Rarely does a jewel offer so many areas of interpretation and resonate with such a unique story of its own. There are so many levels to understand when analysing this jewel, that we have to break down the components between the personal and the symbolic. Firstly, to understand the symbolic, we must look into the dedication itself.
“This is the Victory that Overcometh the World, Even Over Faith” is the only dedication on the back of this piece. To put the surrounding times into context, this jewel was made in the late 18th century, a time at the height of the Neoclassical movement that saw a distinctly humanist and romantic approach to living, which seculated the ecclesiastical into symbolic allegory. This jewel has made a statement above faith, which may be a personal opinion of the mourner and perhaps a relationship between the two people which was a private matter, however, much of this is supposition before we look at the symbolism itself. What we have to gather is the fact and the fact is that this piece does not have a traditional name/date of death upon its reverse. While there are many jewels that were unsigned and others that have worn down over time, this piece has a clear statement of mortality and the final reward as a victory that moves beyond the physical – the spirit overcomes the world.
Upon the front, the symbolism tells many tales and much of this is led to interpretation. We are presented with the mourning woman, with her hand pointing towards the heavens, the plinth with its inscription (“Hope of Eternal Life“) and her left arm resting on top of what appears to be a book. Much of this symbolism, while standardised in Neoclassical sepia jewels from the 1780s and 90s is typical, but there has been thought put into the unification of symbols themselves. It is reminiscent of Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1593), as the book becomes a source of truth, this being the Gospel of God. Throughout this piece, there’s a conflict in religion, the pointing towards the heavens, the book of truth, knowledge and its religious connotations, the ‘hope’ of eternal life’ and how the victory is ‘even over faith’ resonates with an uncertainty in the afterlife, but a hope that it does exist.
It is also important to note that the text of splitting ‘ETERN/AL’ on the plinth shows a customisation to an existing piece, whether this was done as an afterthought to a design or the piece itself was doctored from a pre-designed sepia miniature can’t be defined, but thought was put into that sentiment.
What this jewel does present is a beauty and honesty that speaks louder than many of its contemporary pieces.