It’s often the mourning jewels for the monarchy which set the standard for style of their times. These jewels are the ones that were reserved for the very few; particularly where the jewel contain a piece of the body of the deceased. Hairwork, being a commodity after death, is a keepsake which could easily be take, and depending on the subject, spread out plentifully. But, much like reliquaries, vendors would sell the hair of the infamous to a public yearning for a memory of that person to carry with them. The higher the level of public mourning after death, the more valuable these became, a notable historical figure being Napoleon, whose hair was reportedly sold widespread.
When a jewel combines both high elements of style and artistic value, along with all the quality in materials, then we have a piece to truly consider. Mourning rings, reserved for close friends and family after death, are the most common from the 17th century onwards. This ring for Queen Caroline of Ansbach (March 1683 – November 1737) is complete with the details of high Baroque fashion, seen in the design of the shoulders, the square, faceted crystal, the rosette shape to its reverse and the sparing use of hairwork underneath the crystal. all of these things make the ring very special and a good epitome for its times. Caroline had a very public and very broad period of mourning after her death, which the affectations of the monarchy would cascade down through the aristocracy in terms of style. This particular style in jewellery lasted to c.1765, but was morphed into the heavier Rococo detailing in the 1740s.
Queen Caroline of Ansbach
Queen Consort of George II, Queen Caroline was a patron of the arts, influencing jewellery greatly. Her reign was highlighted by the perception of her as an intelligent and fashionable queen, an image that is seen throughout the depictions of her, indeed, even the 1732 miniature created by Zincke below is a testament to her style and her patronage:
Queen Caroline and her husband, the future King George II, arrived in London in 1714, when her father-in-law ascended the throne. Zincke enjoyed their patronage, and it is possible that this image is the product of the time he is recorded spending at court drawing portraits of the Royal Family in 1732.
In the 17th century, new techniques of painting enamels allowed delicate portraits resembling tiny oil paintings to be created. This enamel portraiture in miniature was a truly international art. Many enamellers travelled in order to find new markets, while others migrated to escape religious persecution. Enamel miniatures were first fashionable in continental Europe, but were particularly in vogue in Britain from the 1720s to 1760s. – British Museum
After becoming queen, Caroline settled in South-East England and London, encircled by popular intellectuals, writers and artists of the time. Her jewellery collecting was part of the influence for her patronage, as her taste for cameos and intaglios required highly skilled artists being commissioned define portraits of notable figures, ranging from monarchy to the famous.
When a member of the monarchy dies, there is expected public court-imposed mourning periods, however, there are monarchs which follow this and others which define it. Caroline, much like Princess Charlotte in 1817, defined this, as their zeitgeist captures the public imagination and leads towards a following that resonates. As can be seen by the plate above, the pieces that were created for Caroline were varied and opulent, creating new styles of mourning at a time when these elements were being defined.
Much of this is from her adherence towards Protestantism, a reason why she was courted by Archduke Charles of Austria (later Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor), but refused to convert to Catholicism from Lutheranism. Her refusal was in 1704 and this ring was created in 1736, a period enough away from the English Restoration with enough opportunity to identify with a style for mourning and sentimentalism in jewellery which reflected the humanist approach to what the definition of love and life were. Caroline held onto her values and that spirit is reflected in her lifestyle and her death. One must look beyond the relationship between god and the self in her memorial pieces and see how it is her which identifies more with allegorical symbols of death, rather than the Catholic depictions of entering into heaven.
Indeed, the ring speaks to this. Despite being high in quality and quite a piece for its time, it still retain its human roots and is quite humble for a monarch to have their hair displayed. It doesn’t contain any diamonds or other gems, nor does it have depictions of the crown. This piece comes from a transition, where French styles were beginning to influence English mourning jewellery, particularly through the use of enamel.
The 1730s in Mourning Jewellery
Mourning jewellery in the 1730s carried on from many of the styles set in the 1680s, standardising the Baroque influence in jewels and refining down various elements to make themselves obvious for their time. Much of this is seen in the reduction of the Memento Mori symbols that had defined death through the 17th century, changing into simple, single mourning elements, rather than a combination of many. An example of this can be seen in the skeleton rings of the 18th century and their holistic take-over of a band. This gives one singular element the clear definition of the ring:
Similarly, the coffin ring from 1715 uses the one element of the coffin as only the crystal shape, with the skull placed above hairwork. The following ring shows a smaller simplification of the 17th century style, with the sparing elements of the skull and the coffin used:
17th century mourning jewels used the faceted crystal, which was popular for its ability to capture the light, very much like a diamond. Used often in slides, rings, bracelets and brooches, adorning the bodice, neck, wrists and fingers, the way to depict oneself in mourning was not a subtle one. The self was the carrier for the memory to project outwards and notify others about the memory of this person, as well as the status of the person in mourning. Several symbols would go into one jewel, an example of this can be seen in this Queen Mary slide from 1694:
Here, we have the crown, skull, crossbones, hairwork and the Sovereign’s Orb. Inside these is the gold wire cypher of Mary Regina and on the border the dedication. Compare this with Caroline’s piece from 1737 and you can see the difference a generation makes. The crystal has become smaller and more square, rather than round and large. Gone is the cypher and the excessive symbolic details, with only the small placement of hair. The ring reflects more with the normal styles of the time, which were becoming more accessible to the public, rather than being relegated to the aristocracy.
Enamel as a Symbol
In this transition from monarchy jewels to jewels which were available to the public, enamel’s definition was essential. Enamel, in various colours, was bought into popularity from the 16th century, with the obvious connotation of black meaning death. However, it wasn’t until an all-pervasive appearance of black enamel in jewels defining death could create a singular jewellery style that would remain as the central element in mourning jewellery to today. In this ring, black enamel is the key to its meaning. White enamel followed on closely from this, meaning purity and virginity, relegated for the unmarried and young. Blue enamel, meaning for the subject to ‘be considered royalty’ was being used in French memorial jewels in the early 18th century and also for sentimentality. Red, the colour of passion, was used in miniature portraits, but also in French jewels, a good example of how this style was seen in contemporary times is in this carnival mask ring:
Following on from the use of black enamel as the primary symbol in jewellery, the sentiments of ‘In Memory Of’ began to take over the inlay of the enamel to clearly identify the piece as mourning. In this band, we see that the title and date of death are clearly displayed, but 19th century pieces would put this to the reverse of the band itself:
So, it was through the use of black enamel that Queen Caroline’s ring becomes something which was identifiable and obtainable. It defies court jewellery, as it demands the elements of humanity in its design, while offering a piece of Caroline within it. Certainly, this is the very identification of mourning; creating memories through an object.
Upon the reverse of the bezel is the appearance of the rosette shape. This shape was one which crossed over many other peripheral jewels of the time and its influence makes it easy to identify jewels of the first half of the 18th century.
Its shape in a ring will often be shared with the curved inner edges to a band, regardless of the Rococo or Baroque stylings. By the time of the mid 18th century, this was quickly falling out of favour, with the styles going back to form-fitting shapes which could adhere to the finger and display a larger symbolic depiction.
There is a very unique element to the reverse of a jewel. It is an area that is not meant to be seen, but shows extra care to the nature of the ring. When compared with the Tiffany Setting in 1886, with a diamond being raised above the ring in a setting to let the light through the diamond, a fully enclosed bezel that raises a hairwork memento or gem above the finger doesn’t do more than create a high-relief setting for the sentiment. In essence, this is the most quintessential thing; the very meaning of the ring is impressed upon the person who is viewing it through moving it above the body in a jewel.
Baroque to Rococo, Culture and Community in the Late 18th Century
The 18th century’s new focus upon the aesthetic to represent the personal led into the Neoclassical era (c.1765) and was helped through by the Enlightenment and its challenges to traditional interpretations of personal/ecclesiastical relationships. From a socio-economic perspective, the Western world was being opened up through the Americas, spurred by new technologies and industry which could increase communications and travel. Levels of society that were static in their geographic region and anchored to their family/village had access to education in rising industries and create personal finance.
With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, increased manufacture of textiles, steam power and iron making led to the need for a society that could sell these products, creating work for peddlers in towns with growing populations, creating points of sale to growing societies which had previously been smaller and more insular. With heavy investment in inventions from the early 18th century, the growth of mechanised production was rapid. Inventions, such as the John Kay’s flying shuttle (patented in 1733) doubled the output of a weaver, were financed and patented to protect their intellectual property, creating extremely high return on investment for entrepreneurs, such as Richard Arkwright and developing industrial towns, the likes of which had not been seen in modern society. Indeed, Arkwright had amassed £500,000 by his death in 1792. Considering that a very fine silk dress in the early 18th century costed £10 to £60, this amassed wealth is incredible.
Neoclassicism had become the reaction of culture towards the dominant styles of Baroque and Rocco in art and architecture through England and France, which was mainly a reaction of religious questioning. The Baroque style was dominant in its grandeur; enforcing the rule of God upon a society who could not achieve the wealth to acquire such opulent architecture that would be found in a Church or aristocratic setting, hence the presence of God within art was a constant reminder of mortality. The Age of Enlightenment allowed for liberalism in thought and the right of the individual. John Locke and Thomas Hobbs were greatly influential in 17th century English progressive thought, whose resonance would be felt throughout the 18th century. In jewellery, the Neoclassical period led to the change from the actual depiction of mortality through the Memento Mori style (skulls, skeletons, scythes, tempus fugit) were replaced with allegorical depictions from classical art. The weeping female figure next to a tomb or plinth, dressed in classical costume were more typical to find by the 1790s, when the English Enlightenment had reached its height.
What this shows is the swing against the traditional domination of a singular religious thought, to the more literal appreciation of interpersonal relationships. For rings such as this one, it is a shift towards uniformity across cultures that would previously have been separated cultures. Combined with the growing levels of wealth through industry over aristocratic birth and there is the need for a new interpretation of mourning in a single culture.
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.
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 this ring, we can see the elements of the Baroque, without the heavy, ribbon designed curvature of the band. Clean design to the shoulders also contrasts following rings.
Here, the use of the Memento Mori symbol, seen quite small, in combined with the heavy acanthus embellishment to the shoulders and the very elaborate twist to the band. One can see the continuity between the two pieces quite easily through this, as both share the same template for a mourning ring.
For a Queen
Queen Caroline’s ring demands reflection, in that her persona was one of morality, intellectualism and artistic fortitude. It speaks not about the excess of a person, but of an influence into a public that admired her beliefs. This consideration is fundamental as to why such a simple ring could relate to so much; it was for a public to share in its idealism, rather than a bejewelled ring for a public to aspire to.
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama