Allegory is the central ideal with the subject of mourning and sentimental miniatures (as with most depictions during this time) . There is an overwhelming amount of variation between pieces from this time, their symbolism (Greek in style or not), but the piece above requires close inspection.
The woman in mourning represents many different things depending on the area the piece was produced and the painter. Commonly, the woman appears in white neoclassical dress, a perfect symbol of devotion in mourning. More unusual pieces transfer the woman from being a romantic ideal into a personal statement. This can be seen in pieces which depict the actual person who commissioned the piece. Depictions range from females in black dress without the neoclassical ideal of portraiture. Examples of this can be seen in Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. Personal pieces also include the figure of a male mourning next to the central tomb, urn or other motif. Male mourning pieces tend to be more rare, but their sentiment is greatly enforced due to their personal nature. A male mourning ring dating from this time can be found in the Rings section.
The piece above has the tomb as the central focus, with the child breaking free and flying towards the angel, who has outstretched arms, holding a wreath. The wreath depicts redemption, and this is enforced by the ‘Resurgam’ (resurrection) written on the tomb.
Shown in front of the woman is a garden, which had different meaning. The biblical gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, where Christ was arrested, leading to his crucifixion and resurrection, alludes to eternal life. The cypress trees that outline the background (hope of immortality and death) provide a stunning depth to the artwork.
Following the common themes of mourning miniatures, the weeping willow (resurrection through regrowth) is one of the most common.
The reverse of this piece has a cobalt glass surround, set into a bezel, set into a gold over copper rim and a hair compartment in the centre. In a future post, we’ll look at other miniatures and compare styles.