The French adoption of mourning and sentimental symbolism differed from the necessity of the British. While Court mandates enforced multiple levels of society to enter mourning stages and present the family within a mourning paradigm, the French specifically targeted the art and culture of mourning in a more focused manner from the late 18th to late 19th century, often stemming from form following fashion. As mourning styles and materials became popular (such as hairwork), it was more entitled to enter French style. Much of this is due to religion, approach to culture and how it was mandated throughout the country. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen offered a freedom of religion, hence no control through Roman Catholicism, or in the case of the United Kingdom, the Church of England with the monarch as its Supreme Governor. This gives greater interpretation of mourning symbolism that can relate more specifically to the wearer and not be dominated by a preordained set of values.
The 18th century welcomed in greater convention for mourning fashion and began to see the rise of the mourning industry. This became so much so that mourning dress was becoming desirable and the difference between mourning and non mourning dress was narrowing. Much of the fashion in this century was dictated by the fabric rather than the cut, and the silk industries in France and England held major influence on mourning wear because of this. It was Ordre Chronologique des Deuils de la Cour, (1765) where details of Court mourning in France were published, giving precise tailoring instructions. From their first days in mourning, men were permitted to appear in Court, unless it was after the death of a parent from whom they had received inheritance.
Widows had to wait one year and six weeks, with the first six months in black wool. Lord Chamberlain and Earl Marshall both ordered shorter periods of mourning in France and England respectively. By the 1880s in Britain, twelve weeks of mourning were ordered by the death of a king or queen, six weeks after the death of a son or daughter of the sovereign, three weeks for the monarch’s brother or sister, two weeks for royal nephews, uncles, nieces or aunts and ten days for the first cousins of the royal family. Foreign sovereigns were mourned for three weeks and their relatives for a shorter time. Mourning was divided up into First, Second and Court mourning.
One thing that is most striking about this pendant is the colour. There is a heavy reliance on blue throughout the plinth and then background of the piece, as well as the detail to the female mourner’s costume.
The symbolism and its style is detailed to a romantic standardisation of their forms. The female face is generic, but quite emotive, as is the body and her position of seating and also the cherub pointing to the heavens. These elements are not unique to this piece, but considering the size of the piece and the colour, their interaction is much more opulent and individual than contemporary pieces.
It is the overlay of detail to the piece that makes it truly stand out. The elements are quite standard for a Neoclassical miniature, however, the aforementioned colour and gradual build up of the shading is striking, if not, overwhelming. Look to the trees, which create the surrounding scene. There are elements here which highlight the shadow of the trees, but it is so dense that it almost becomes too heavily applied. Then the plinth and urn, with its abundance of colour; the gold reflects French ormolu across the plinth and the urn is so heavily detailed that it increases its dimension in the scene. Further back, the temple remains the highest point of all, with the radiance of the sunshine from the heavens cascading down to the right. With all these additions to the traditional symbolism, there is a sense of comfort and happiness to the piece. The death has occurred, but with the softness of the colours, the use of the “L’AMITIE” and the happiness to the mourner’s face, there is a sense of hope that underlines the grief of this piece.