27 July 2018

Love & Death : The Intriguing World of Georgian Memento Jewellery

We take a closer look at the fascinating world of Georgian Memento Jewellery...

Original Georgian Eye Miniature of an Eye in Dark Clouds: Symbolic of Mourning. c.1800 Available at Rowan & Rowan

What makes Memento Jewellery of the Georgian period unique is that it marks a distinct departure from the 'Memento mori' styles of the previou era. It is far more personal, playing with the whimsical and the esoteric: without the heavy gothicism of later Victorian pieces.

In the Elizabethan and Jacobean era's, jewellery associated with death and mourning often took the form of taunting skulls and skeletons and was usually overtly macabre. It's purpose was to remind the wearer and the viewer of the inevitability of death and the urgent need for the living to consider the fates of their immortal souls. 

Following the public execution of Charles I in 1649, commemorative 'mourning' jewellery bearing the face of the deposed King began to circulate among those with royalist sympathies. It was a way to show political support for the monarchy and it's later restoration, but also a way to deal with personal grief and a sense of loss. 

Enamel Portrait of Charles I on Fine Gold and Diamond Mount c1640-80. Available at Charlotte Sayers

The burgeoning middle classes of the Georgian era adapted this tradition by commissioning jewellery bearing the likeness of friends and family to mourn those who had died - or to commemorate relationships between the living. Elizabethan aristocrats had exchanged portrait miniatures, but only in the eighteenth century did the practice become common among ordinary people. 

Georgian pieces have a soft romantic air, created by the delicate interweaving of metals and gemstones. The colour black is rarely dominant, with soft pastels and pale natural colours more commonly used. White enamel would often be used to remember a young unmarried woman, and seed pearls for the death of a child. 

Curiously, the pieces associated with death have much the same character in terms of design as the pieces associated with romance. Eyes amid dark clouds commemorate lost loved ones, whilst eyes or lips amid bright clouds were more likely gifted from a living lover.

The aesthetic style of Georgian Memento Jewelry is in keeping with the romantic temperament of the age: which swept through all of the liberal arts from poetry to theatre. The development of euphemistic language amid mourning scenes such as 'gone to bliss'  or  'affection weeps, heaven rejoices' mark a distinct tonal departure from the blunt refrains of an earlier era: a legacy still very much felt in the mourning culture of the present day. 

We hope we've inspired you to take a look at pieces of Georgian memento jewellery with fresh eyes, and to start you off we've picked out some of our favourite items now available from the dealers at Grays...

Georgian Betrothal Pendant Surrounded by Rubies. c.1740. Available at Charlotte Sayers

Lovers Lips Miniature c1790. available at Rowan & Rowan

Georgian Eye Miniature of a Male Eye Amid Dark Clouds. Available at Rowan & Rowan

Oval Miniature Oil on Copper of a Naval Officer c.1700. Available at A Douch

Gold Mourning Bracelet dated 1789. Gold and Seed Pearl. Available at Rowan & Rowan

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