is wonderful, as well as the stones and inscription show a wonderfully made piece. The quality put into this piece is worthy of Continental work. Often, French and German pieces didn’t conform to the British pieces and had quite different symbolism. This piece also uses other flavours of enamel, which were quite uncommon for British pieces. Basically, for a French piece, this is quite sound. Back to the inscription and the “pour vous tout seul” once again hints towards it being dedicated to someone and not for anyone in particular, or at least for not a general audience (like a family). The leaning towards this piece being directly for sentimentality and perhaps marriage is certainly open, but I’ll leave it to your deduction to follow up the clues.

Spotlight On: Sets

April 29, 2010

French Mourning Set19th Century French and German mourning sets are still available and complete today (if one looks hard enough) and consist of bracelet, necklace, brooch and earrings. These predominately feature onyx rather than black enamel. English pieces in the same style were also created, but due to the greater use of onyx on the Continent, they are harder to find.

Hairwork earrings are also popular in sentimental jewellery, many being produced in the USA and England. Different weaves and different gold fittings denote the different times and sears of construction for hairwork earrings. Examples of these can be found in the Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewelry and also on this site.

Earrings with glass compartments for hair mementos were also used, but are harder to find.

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