Brooches 18.07.2012

A Coral Georgian Eye Brooch

Coral Eye Portrait Brooch Georgian

One of the more unique aspects of this particular brooch (above its coral border) is the portrait of the eye itself.

The depiction of the eye tends to constantly look at the viewer on eye portraits, with others looking upwards (towards the heavens) denoting a post-mortem reference. This piece, however, has the eye looking off to the left, finding negative space just beyond that and not detailing the nose or other features.

Coral Eye Portrait Brooch Georgian

When considering then nature of the eye portrait:

Eye portraits are considered to have their genesis in the late 18th Century when the Prince of Wales (to become George IV) wanted to exchange a token of love with the Catholic widow (of Edward Weld who died 3 months into the marriage) Maria Fitzherbert. The court denounced the romance as unacceptable, though a court miniaturist developed the idea of painting the eye and the surrounding facial region as a way of keeping anonymity. The pair were married on December 15, 1785, but this was considered invalid by the Royal Marriages Act because it had not been approved by George III, but Fitzherbert’s Catholic persuasion would have tainted any chance of approval. Maria’s eye portrait was worn by George under his lapel in a locket as a memento of her love. This was the catalyst that began the popularity of lover’s eyes. From its inception, the very nature of wearing the eye is a personal one and a statement of love by the wearer. Not having marks of identification, the wearer and the piece are intrinsically linked, rather than a jewellery item which can exist without the necessity of the wearer.

Use of materials developed along with the size of the settings of eye miniatures, as pieces were surrounded by precious stones and became larger due to altering fashion. A good reference for the evolving trend of the shape of early 19th century jewellery can be seen in the Rings section, where settings and the shape of the mementos changed quite dramatically from 1790-1830.

This method is not unsound. It resonates the popular romantic fashion of anonymity in the subject. The other fine thing to note is the colour of the hair and the curl; this is truly an individual piece that was constructed individually for the person whom constructed it.

The coral, meaning the ‘choicest jewel is thy heart’ relates also back to the sentimental aspect of the love token and with the popular rectangular shape of the piece (for the first quarter 19th century), this jewel resonates a high fashion for its time.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama