The custom of marriage and how human relationships can form a life-long union is a primal instinct in our identity. Identity and its expression leads us to show our connections with others through how we present in society. A society could not exist without the boundaries of custom, as community is security for people to understand hierarchy and comfort. Marriage, as a basic symbol in fashion can be as simple as a band around the third finger of the left hand, through to expressing love in a ceremony that becomes a celebration for an entire family.
Art of Mourning has shown regularly that each jewel we wear is a canvas for our emotions. Wearing a slide of this level of complexity and beauty creates a very prominent message about the wearer’s beliefs and values. “Fidèle jusque a la Mort”, or being loyal/faithful until death, is the basic underpinning of our relationships and values. From the jewel worn to express love in life, to the jewel created to express love in death, the nature of being faithful is what love is about.
As with much of the jewellery written about in Art of Mourning, the Protestant Reformation altered the nature of what it was to be married and connected to another. Fundamentally, this slide required a society to present it to. So, what could these origins be and what were the common symbols in jewellery for this? How were marriages different through European culture in the early modern period? Let’s begin with the overarching symbol of the hands and how that related to its design.
The Italian mani in fede (hands clasped in faith) is seen in the slide as the predominant motifs and these were employed strongly in other jewels during the 17th century. Fede rings have been known since Roman times, but their emergence into popularity following the Protestant Reformation shows the different nature of betrothals, as Martin Luther considered the marriage a ‘worldly thing’ and what better way to represent this than the joining of hands in fashionable jewellery? Its presentation back to society as being given to the betrothed connected two people during engagement. Gimmal/Gimmel rings followed this with two or three hoops that interlock to complete a ring, which also represents the engagement period and the union of marriage brings the two together to complete the ring. By the 1600s, fede rings became incorporated into their design and the two hands clasping together with a central motif became popular.
This ring was made in Germany during the first half of the 17th century and captures the high level of detail of the mani in fede ring with the interlocking hoops. Here, the three hoops have a hand or a heart and fit together as one band when worn. The inscription reads:
.MEIN. AN.FANCK. VND. ENDE. my beginning and end
WAS. GOTT. ZVSAMEN. FVGET. SOLL. what God has joined together should
KEIN. MENSCH. SCHEIDEN no man put asunder
One of the most impressive aspects of the mani in fede rings is that the various levels of construction could mean that they were either quite basic or highly opulent. In the construction of this ring, the materials clearly show an exceptionally high level of craft for the period.
Holding hands and hearts is what relates back to the slide that is the topic of this article. With an understanding that the very nature of ourselves is to hold on to each other, or offer fidelity and piety towards a relationship, then the very nature of being is to love and grow together. Marriage after the Protestant Reformation involved the state, which means that governments could create legislation surrounding marriage ritual. As seen in other articles regarding mourning on this site, the moment a government can standardise a human rite around love and death, the greater control they can have on a society. Lord Hardwick’s Act in 1753 created requirements for marriage, such the introduction of witnesses into the ceremony, due to combatting ‘Fleet Marriage’. Fleet Marriage was when secret weddings took place and took its name from marriages held in London’s Fleet Prison, which was seen be to outside the jurisdiction of the church. This was to keep costs low and still through a legal clergyman. Irregular and clandestine marriages were those away from a parish and without a license, not simply an agreement between two people to consent to marriage. The Marriage Act of 1753 ensured that banns needed to be published and a license obtained. The wedding needed to be officiated in an Anglican church by a clergyman and minors needed consent of parent or guardian. Quakers and those of the Jewish faith were exempt from this act.
Europe’s cultural mix made the representation of love in fashionable jewels more diverse and difficult to identify. Language is often the easiest way of identifying a sentimental jewel through its inscription, but French and Latin used in England was popular during the early modern period. Posie rings, otherwise known as ‘poesy’, ‘posy’ or ‘posey’, are one of the primary catalysts for the mourning and sentimental rings that generated their own industry post 1680. Without the standardisation of the English language and the written reliance on Latin previous to the dictionary in 1755, posie rings are a remarkable time capsule for phonetically capturing their surrounding language in a jewel. From a status perspective, this utilisation of language is accessible to a strata of society that didn’t have the luxury of formalised education, opening up sentimental jewels to new levels of society. Basic sentiments of love etched into silver and gold bands could now be given as a secret love token for a growing middle class. In rings previous to the 16th century, more common would be the inscriptions written in French, Latin and Norman French.
