If ever a jewel was a contradiction in its title, it’s this mourning pendant. “Rest In Peace” is written modestly upon an ivory disc at the bottom of its facia, placed under the ground and under the urn that dominates it. One cannot look at this pendant and think that it’s anything but alive. Alive with symbolism, alive with detail and alive with a message that keeps it relevant and beautiful today. Indeed, this pendant is a testament to its artistry and the various cultural and industrial elements of its time.
Beyond the standardisation of the urn and willow designs in pendants, the more unusual styles are the ones that take the most interest. In this pendant, the three-dimensional urn is painted blue and adorned with pearls; elements of the late 18th century that relate back to trade routes and access to affordable pearls. Gold wire is carefully wound under the urn and across its handles, showing a level of detail that many similar pieces would not involve. The urn itself utilised the space of the pendant, with the higher north to south oval shape, and elongates the neck, leading into the adorned lid.
There is a certain level of confidence with which the hair artist has designed the willow surrounding the piece. Large cuts of hair create the branches of the tree, rather than simply crushed into paint and painted with high-relief around the edge of the pendant. In the trunk and the background, the artist has painted sepia branches to mimic the style of the floating hair on top, giving a high level of depth to the piece. The hair is also used as the grass at the base of the tree and emanating from the “Rest In Peace” disc. In the background, the sepia field and cypress trees point towards the heavens with an indication that the soul has gone to heaven, but also to add depth to the image itself.
In the reverse of the pendant, there is a clear connection to the late 18th and early 19th century miniature pendants of similar style and sentimentality. This was a popular style that fit the Neoclassical period well, with the Romantic depiction of the face being introduced. Miniaturists could paint a face to a Romantic ideal, with the almond-shaped eyes and fashionable elements such as the hair and costume, then tailor these for those who commissioned them, essentially reducing the effort it would take to mass-produce tailored portraits. This was especially helpful during the Napoleonic Wars, where the national uniform could be pre-drawn and the face could be tailored, providing a swift love-token for those going across Europe and away from their loved ones.
Yet it within the cobalt blue glass and the interior hair weave that the most standard element can be seen. To have a better idea of how this style came about, a look at its construction is important. Typical construction of miniatures and pendants of this kind requires several elements that combine to create the front and reverse. A thin sheet of ivory is placed on top of card or paper. Convex glass with a gold-over-copper bezel is placed on top to complete the front of the piece. On the reverse, a cobalt glass surround with a gold-over-copper border (consisting of the bail – loop – and sometimes a finial) has pressed foil inserted behind the glass to amplify the glass and reflect the light. This is one of the most important and widely used elements in mourning miniatures and miniatures in general. The cobalt glass was used commonly in the late 18th century and early 19th century, well into c.1820, denoting the same symbolic importance as blue enamel in a jewel. Under this, opalescent glass (or milk glass) with palette-worked hair was placed in the centre of the reverse. This would be placed on top of another foil cut-out piece and reinforced under this with newspaper or any other paper that may be available to the jeweller for a tight fit.
As mentioned with the idea of standardisation, the following pendant shares many similarities with the object of this article:
The clear similarities with the largely chopped hair and the weave throughout the the willow and grass are obvious. Both placed on opalescent glass, they also share the background paint of the sepia, creating depth and shadow. Another similarity are the use of the pearls, which were easier to attain at the time. Their differences are in the urn, whereas this urn has the plinth and sit atop it, the main urn has the elongated neck.
Discovery and trade led to the desirability of pearls, particularly from medieval and Elizabethan times. ‘Oriental’ pearls, originating from the oyster family, were the most desirable due to their lustre, which pearls from freshwater mussels and conch shells do not have. The Oriental pearls were bought to Europe form the Persian Gulf by caravan traders.
The popularity of pearls reached their height in the late Georgian Era, where clusters of seed pearls were sewn to mother-of-pearl backs with cat gut, some examples can be seen below from the British Museum:
“Oval gold brooch with seed-pearls, in the form of a winged cupid with a lamb, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount within a pearl border. Inscribed in French.”
“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of sheep and lambs under a tree, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount with blue and white enamel and a tooled gold border. Compartment on reverse with plaited hair under glass.”
“Gold finger-ring with seed-pearls, in the form of a spray of flowers, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass under a domed glass cover in a gold mounted oval-shaped bezel with a pearl border.”
“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of two birds carrying a knotted ribbon, flowers and wheat-ears, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster, laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a silver mount with a gold backing, with a border of pastes set in silver and a tooled gold inner rim.”
Many of these are only 10-20 years later than when this ring was created and shows the immense popularity of pearls and their decoration as status. With the increase in new wealth and greater methods of continental transit, the acquisition of pearls was faster and cheaper than it had previously been and this ring lays the groundworks for what was to come.
With the understanding of the pearl being a common and affordable material through its accessibility, the following urns and their development within the Neoclassical period are more understood. As materials become more popular, their symbolism in usage becomes more standard and how they were viewed in society is understood.
In this example showing the navette shape, this pendant has all the similar elements of the featured pendant, but adds the female in mourning to the depiction. As the urn is on display in high-relief, it shows all the elements of the featured pendant’s urn, but has more standardisation around its shape and adornment. As with the pearls, the urn needs visual representation of being understood to be seen as the urn, otherwise its usage for mourning wouldn’t resonate through its identity. As the Neoclassical period was a way to connect society with Greco-Roman antiquity and symbolise the ‘self’ in the Enlightenment, its identity of being the remains of the body required a familiar shape always.
The urn itself is a vessel, or more specifically a vase, which naturally have their beginnings in pre-history when humanity began gathering items in order to carry them. We won’t be dwelling on this form of history, but rather the ancient Greek use of the urn in artistic depictions. The urn itself had evolved as a decorative item, often with art displayed upon the vessel itself prior to Greece in neighbouring Mediterranean societies, but its interpretation in jewellery design stems mostly from the Greek and Roman scenes in art and their reinvention during the Neoclassical period.
Usage of the urn had never wavered, however. Cremation of the body and the collection of ashes in the urn is a method that survived ancient civilisations well into the Dark Ages. The name itself is derived from the Latin ‘uro’, meaning ‘to burn’, so no matter what the shape of the vessel the title was always ‘urn’. This is a concept that never left the mainstream mind and its uptake as a Neoclassical symbol and its consistency as a funerary motif is simply a natural evolution for the urn’s depictions.
While burial became the more popular method of interment, the urn still retained its status as a symbol of death, testifying the death/decay of the body and into dust and the departed spirit resting with god.
Here, the identity of death is perfectly encapsulated within the urn and shown with the adorned urn in pearls. It is a pendant with multiple references to the person who has passed on, through the use of hair woven throughout the border, to the high-relief urn in crushed hair and sepia paint. The female interacts with the urn, leaning against it in a position of sadness and fidelity. Similarities to the featured urn aren’t in the shape, but in the adornment. The shape of the featured urn is quite different, with this having the longer stem.
There are variations of the urn in its style and depiction. The draped urn itself often denotes the death of an older person, however, the drapery is often a constant when in relation to death. Interpretations of this can be when the shroud drapery denotes the departure of the soul towards heaven in relation to the shroud over the body, the drape is the partition between life and death or that it is guarding the sacred contents of the urn itself. In jewellery, finding the urn draped or undraped is quite common, but why is it so?
The urn is a motif that reached incredible heights of popularity in Neoclassicism due to its interpretation from the original classical depictions. It was a motif that was easily lifted from its source and fulfilled all the classical resonance that a revival period needed to convey the style of its respective era. With the focus back upon the personal nature of mourning and the departure of the direct link towards god, death itself became something worn prominently in mainstream fashion. The urn was a perfect way to show this, draped or undraped. Sitting on top of a plinth, column or tomb, the urn is often the central focus of the mourning depiction. The mourning character in the depiction (male or female) is often interacting with the urn in some way, either leaning against it weeping, sitting near it, standing beside it or looking at it directly. This links the personal nature of mourning from the person into the jewel itself. The mourner is the wearer or the person who created the dedication and the urn represents the loved one. Consider that; there’s a direct link in methodology of the urn to the self, this is why the urn is the central motif and not the mourner.
