I’ve written a little bit about the male in mourning pieces and how they often skew to the more personal and unique of sentiments. Today’s look at this wonderful ring from Laura Masselos is no exception, as the dedication for the piece is quite young and the depiction of the father as the prominent mourner once again transcends the piece to the personal, much like this ‘Sacred to the Best of Friends’ miniature.
Let’s look at the style first. One thing to note is that there were two clear popular distinctions for miniatures in Neoclassical jewellery, the first are the sepia toned paintings and the second are the full colour depictions. Both are related, but there tends to be a higher influx of direct sepia painted pieces during the 1760s-1780s with a higher propensity of full coloured pieces in the 1790s. These methods in mourning and sentimental jewels relate for England, France and America, with a higher level of concentration for the coloured styles in France and the upper Continent. Also, the high-relief style of the layered ivory mixed with the three-dimensional hairwork and gold/gem to enhance the depiction and make it lift from the base of the scene. Giving the piece dimension was not an uncommon technique in full-sized miniatures and it was used quite readily in rings, brooches, bracelet clasps and any other form of Neoclassical jewel that could house this depiction under domed glass. One thing to note about that is the quality of the miniature, no matter what the size, never loses its fine detail and quality, it is much harder to find a naive piece in this style as the cost to design and construct them was quite high. To this end, note the (now damaged) attention to detail in the gold/pearl flourishes to the urn and plinth, as well as the written initials themselves. All very fine detail and not at the lesser end of the scale for price.
With this piece, there is a balance of the sepia tone to the gentleman and willow in the depiction, while the rest of the piece is quite focused in the colour, drawing the eyes to the urn and plinth. Complimenting these colours are the white and blue enamels used to surrounded the navette setting. What we can make of this is that the blue denotes the subject of the piece to be considered royalty, the white is innocence and purity, while the balance of tones inside of the brown (earth), tints of muted red (blood) and the reduction of primary colour equating to mortality and the passing into death.
As I’ve written about on my Symbolism Sunday regarding the ‘male’ in mourning depictions, this one exemplifies the style, particularly with the very personal rendering of the male himself. One could adequately suggest that the gentleman reaching out to the urn would be the father figure to the four year old child, however as likely as this is, it is still supposition. The gentleman is wearing white with what appears to be a dark coat, white waistcoat and breeches which correlates to mourning fashion in men during the late 18th century matching the cut of daily clothes, as well as white being worn for the mourning of a child. In all, this is a very personal sentiment and the gentleman was clearly in a good level of society for the mid 1790s to be able to depict himself in such a fashion on a piece. He is not fulfilling a neoclassical ideal and the grief of the piece shows through so prominently because of it. Note other male mourning depictions and the differences in posture and how they interact with their surroundings; all are quite varied and once again, relate to the personal nature of the piece.
In future articles, I’ll delve into some more unusual methods of construction and design for Neoclassical depictions, involving techniques on painting and also weaving hair into silk! Should be a lot of fun, but for the time being, enjoy this piece for the lovely item that it is.