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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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

Jet

January 25, 2011

Due to its black colour and easy translation into mourning costume, jet is a material which suffers from mourning connotations, when however it is one of the oldest jewellery constructing materials used and a fashionable material to wear. In actuality, mourning has a very small role to play in jet jewellery when one considers the scale of the industry and contemporary fashions, hence why it’s not a subject I cover often on Art of Mourning. However, it is a fascinating material and it does have a strong role to play if your focus is on 19th century mourning, so an analysis of jet is important for historian and collector.

What is Jet?
Jet is actually a type of brown coal, or fossilised wood of an ancient tree, containing around 12% mineral oil with aluminium, silica and sulphur. The trees which grew to produce this were similar to modern Araucaria trees and date from around 180 million years ago. Upon its death, a tree which fell/was carried to a body of sea water would become broken and waterlogged, then sink to the bottom and remain there to be covered by sediment. As it remained there, it would become compacted by the pressure and over time the wood would convert to jet. Chemical analysis has shown that jet was formed under sea water, however it has been suggested that softer jet was formed under fresh water.

Despite the names of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ jet, there is not a great difference in density between soft and hard, simply that soft jet is quite brittle and often cracks when heated.

The Romans coined the term ‘black amber’ for jet, as in the 19th century they had considered jet to be a hard resin. Jet conducts static electricity when rubbed on silk or wool and is also light, but under intense magnification, jet shows its origins as a product of wood.

Found in Russia, Germany, Turkey, France, Spain, Portugal, North America and of course, England, various densities of jet were mined and used, however the finest is considered to be from Whitby. Mining jet in Whitby began c.1840 and lasted to 1920, peaking in the 1870s with between two hundred and three hundred miners.

Early History

‘It is black, smooth, light and porous and differs but little from wood in appearance. The fumes of it, burnt, keep serpents at a distance and dispel hysterical affections… A decoction of this stone in wine is curative of toothache…’ – Pliny, Natural History, 1st century AD

Jet’s history dates to the prehistoric, as it was a material used for various artefacts (amulets, shaped as animals, beads, combined with amber, bones, teeth, etc) dating back 10,000 years in the France, Germany, Switzerland regions. More complete pieces have been found from Yorkshire to Scotland from 4500 years ago.

Romans used jet for rings, bracelets, dagger handles, necklaces, hairpins and die and excavations have found workshops dedicated to jet production in York (Eburacum). Pieces of possibly York origin have been found and are on display in Cologne.

In America, Pueblo Indians (around the Utah and Colorado regions) produced jet jewellery, combining it with shell and turquoise, which, in light of the Spanish jet industry, pre-dates the Spanish arrival in the area.

As a popular and reasonably simple material to carve and construct items from, jet never completely disappeared as a usable material. It leant itself well to medieval construction, due to its properties of keeping away evil spirits and ecclesiastical jewellery used jet as a material liberally. By the 14th century, a jet industry emerged in, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. Jet turners and carvers formed separate guilds, producing mostly ecclesiastical jewellery, declining only by the point of the Reformation.

Late History
Despite the lack of a large jet industry in Whitby post-Roman times, jet was known and referenced during the 18th century, but products tended to be mostly crude.

Muller argues that the transition from lighter Regency-era dresses to the heavier crinolines and larger styles of the 1850s and 1860s required larger jewellery to work with them, hence jet’s lightweight appeal and larger size provided to perfect accompaniment. Jet was presented to the public at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and its popularity grew exponentially, facing almost immediate Royal patronage from France, Bavaria and of course, England. Thomas Andrews was the ‘jet ornament manufacturer to HM the Queen’ from 1850, and this would be a most prodigious position to hold, as upon Albert’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria only allowed jet jewellery to be worn at court. Society followed on from court etiquette and mourning fashion and culture swiftly became part of mainstream culture.

By the 1870s, the annual turnover of the Whitby jet industry was said to be over one hundred thousand pounds, with a jet craftsperson earning between three and four pounds a week. From 1832, there were only two shops employing twenty-five people to 1872, where two hundred shops employing fifteen hundred women, men and children, taking over the landscape of Whitby. Development of machinery, such as the lathe, also helped to facilitate the growth of jet production meeting the high public demand for jet pieces. However, demand was so high that soft jet was imported from Spain and France, mainly for beading (as previously mentioned, soft jet tended to crack and many surviving pieces reflect this today), giving the jet trade what was considered to be a ‘bad name’, hence the attempt in 1890 to trademark ‘Whitby’ as a quality of jet. Jet was also seeing great competition in lesser-quality imitations which were far cheaper and by 1936, only five craftsmen were left. By 1958, the last Victorian trained jet carver had passed on.