Consider that when looking at a brooch, ring, bracelet clasp, pendant or any other peripheral from the late 18th to early 19th centuries. The urn is the concept that should draw the eye and take precedence over everything else.
Yet, it is a symbol that disappeared soon after the first quarter 19th century. The Gothic Revival period played a key role in reverting society back to more ‘traditional’ values and using a direct relation to the body in the urn conflicts with the burial/god connection which was part of the social understanding of life and death, that Christian values returned to a life under god. You can find the urn in use to around the 1820s, but many of the latter uses in jewels are anachronistic in the same way that memento mori would have been during the late 18th century. However, in funerary, the urn was still retained and is to this very day. In fact, its use in architecture in the latter 19th century / early 20th century was quite typical, but it had largely disappeared as a motif to represent the self in mourning.
In these late 18th century examples, there are two variations of the urn which show complete difference, yet still retain the identity. To the far left, the urn raised in copper and gold is painted in blue and white enamel. Note how the use of the pearls replicates much of what white enamel was achieving in its symbolism and design. The urn is highly decorated, with the engraved gold showing tassels and adornments. It is a wider design, whereas the featured urn is longer in its shape to accommodate the oval pendant shape. In the centre, the urn is still the primary focus of the ring. Painted in sepia, the female is pointing towards the heavens, while holding onto the urn with her left hand. It is a more standard design of the urn, much more typical than the one on the left.
Urns are the most identifiable and symbolic of the Neoclassical mourning symbols. Most typically in all mourning jewels, it is even a symbol that needs no other symbol to work with it. Any other design (though often the willow) is simply adding to its recognition, yet it is the symbolic interpretation of the deceased.
The weeping willow is heavily symbolic of grief, sorrow and mourning, even physically, it stands as an analogy to human grief, with its back bent over the subject, be it a weeping figure, a tomb, plinth or any other mourning subject. Used in this ring, it is the second most important symbol which starkly stands out from the back background of the carved onyx. How did the willow get to be so popular and what were its roots?
One of the better descriptions of the weeping willow comes from 2020site.org and this excerpt:
“Though the Weeping Willow is commonly planted in burial grounds both in China and in Turkey, its tearful symbolism has been mainly recognized in modern times, and among Christian peoples. As has been well said: “The Cypress was long considered as the appropriate ornament of the cemetery; but its gloomy shade among the tombs, and its thick, heavy foliage of the darkest green, inspire only depressing thoughts, and present death under its most appalling image, whilst the Weeping Willow, on the contrary, rather conveys a picture of the grief felt for the loss of the departed than of the darkness of the grave. Its light and elegant foliage flows like the disheveled hair and graceful drapery of a sculptured mourner over a sepulchral urn, and conveys those soothing, though melancholy reflections…”
So, where can one find this in jewellery? Quite commonly, it became one of the most used symbols of the Neoclassical period, so look for it on miniatures set into bracelets, pendants, etc and to a lesser extent was used in the 19th century. It can still be found in cemeteries and on peripheral funeralia today.
Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, published in 1774 and revised in 1787 was important to the Romantic movement, so much so that even Napoleon Bonaparte carried a copy with him during the Egyptian campaign and wrote a soliloquy in the style of Goethe. Its story involves the titular protagonist committing suicide over unrequited love and being buried under a linden tree. The popularity of this book generated much popular fiction and instilled the symbolism of the weeping female character next to the tomb and the willow, as seen by the following ‘Charlotte at the Tomb of Werter’, 1783:
Popular culture is the most effective way of creating identity within symbolism. If there is a cultural movement or predilection of style that is used in a way that can create an icon, such as the willow and urn here, then it will become a symbol that crosses cultures. Considering that Napoleon himself was a fan of the work and Napoleon defined the classical style through jewellery, then popular culture can drive the message of mourning beyond a religious or monarchial figurehead.
An important colour for use within the primary pendant of this article is the use of the cobalt blue. It was a popular colour in glass to use in miniatures, be they sentimental or mourning, yet it has symbolic importance also.
