Experimentation of styles at the end of the Neoclassical movement created some unusual and quite beautiful forms of mainstream design in jewellery that were discontinued by the coming Gothic Revival and seemingly original for their time. Often, designs used in jewellery have some continuity or pedigree for their form, which makes their adaptation of any mainstream artistic flourishes seem quite understandable.

Yet, the early 19th century was a time of discovery and change. Much of the techniques used in traditional jewellery construction were being overtaken with the growing industrial revolution, production was growing to new levels, access to inexpensive materials transcended status to the point of social necessity. Hence, there was more room for experimentation in jewellery fashion, styles could exist for a short period and quickly disappear.

These particular rings show a motif in the shoulders and shank which have some basis in the navette style, but turn this into a design which is much more organic to the contour of the finger. While the style of the open wire/fretwork is a new one, it still honours the symbolism typical of its time.

With this particular ring, the symbolism in the eternity symbol is used to expand the shoulders, enhancing its simple symbolism and the nature of the design itself. What is more striking is that the ring’s memento area is shaped as a diamond, crossing diagonally around the finger. This also reflects upon the changing nature of the sentimental style of the time as well; what could also be a larger, ivory memento with a portrait or mourning/sentimental depiction is now the simple hairwork of the loved one, outwardly displayed for all to see.

Dedication: 2 December 1800 / J.J

Following on with this style, the wire-work open-shank can be seen in many other pieces of the first-quarter 19th century, with more or less elaboration. Often, the bezel is oval shaped with hairwork inside. This was at a time when the ‘Georgian Eye’ portrait was reaching its crescendo, suggesting that the oval and the eye have an intrinsic link in the design motif. Either way, it was phased out to become a more traditional rectangle, but keeping the same hairwork/materials inside.

Further Reading:
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.190
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 3, Breaking Perceptions

Pearls and hairwork are often two of the most common materials used in stringing a bracelet  from the neoclassical era, much of the time these materials have been replaced since their creation, however, it is quite common to find the bracelet clasp on its own, such as this piece and the one posted recently.

Let’s reflect upon the symbolism for a moment. On direct appearance, we have the angel, the woman, the urn, plinth, cypress and the willow. All of these symbols are the ideal for their time and are the fundamental basis for mourning art, regardless of the quality. In this particular piece, it’s essential to first note the quality of the face to the woman and the angel. There is an inherent simplicity and generic nature to the features, with the simple line/dot work comprising the art. Much of the quality is within the shading of the sepia, with its rich earth-tones. Here, the fall and creases of her dress, as well as the willow framing the piece make up much of the detail.

One could assume that this piece began its life as a pre-produced miniature that was appropriated and customised by the wearer; the ‘To Bliss’ and ‘Affection Weeps / Heaven Rejoices’ sentiment are in different tones than the sepia itself, as well as the awkward contouring of the ‘To Bliss’ sentiment upon the scroll held by the angel. Compare this with this ‘Sacred to the Best of Friends’ piece and you’ll note the wide variation in detail. Certainly, the other piece benefits from being full colour, but fine sepia work with personalised detail was achievable and common.

What does denote high quality with this piece is the frame of pearls; an exotic and popular material for jewellery in the late 19th century (read more about that here) and a material that isn’t necessary to frame such a magnificent piece, but only adds to its aesthetic value.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Dedication: Ann Read died 8th of March 1789 Aged 76

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

Nothing is quite so sad for me as to see an antiques dealer retire or go out of business. In this particular case, it was the former and I had to rescue all the jewellery I could from the Melbourne institution herself, Irene Chapman. Below is a lovely red enamel, pearl, 2 colour hairwork brooch, let’s take a look:

Red Enamel Navette Pearl Brooch

Red Enamel Navette Pearl Brooch

Red Enamel Navette Pearl Brooch

Here’s one that has survived well! Barbara, let’s take a look:

1815 Georgian Eye Miniature Pearl

Here is a very nice eye pendant, on card, with pearls.  The back is engraved

Lucy Scott
OB 3rd of Jan
1815 AET 77

For more on eye portraits, have a read of this article on the Georgian Eye.

1815 Georgian Eye Miniature Pearl

Eye MIniature Portrait Bracelet Georgian

I’ve written quite a bit about eye miniatures and their use in mourning and sentimental jewellery. These are one of those cultural phenomena that seem to radiate with a personal sentiment not seen previously not seen in mainstream jewellery; they’re less formal than the heavy neo-classical pieces found from 1760 to their contemporary period, they come in various qualities from highly detailed to naive and above all else, they’re incredibly personal. For those who need to know a bit more, here’s some of an article I’ve written previously:

“Eye portraits are rare and highly sought after, but there is variation between them. In the portrait shown, the setting conforms to the portrait of the eye, but later examples show a tear-drop setting with a black enamel surround. Some also show a down-turned eye. These are not always to be considered mourning pieces, but certainly sentimental. The tear-drop setting with the black enamel surround is certainly a mourning piece and quite an odd point in the evolution of the style.

Eye portraits are considered to have their genesis in the late 18th Century when the Prince of Wales (to become George IV ) wanted to exchange a token of love with the Catholic widow (of Edward Weld who died 3 months into the marriage) Maria Fitzherbert . The court denounced the romance as unacceptable, though a court miniaturist developed the idea of painting the eye and the surrounding facial region as a way of keeping anonymity. The pair were married on December 15, 1785, but this was considered invalid by the Royal Marriages Act because it had not been approved by George III, but Fitzherbert’s Catholic persuasion would have tainted any chance of approval. Maria’s eye portrait was worn by George under his lapel in a locket as a memento of her love. This was the catalyst that began the popularity of lover’s eyes. From its inception, the very nature of wearing the eye is a personal one and a statement of love by the wearer. Not having marks of identification, the wearer and the piece are intrinsically linked, rather than a jewellery item which can exist without the necessity of the wearer.

