This particular brooch is a fine example of late 18th century jewellery, in its construction and symbolism. The paste surround and verre eglomise of the quality that one would be expected to find in a larger miniature.
The sepia woman holding the lantern is ‘lighting the way so that others may see’ (an allegory to God) with her right foot forward and the foliage behind her. The difference in the clasp to the piece shows it was a later addition to a pendant.
Take a moment to sit back and reflect on what the literal interoperation of the lantern is, or better still, what are its uses? Fundamentally, the lantern provides light. Light, in its context helps lead the way forward, towards the future and pushes aside the surrounding darkness. Where long path before us is useless without the light from the lantern to show us the way. Lanterns began by magnifying the light from a natural source, in this case, fire (regardless of what it was lit by) and lanterns can be held by one individual or the benefit of many. Regardless of the size, be it a lighthouse or a small device, the lantern is a symbol which as personal as it is global. Indeed, from this small description how how the lantern works and considering what you already know about symbolism in art and jewellery (sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar), can you draw your own conclusions about the lantern?
Indeed, the lantern when depicted is often just that, it is the spark of life that lights the way before us, when held up, as in this brooch, it is ‘lighting the way so that others may see’, which is an allegory to god. This may be in the physical context, or in the spiritual, so that the spiritual path finds its way through the darkness (death) from the light. And don’t reject the concept of light as being shedding purity on its surroundings, or that the light itself is the warmth of love.
In jewellery, you you’ll see the lantern used in the occasional Neoclassical piece or used as a fob or charm in latter 19th century / first half 20th century jewellery. It’s a motif that isn’t the most common, but it is one that resonates today with clear symbolism and hasn’t been affected by other connotations. Today, however, it’s more of an anachronism, simply because changing technology has pushed it out of the mainstream mind – lanterns are not used as they had been traditionally, there’s no reason turn burn oil or any other fuel to gain fire for a hand-held lighting device, batteries and electricity have been the norm for the last century, so when the lantern is depicted in symbolism today, it’s more for its romantic allusions, rather than being heavily literal.
Also, I’m going to eschew the Eastern examples of the lantern, as they move outside the sphere of mourning and sentimental influence that I focus upon inside this website, however, many of the lanterns depicted in jewellery items have their roots in Eastern pieces.