The use of blue enamel (used for royalty and suggesting that one was considered royalty) contains many mixed histories. Over time, many of the messages surrounding cobalt glass and blue enamel have been crossed, yet it fit very well into the Neoclassical paradigm post c.1865. The main reason for its use in heavier, symbolic terms is that the Neoclassical reliance on sentimental depictions and the allegories of love put the reliance on peripheral representations, rather than clear-cut statements of love and faith. Hence, blue enamel, considered royalty.
There’s Royal Blue and there’s Bleu de France. Bleu de France has been representing France and the French monarchy and the heraldry since c.12th century. This was adapted into jewels and you can see the obvious connection there with the message of royalty, especially considering the French influx into other cultures, as the French were considered the focus of style and fashion.
Royal Blue, is darker, with a hint of purple and red. This was thought to have been invented by millers in Frome, Somerset during a dress making competition for Queen Charlotte post 1761 (after she was queen). There’s the connection here in that her style would dictate a lot of the aristocracy would consider high fashion.
18th Century Fashion
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.
“‘dress was cut with a train and turned back with a braid attached to the side of the skirt, which was pulled through the pockets.’ This is where the overskirt is turned to the back and lifted up, revealing the petticoat underneath, called; robe retrousee dans les poche, the centre front robings were joined with hooks or ribbons. Cuffs were cut with one fold and deep hems, the waist was held in place by a crape belt that was tied on. This left two ends hanging down to the hem of the skirt. A woman’s accessories were a crape shawl, gloves, shoes with metallic bronzed buckles, a black woollen muff and a black crape fan. Head dresses of black crape and white batiste were referenced. For much of the century, however, ‘paniers’ were fashionable, but in the French style, with loose pleating falling from the shoulders to the back. The English manner of this was with the back pleats stitched down as far as the waistline. Also popular were lace ruffles at the neck and the cuff, embroidered stomachers, silver gilt lace, appliqué work and small aprons. None of these were permitted for mourning wear. Mourning wear for women still remained consistent in that it remained plain, black or sometimes white fabric” – Ordre Chronologique des Deuils de la Cour, (1765)
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.
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.
In 1789, the French Revolution affected jewellery wearing and production to a great extent. The First French Empire under Napoleon retained and grew the popular Neoclassical styled jewels, maintaining their position as the primary leaders of fashion. Even with the hostilities between 1793-1815, the English closely followed Parisian styles.
By its very nature of wealth, jewellery was seen as a status symbol in France; an identifier for aristocratic status. During the Terror, the very possession of jewels or belt buckles may be enough to condemn one to the guillotine, while those who gave their jewels to the cause were seen as supporters and others simply hid theirs away for financial security if fleeing the country.
Jewels that were sold off following the Terror flooded the European market and dropped the prices of gems. In Paris, the only jewels to remain popular were souvenirs of the Terror itself. Simple iron relics inscribed with commemorations about the storming of the Bastille, or pieces containing stone or metal from the Bastille. Jewellery, by essence is a token. A reminder for memory to signify a time or a relationship in time that others can identify you by. When a culture suffers such a dramatic change, the utilisation of jewellery to promote a political message is not only important for the person’s connection to a community, but for their very safety itself.
In 1797, the Paris Company of Goldsmiths was reinstated, after being abolished in 1791, reintroducing many of the goldsmiths from the reign of Louis XVI. By 1798, hallmarking was established in France, making it compulsory to stamp jewels under three standards of purity; 750, 840 and 920 parts per 1000. They were also stamped with a maker’s mark (the maker’s or sponsor’s initial) and symbol in a lozenge-shaped stamp.
Filigree jewellery and fine detail to gold work had its inception here, as there was as shortage of money and goldsmiths became inspired by French peasant jewellery to produce finely detailed gold with lesser materials. Seed pearls, basic gems (such as agates) were also popular, as can be seen in the following pieces:
In the above, we can see how the fashion of fine gold and the access to seed pearls from the Orient made for highly detailed and inexpensive jewellery. Large enough to be seen and influenced by the Neoclassical style, this was a society adapting to the hardships that they were surrounded by.
