‘In Memory Of’ is such a simple statement, one which represents such a vast number of jewels. Being a statement of simplicity and love, denoting that loss is something which is negated through the memory of a person lasting forever in another, it is a statement that has been used to frequently that its basis as a statement is almost an afterthought in jewellery.
Within this brooch, elements of the Gothic Revival period are heavily embellished within the brooch itself, working with the lettering of the jewel. As the Gothic Revival period was a move back towards the simplicity of the original Gothic movement and the ecclesiastical reverence that it entailed, a large reaction to the indulgences of the Regency period, this jewel was created for William Busby, the Dean of Rochester (1757-1820) and the head of the chapter of canons at Rochester Cathedral. He died on August 31st during a visit to Scotland.
Mourning jewellery and religious figures intersect at a very interesting nexus. Depending on the time of the jewel’s creation, the piece is either a reaction to mourning styles which had moved away from the connection between humanity and god. During the c.1765-c.1820 period of Neoclassicism, classical figures had taken the reflection of god away from mourning depictions and replaced these with classical figures, or the very self, displayed within the jewel.
When a member of the clergy has departed, the display of affection tends to either be on the higher-end of quality for a jewel, or the representation of death is closer to the memento mori styles pre-c.1765. For mainstream fashion, this would be considered an anachronism, but for the depiction of the death, the symbols are literal and show the desecration of the body and the final judgement.
With the above piece, the depiction from 1780 is clearly in the style of its time, with the high-relief depiction of the skull and crossbones on the plinth, created in chopped hair. Sepia, being the popular style of the time, captures the memento moro style perfectly, but in contemporary pieces, the plinth would be adorned with an urn.
Further to this, having the depiction of the church yard with the urn in the immediate line of sight would be classified a more literal depiction that was popular in the late 18th century. It isn’t truly classical in its sentimentality, with a clear display of the modern surroundings and lack of classical figure.
As these styles were not far removed from the Busby brooch, the display of mourning as a fashionable affectation is starkly different. The Busby piece is in its element, with the ecclesiastical Gothic Revival movement being a perfect encapsulation of the requirements of mourning for a religious figure. These elements that became common within the lexicon of mourning fashion were only expounded upon during the 19th century, with Queen Victoria establishing the ideal of the family early in her reign, then her descent into perpetual mourning post 1861 after the death of Albert. Black enamel, ‘In Memory Of’ and bold design were clear identifiers for mourning, regardless of how they adorned the body, be it ring, brooch, pendant or bracelet.
In the 1820s, many influences upon society offered greater cultural flexibility within the social structure. The excesses of George IV and his investment in the arts bought new influences into the United Kingdom. From the death of Princess Charlotte who died in 1817, mortality was absorbed as a cross-cultural, kingdom-wide event, imposing values of the affectations of mourning on people which would resonate for the remaining 19th century. The values that were appropriated to show this in fashion led to the Gothic Revival being the identifier for grief and virtue, due to its return to religious values and simplicity that takes that pomp away from the fact of death.
The Gothic Revival period of the early 19th century is an extremely pronounced period of obvious consequences in art and architecture, but also heavily affecting in morality and cultural lifestyle. It is a period that overlapped other forms of mainstream style to eventually become the dominant visual presence, particularly in memorial jewellery and had left its mark for the greater part of the 19th century.
Firstly, we must look at this emerging style to conflict directly with the ideals of the Neoclassical period. Though the Neo-Gothic movement had begun c.1740, it took around sixty years for it to reach mainstream thought, a time when Neoclassicism was at its height.
Much of this thought was a reaction to religious non-conformity in an effort to swing back to the ideals of the High Church and Anglo-Catholic self-belief. This was a time when heavy industry was on the rise and modern society (as we consider it today) was established, a time of radical change that challenged pre-existing ideals of society. Though there had been growing small scale social mobility from the late 17th century, the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the middle classes having the opportunity to promote through society with the accumulation of wealth. Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, a designer, architect and convert to Catholicism, saw this industrial revolution as a corruption of the ideal medieval society. Through this, he used Gothic architecture as a way to combat classicism and the industrialisation of society, with Gothic architecture reflecting proper Christian values. Ideologically, Neoclassicism was adopted by liberalism; this reflecting the self, the pursuit of knowledge and the freedom of the monotheistic ecclesiastical system that had controlled Western society throughout the medieval period. Consider that Neoclassicism influenced thought during the same period as the American and French revolutions and it isn’t hard to see the parallels. The Gothic Revival would, in effect, push society into the paradigm of monarchy and conservatism, which would dominate heavily throughout the 19th century and establish many of the values that are still imbued within society today.
