Often, a mourning or sentimental jewel may require a level of thought and reflection that is so intrinsic towards its time that one must completely immerse the self in the society and culture that produced it. The application of modern thought to history is a dangerous path that can either overly-romanticise a jewel or completely ignore its intent. With this ring, the dedication is its first point of reference, as without the knowledge to apply art history to determine the meaning and symbolism of the depiction, the message could be lost.
Based upon the Greco-Roman mythology, the Putti are associated with Eros and Cupid, hence the context of the ring from 1787 fits perfectly with its time. This Putto is playing the flute, revealing the allusion to Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”:
“Sitting on the riverbank, Pan noticed the bed of reeds was swaying in the wind, making a mournful moaning sound, for the wind had broken the tops of some of the reeds. Pulling the reeds up, Pan cut them into pieces and bound them together to create a musical instrument, which he named “Syrinx”, in memory of his lost love.”
Here, the lost love is essential in the suggestion of the piece being of mourning basis; the use of allegory to tell the tale of grief is important, rather than simply focusing upon this as having a sentimental purpose. The reverse of the piece, showing the dedication for 57 year old Joseph Cowper reveals the true nature of the ring and ties together the symbolism.
It is wonderful to show the lengths to which Greco-Roman art were interpreted and used in the late 18th century. The personal reflection, combined with the romantic movement certainly changed people’s perspectives of themselves and their places in historical context. With so much instability across the Western world, with the rise of new countries fragmented from the old and the seeming failure in monarchy power structures, the human relation to classical culture as a modern representation certainly was a proud reaction to the restrictions of the middle ages. In this ring, we see just how fully the use of classical thought was made to represent the new.