This ring is the product of the use and popularity of the carnelian in jewellery. As these elements become popular, they resonate throughout society and here we see it with the intaglio inscription of ‘pietas’ in a swivel ring.
In 1804, the Napoleon’s Empire was announced and luxury trades were renewed with vigour. Bijoutiers, who worked in ordinary materials and joailliers, who worked in precious stones benefitted from this rise in luxury, with Napoleon requesting the jewels from the former kings of France to be set in the Neoclassical style, essentially connecting him to the Greco-Roman empires. His coronation crown was decorated with cameos and his passions for the antique world led him to establish a school of gem engraving in 1805. If ever there was a height for the Neoclassical period, it was this connection to it. How other societies would reflect this moment is seen in their contention or support of Napoleon. Here is a person who is appropriating the classical world in a time where it had been in mainstream thought and fashion for around forty years. International tension would only lead to the decline of this style, as cultures needed to obtain their own identities in jewellery fashion. A great push to the Gothic Revival style in England has its roots in this.
Simple designs and smaller jewels following in this early 19th century period. The geometric shapes, ovals, circles and rectangles became popular, with the Greek key pattern utilised often in jewels. It was about balance, with many patterns being taken directly from Greco-Roman architecture and detail. During this time, until his remarriage, Josephine was the bastion of style, maintaining the fashion which people would covet.
From this, what we see is that society had to adapt to the shock of the Terror and the new Empire, all the while other cultures are looking to France for its style and reestablishment. Greater and more literal influences of antique cultures led to the allegory of the sentimental depictions becoming literal interpretations of their architecture in jewels, making the individual the monument to classical art itself.
It cannot be understated how important the French influence upon sentimental jewels was in the turn of the 19th century. From the souvenir jewels stating such terms as “Souvenir d’amitié” and “Souvenir d’armour”, the statements of love that were worn on display created a new social proprietary that involved the use of sentimental jewels to offer admired people, within social circles, as signs of courtship and love.
Much of this sentiment stemmed from the French Revolution and its cultural challenge to established monarchy and religious value systems, particularly in the form of Liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality and fraternity). While the French Restoration of the first-quarter 19th century had repaired the monarchy itself, the challenge to established order had accomplished a lot to put new values in relationships and empower individuals. George IV encouraged society to look externally for artistic influence, since his ascendancy (and Regency, post Regency Act of 1811), George’s investment in the arts was required for the aristocracy to have these tokens of love as social requirements above simple affectations.
The Bourbons were restored in 1814, with jewels being more sedate in their designs due to the lack of wealth. Threaded seed pearl on horse hair created ornate bracelets and necklaces, with materials being smaller and more abundant to exaggerate their use. During the 1820s and 1830s, the use of cannetille (surface covered with wire) or grainti (small granules) embellished the colour of gemstones, as the gold was used in the base of the jewel. As seen with the portrait of Lady Peel by Sir Thomas Lawrence above, the wearing of several bracelets and enamelled rings on one finger elaborately exaggerated the colour of the jewellery. Classical style was starting to become overcome with elements of the Baroque and Rococo, which had only been popular previous to the Neoclassical period.
How this affected the mind of the early 19th century individual was a direct stylistic move away from what had bought about the unrest of the Neoclassical style. With competing styles being mixed for mainstream appeal, the classical style in its literal form would recede until the mid 19th century and the archaeological discoveries that would ignite it once more, such as Etruscan.
In the early 19th century, there was much to define the self through the identity of jewels. Neoclassical allegory had put the focus back upon the elements of the natural world which could contain their own symbolism. In the above image, the REGARD jewel is seen within the coiled serpent, denoting eternal love and piety. Given as a keepsake for a betrothed, all of the above jewels have a sentimental resonance, denoting futurity and an offering of new life and love.
Resting In Peace
Through the imposition of mourning, trade and the finance of war was such a fine pendant created. The piece speaks to its time, utilising its materials to combine into a unified, symbolic whole. Love made such a jewel possible, giving it the emotion that it needed to be created and worn in public for all to sympathise with and admire. Its identity still carries forward today, with it symbols all being relevant, beautiful and resonant.