In this German example of a fede ring dedicated to a wedding, the ring reads ‘CLEMEN KESSELER DEN 25 AUG AD 1607’ (Clement Kesseler, 25th of August 1607) throughout the interior of the hoops, clearly showing its German heritage. The use of enamel, opaque blue and red with black in the lettering points to its continental heritage. French, German and Italian jewels shared many similarities in colour and sentiment during the 17th century onwards.
Roman Catholic marriage ritual was stated at the Council of Trent in 1563 to be recognised only if the ceremony was officiated by a priest with two witnesses. This union was the union of a man and woman and they must live together for life. Catholicism found it needed to counter the Protestant Reformation and the Counter-Reformation was its way of restructuring ecclesiastically, reviewing its religious orders, spiritual movements and politics. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) was initiated by Pope Paul II near the end of the Thirty Years War (to see the impact of this on England, please read this article) and the turmoil happening in Europe caused a major social shift, predominantly affecting jewellery manufacture by the skilled Protestant artisans who were emigrating from Catholic countries. In 1686, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes led to Huguenot goldsmiths and jewellers emigrating to Great Britain. This was when the previous allowance by Henry IV of France provided Calvinist Protestants (Huguenots) significant rights. With this retraction, the Huguenots bought with them skills which enabled the London trade to compete with Paris. This led to greater patronage with the influx of greater designs and new elements of fashion appearing as popular in jewels. By the mid 18th century, much of the values that were carried to Britain were instilled within the new industry and led to such elements as the Rococo designs in jewellery from its continental influence.
Identity is primarily why sentimental jewels are created and finding identity in a slide like this, which could be worn at the wrist, bodice or neck presented a message of faith until death. The ideal nature of the slide is pleasingly romantic, showing a clear and crisp sky, the mountains to the left and the rolling hills with trees in the distance. From the heart springs a message of floral forget-me-nots and the two hands exist in the clouds. It’s a brilliant depiction that, when set in the striking blue and framed in yellow, is incredibly striking. The very definition of colour resonates just as strongly today as being a very loud message of love.
Because of this visual impact, wearing something so personal could translate through different cultures and even different religions. There’s no context that anchors it to a cultural movement or idea that challenges it. This would be just as welcome on continental Europe and Britain. As a message of betrothal, it speaks more to the level of society where wearing this slide could denote status of wealth.
Seen from the reverse, the slide maintains consistent blue enamel and have the elegant lettering of the initials. The housing for the slide’s ribbon is elegantly twisted, as well. When compared to a contemporary mourning slide, the similarities are there in terms of construction, but the amount of craft that has painted the depiction of the loving scenario has very little comparison.
Slides reached their apex of popularity at the turn of the 18th century and generally disappeared from the mid 1700s. It was the popularisation of crystal, commonly known as the ‘Stuart Crystal’ c.1603-1714 in England, during the 1680s, which popularised the look of memento mori symbolism. Seen most commonly in rings and ribbon slides (worn at the neck or cuff), oval shaped bezels with faceted crystals reflected the light in the same way as a faceted diamond would. Underneath, gold wire cypher initials being flanked by memento mori symbolism and placed on top of hair, material or vellum was a way to display identity and relationship status through a jewel on the self.
Baroque influences upon these jewels began to enter through the 1680s, but became more common at the turn of the 18th century. Shapes became more rectangular in brooches, slides and bezels, with sharper facets between c.1700-1720. Memento mori symbolism was adapting to the new styles and were the main designs for mourning representation. Objects of the body or the afterlife to denote mortality were flanked with Baroque design elements through floral motifs, such as the acanthus entwining flowers. Much of this is a reaction to the dominant architectural styles seen in other physical designs, which leads the jewels to adapt to fashion.
Through the understanding of contemporary marriage rituals for Catholic and Protestant regions where jewels like this were made and worn, a greater understanding of how it reacted to society is shown. Personality and identity are shown through fashion, as our personal expression of love or grief defines how we look. When completely in love, our passions drive us to express colour and vocalise the emotion as loudly as possible. When in grief, our colours become sombre and dark. Here, the slide is colourful, beautiful and completely tells its message of “Fidele jusque a la Mort.”