But was it just the competition of imitation jet that started its decline? The entire mourning industry was in a decline from the mid 1880s – an entire generation of a culture with once fluid fashion changes had been living under the shadow of mainstream mourning culture from 1861, due mostly to a queen perpetually in mourning. By 1887, for Victoria’s golden jubilee, she had started to lessen the mourning restrictions and re-emerge in public, but there was even a cultural shift that had begun with women who lived as the centre of household mourning starting to rebel against the older ways. Style had remained largely consistent with little movement since the 1860s, though women’s clothing had lost the heavier crinolines, bold mourning jewels remained bold and prominent. This female paradigm shift had started to become an outward rebellion, with some women even wearing their veils backwards as an act of defiance. The Art Nouveau movement emerged as a breath of fresh air, with its opulent, organic, styles, using nature as its dominant motif, rather than retroactively mining the past for revival styles. Jet was not conducive to this new art movement and did not adapt. Black stones used as a material following this period in Art Deco were often onyx or glass, which became, and remains, popular to this day.

Use in Mourning Costume
Jet was a wonderful material for use in mourning, obviously for its black nature and how that relates to the 19th century stages of mourning. First mourning lasted one year and a day, outdoor garments for this would be shown by the plainness and amount of crape, jet jewellery was permitted. After one year and a day, Second stage was introduced. This involved less crape and its application to bonnets and dresses became more elaborate. It was frowned upon if this period was entered into too quickly and it lasted nine months in all. The Third stage (or Ordinary stage), introduced after twenty-one months, involves the omission of crape, inclusion of black silk trimmed with jet, black ribbon and embroidery or lace were permitted. Post 1860, soft mauves, violet, pansy, lilac, scabious and heliotrope were acceptable in half mourning. This period lasted three months. The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine stated that ‘many widows never put on their colours again’ and this was quite a statement for the identity of the woman, which was held under the veil of mourning and family symbolism for the rest of her life. Hats, shawls, mantles, gloves, shoes, fans all changed during mid century, and pagoda sleeves from 1850-70 were fashionable, designed to be stitched to the outer sleeve to cover modesty from the lower arm and wrist. Wide skirts from the 1850s-70s, tie back fashions of the late 1870s and the ‘S-bend’ look of the early 1900s all were adapted to mourning fashion, without a clear definition of difference between them. Throughout the post 1880s decline, in the 1890s, women would wear their veils at the back of the head only, showing hair beneath bonnets at the front for first stage mourning. This defiance was quite bold and marked a large turning point for mourning structure.

Use in Jewellery

Jet and Hair Earrings

One thing that is important to note is that jet wasn’t simply a mourning material, which is often a common misconception. It was another jewellery material and quite fashionable, hence giving tokens made from jet doesn’t in any way denote death. Often its black nature and use in early stage mourning gives the impression that it automatically defaults to death. However, brooches from the 1870s, pendants, lockets, trim, beading, necklaces and personalised mementos (such as pins) are quite commonly found as love tokens and items held in high fashion, with only a small percent being used directly for mourning. Jet was also used as a secondary material in many rings, such as jet beading surrounding a ring’s hair memento, creating wonderful embellishments. The ability for jet to be highly polished made it a lustrous and attractive material.

What to Look For
One of the problems with jet come from the multitude of imitations made to replicate it. Once can discover the origins of a jet piece, as it produces a brown streak when rubbed against porcelain, is warm to touch (as it is a poor conductor of heat and a glass imitation would be cold in comparison) and if you heat a needle and put it to a piece, it will give off the faint smell of sulphur. Look for imitations of jet where the piece looks like it’s moulded – jet was carved and couldn’t take the obvious rounded shapes of horn or Vulcanite.

Further Reading

Hellen Muller’s exceptional book Jet from Butterworths is a collectors primary point of reference to learn more about this remarkable material. Muller is without a doubt the leading historian on Jet and its history, so if you can track down a copy, prize it in your collection. I would also like to thank Muller for without whom, this article would not be possible.

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 »

Ballarat Antique Fair

March 6, 2010

Ballarat Antique FairAre you at the Ballarat Antique Fair yet? I am and you’re missing out on a marvellous lecture by yours truly to anyone who cares to listen! What will become of it? Look forward to a future post!

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