Much of the latter 19th century pieces had their origin in this Gothic Revival period, the bold styles with black enamel as well as being larger accommodated the evolution of female fashion, which heavier crinolines and cuffs, seemed to be a perfect fit. Styles didn’t automatically become larger due to the Gothic Revival influence, much of the older styles adapted Rococo acanthus designs and incorporated Gothic fonts into the lettering of the dedication in the pieces, which emerged around the c.1800-1810. By the 1820s this style was influencing brooches, rings, pendants and lockets more and more, until the 1830s when it reached its height, particularly in terms of diversity. Through the 1840s it had become the standard and into the 1850s, there was the Hallmarking Act of 1854 that allowed the use of lower grade alloys. Reflecting this upon the larger styles of female dress, pieces could be larger and lighter to wear, yet still give all the bold, gold and black enamel prominence of the pieces themselves.
Belts, Buckles and Garters
Function is at the heart of the belt motif; a function which identifies the importance of necessity in the symbol and one which connects two people through a requirement. The belt/buckle motif ties together two people by symbolically wrapping around and tying itself. It keeps the concept of love secure, regardless of the pressures that may be against it.
In the 19th century, which is where the motif found its greatest prominence, the use of the belt/buckle had developed from Roman style buckles into ornamentation. Adorned designs and ceremonial uses being typical in earlier times until cheaper, moulded, methods of production in the 15th century allowed for general access to the device by the public.
From its constant visibility in jewellery symbolism, many pieces from the 19th century are resonant of The Most Noble Order of the Garter, an order of chivalry founded in 1348. The order is the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a person within the United Kingdom and within the crest, the symbol can be seen encapsulating St George’s Cross with ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (shamed be he who thinks evil of it) written within. This honour is reserved for the Sovereign, Prince of Wales and twenty-four members.
Origins of the garter and sentiment are vague, however all relate to Edward III. At the Battle of Crécy, he said to have given his garter as a signal. Due to its chivalrous nature, it has been suggested that it was a revival of the Round Table or even a way to claim the French throne (shame on those who would oppose the King’s desire for the throne). Another interpretation is that while dancing with Joan of Kent, her garter slipped to her ankle and caused humiliation. Edward placed the garter around his leg in an act of chivalry and the motto was said as a way to chastise anyone who laughed and lacked humility. The year of foundation is said to be 1348, which is the date of identification for when Edward issued the Garter’s vestments.
Much the same way as blue enamel is an identifier for a loved one to be considered royalty, the belt/buckle/garter is a way of bestowing this honour upon a loved one. Chivalry, as a concept which was revived by the Romantic period of the 19th century.
The code of conduct for chivalry was outlined in The Song of Roland (translations here and here), a poem based around Charlemagne and the Battle of Roncesvalles, 778. The Song of Roland reached popularity in the 12th to 14th centuries, with the earliest copies being between 1140 and 1470 in Old French. Much of what we understand today as being a knight’s code of chivalry are outlined in the poem through character behaviour; this being piety under god and maintaining the Church, honour, respect to women, guarding fellow knights, protection of the defenceless and to always tell the truth.
Which relates nicely back to the values of the Gothic Revival period. As discussed previously on Art of Mourning, this period was one of a return to the values of the pre-Enlightenment, where the simple trappings of life and judgement under god was part of living a pious lifestyle. Much of this thought was a reaction to religious non-conformity in an effort to swing back to the ideals of the High Church and Anglo-Catholic self-belief.
Defining a Time
William Busby had a life that is part of history today, relevant to the Rochester Cathedral and to his family. The brooch left behind is a keepsake that for the family and friends of Busby; being a token that would have been created in numbers and given out during the funeral.
Smaller tokens of mourning were common through the 1820s and 30s, being produced in higher numbers and containing hair of the deceased with simpler weaves placed under glass. This brooch has all of these styles, encapsulated within a very formal and important piece that resonated throughout the 19th century.