Use of materials developed along with the size of the settings of eye miniatures, as pieces were surrounded by precious stones and became larger due to altering fashion. A good reference for the evolving trend of the shape of early 19th century jewellery can be seen in the Rings section, where settings and the shape of the mementos changed quite dramatically from 1790-1830.”

There have been a number of eye portrait forgeries due to their desirability and low production. Collectors should be cautious when purchasing a piece to ensure its authenticity.

Eye MIniature Portrait Bracelet GeorgianAnd now with that, we can look at this piece. The first thing that must be discussed are the seed pearls forming the band of the bracelet. Mourning bracelets are often strung with either hair or pearls in their original state. Much of the time, only the clasps and hinges survive or have been restrung over the years. Judging by the colour, odd sizes and the predilection towards seed pearls during the first quarter 19th century, these look quite original on appearance. When discussing pieces like this, it’s best to not make absolute judgement based upon pictures, but make physical contact with the piece to be sure.

Art of Mourning Niello Brooch GeorgianThe setting of the eye itself is in the style common of c.1815-1830 (often the grooves would be filled with enamel, but not always), with the popular rectangular shape housing the eye itself highlighting its age in this bracket. Note the piece pictured for similarities.

As for the portrait itself, the eye is painted on ivory and moves to the upper levels of fine quality in the attention to detail and the brushwork. One of the aspects of the eye miniature is that they weren’t often painted to the neoclassical ideal, but come back to the nature of them being personally painted. Here, note the colour of the hair in the portrait (chestnut to red) and the fair colouring of the skin, detail has been taken into account to match the subject where possible.

Eye MIniature Portrait Bracelet GeorgianThen there is the dedication on the reverse. This dedication feels awkwardly drawn into the reverse and due to the eye not facing upwards (often denoting post-mortem), one must consider if it were a later inscription to the piece. However, any detail here is supposition, so one must be careful when making such a judgement.

Overall, the bracelet is highly rare and incredibly sought after. These items weren’t in high production and lasted only a short time as a cultural phenomenon, hence their high cost and desirability.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

Charles I Miniature Pendant with Pearl

I don’t think there’s enough that I can say about these Charles I pieces. To me, they represent the inception of an industry that certainly was on the verge of being one of the most culturally important movements in modern history, due to its cross-cultural pervasiveness and obvious necessity. Yes, I’m talking about the industry of mourning.

However, there is also the way that death was adapted by the oncoming industrial revolution and the inception of social movement. In some ways, the affectation of mourning speaks about the superficial nature of the human condition, with our fickle concerns of outward presentation and adherence to human-imposed social conventions.

Charles I Mourning Pendant Royalist Enamel Blue

What has this to do with the Charles I pendant on display here? The beheading of Charles I created a royalist movement that provoked society to adapt tableaus in dedication to the fallen king, with a disregard to the monetary context of the dedications – surviving portraits of Charles may vary in quality from the finely painted to the naive. However, there is quite an effort to present the man with respectful quality, regardless. This royalist movement was one that could transcend the socio-economic demographic and allow for the lower classes to express their grief/loyalty (even when the pieces were covered or hidden in lockets), as opposed to more insular cultural outlooks, which focused more on the immediate family/work paradigm without the greater social awareness. Communication was becoming faster, social borders were crumbling and the presentation of the self to this greater social audience was becoming more and more important.

Hence, when a piece like this was worn, albeit enamel side up (the pearl is a later addition), it still conveys a message about the wearer to the society around them. It shows obvious status and wealth.

Looking at the piece itself, Charles is looking off (not engaging the viewer) with sadness, hence its meaning as being a royalist piece is established (hardly the demeanour of a king still alive), the portrait itself, shows the face is painted to a pre-established ideal of the king and not painted in personal company with the man himself though the miniaturist has taken careful detail to shading of the hair and attention to the costume – often portraits of Charles would be closer in to the face of the subject. On the reverse, we have the blue enamel and this side doesn’t demand that the wearer turn it over to reveal the portrait. In this case, the portrait is personal and worn over the heart, while this enamel reverse can be presented with all the sophistication of class status that it deserves. If the wearer commissioned the blue enamel with the intent of royalty in the face of such a personal sentiment is truly the prerogative of the person who commissioned it, however, it is more likely. The piece is set in silver and retains much of the popular late Baroque design in the flower and enamel that would be expected.

And how does this all reflect upon us today? Well, essentially, it gives us all a great appreciation for the industry that surrounds us, but personally, I simply like to enjoy looking at this magnificent piece.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

As the 19th Century approached, styles altered greatly, with the size of the previous pieces growing smaller and the importance of symbolism being held in the materials used and not in paintings on ivory or vellum.

Stages of mourning, the move away from romanticism and the techniques of jewellery construction made pieces more accessible to the greater public with more mobility in price and with different levels of grandeur.

This piece, shows the signs of the transition of the neoclassical period in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. Stemming from around 1820, this piece shows how the oval shape in neoclassical jewellery had evolved into a smaller, rounder design. Compare this with the larger navette shapes (which would often hold large mementoes, such as miniatures), the oval shrank down to accommodate simple hairwork mementoes.

Much jewellery of this time began to reduce in size and followed form, circular or geometric patterns and clean enamel lines were quite prevalent during the Regency period. Style constantly evolved, rather than halt altogether.

An important thing to note on this piece is that it shows evidence of a marriage between items. The prongs with the paste doesn’t blend perfectly with the interior brooch, hence it may have been re-appropriated as a latter-stage mourning piece. The hair and the original brooch appear to be largely untouched, rather than the hair memento replaced (which is much more common).

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