Accessories 26.05.2014

A Coffin & A Male In A Stickpin. 18th Century

Mourning Stickpin With Coffin and Male, c.1780

Creating the connection between mortality and fashion in historical jewels often leads to the literal interpretation. While many historical jewels display the body in various states of decay, such as the memento mori style of the 16th/17th and early 18th centuries, the Neoclassical period took the focus away from the deceased and put the focus on the mourning character. This was a relation to the wearer, showing direct mourning and fidelity of the wearer. In fashion, this is a powerful statement to display within society, denoting relationship status, betrothal, or even one’s socio-economic level. Indeed, displaying a fine jewel is a cautious thing, regardless of what society expected.

In this jewel, the elements of personality and the self come through with many degrees of identity. Firstly, it is a stickpin, which would have been worn at the lapel and seen clearly by people interacting with the wearer. This puts the dual symbolism of the self in the image being reinterpreted when it was worn, by the very subject itself. The male figure in Neoclassical mourning jewels of the c.1760-1820 period is a rare one. The typical figure of mourning in that time was the female, who epitomised morality, piety and civilisation, being the heart of the family and its creator.

Female character with urn

The female mourner was an ideal figure for mourning identification in the Neoclassical period. She, along with her virtue, carried the fashion of the Greco-Roman period, with the typical high waistline and lower cut bodices is trimmed in white, with long, narrow sleeve ending at white cuffs. The figure’s hair is often framed with a white veil that is pulled back to reveal her hair (rather than the normal veil framing the face). When considered that these pieces were shown in public and messages of popular thought that could be propagated by their image, adaptation of popular fashion through people identifying with these jewels was natural. In the same way that a modern audience views an advertisement, these jewels self-replicated by their popularity and translated into rapidly evolving fashion amongst the wealthy. Everyone wants to be contemporary and these jewels carried a message of what was.


To achieve this, 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.

As in the 17th century, black and plain were required. Bombazine dresses trimmed in black crape, black silk hoods and plain white linen were worn with black shammy leather shoes, glove and crape fans. Jewellery was not permitted. Second mourning consisted of black dresses, trimmed with fringed or plain linen, white gloves, black or white shoes, fans and tippets and white necklaces and earrings as necessary. Grey lusterings, tabbies and damasks were acceptable for less formal occasions.

Standardisation of mourning fashion leads to the importance of this stickpin. Here, we have the male figure in repose next to the coffin on bier, which is important to note as it is pre-burial and not involving the Neoclassical urn, which would not simply denote cremation, but be a relevant allusion to the life itself.

Mourning Stickpin With Coffin and Male, c.1780

This jewel is far more personal and immediate. It is a jewel which was painted hurriedly to capture a moment and not falling into the sepia painted, standardised jewels that relate more to the female mourning character in costume with the urn. The gentleman in his single breasted coat, powdered wig, long waistcoat, tied white neckcloth, white breeches, wrist frills and buckled shoes typifies the style of court or evening wear, which represents the ceremony of the moment. Male costume in the 18th century still retains the conventions of the 17th century, but adapts closer to popular fashion of the time. Mourning suits were cut to the same style as their daily clothes. By mid century, coat skirts became flared with the addition of pleats in the back and side seams and by the 1770s, slimmer lines were once again fashionable. Black woolen cloth was acceptable for first mourning, where French etiquette was followed. In Second mourning, black suits and stockings were permitted and grey was allowed. The trains of black mourning cloaks were graded as per the rank of the wearer (Chief Mourners or otherwise), black hats were knotted with hatbands in black or white, which varied for status. Hatbands fell down the wearer’s backs shoulder scarves or sashes were worn at funerals by the less important and men and women wore white accessories at the burial of a woman or child. Crape, silk and to a lesser degree, satin were also used. It was around this time that the armband, a staple in men’s mourning fashion came into use and remains even today.

Convention carried through from the 17th century was starting to lose its prominence in male costume, mourning would be carried over through the 19th century by women and the armband would be the symbolic mourning device used by men. For men, the rule for First Court Mourning was black woolen suits, without fashionable buttons on sleeves or pockets. Muslin or lawn cravats, rather than shirt frills were common and lace cuffs replaced ‘weepers’. Crape hatbands, woolen stockings, shammy shoes, gloves, black (mourning) swords and shoe buckles were proper accessories. Fringed linen was permitted for Second mourning.

Throughout the social change that allowed this greater permission of mourning, there was a tremendous strain on tailors to provide mourning costume on a large scale. Culturally, there was a large amount of friction between the lower middle and upper classes, as there was no precedence for inter-class mixing. Changing art styles and the emergence of mass print and communications and greater dissemination of wealth would lead to the absolute peak of the industry in the 19th century.

Mourning Stickpin With Coffin and Male, c.1780

That’s why this stickpin is such a specific jewel of the 1780s. From its fashion of the gentleman, it’s almost in the style of a photograph before they existed. It’s a moment captured by a miniaturist , or at least alluded to through high personalisation, where the coffin is quickly drawn out of perspective from the gentleman, who is interacting with it. The naivety to the art of the coffin relates back to the artist’s immediate understanding of what the coffin’s design appeared to be. Rather than alluding to elements or hiding them through shadow, even the nails on the coffin are drawn in detail.

Lettered at top with title, continuing "taken as it passed thro' the City to St Michael Bassishaw Church, together with the Procession on Foot to the Church - the Funeral Exercise with all the Motions which the association companies went thro; correctly drawn; the Uniform Dresses of the Captains of the Horse, Infantry, and Light Infantry and the Deil Dress of the London Association and of the other City Associations which attended upon this Solemn Occasion". With labels on procession and by diagrams, a dedication to the London Association, and publication line "Publish'd as the Act directs October 7th 1780 for T. Bonnor by W. Wells No 132 Fleet Street, and to be had at all Print Shops, Price 6 Pence plain, 1s Colour'd"

1780. An exact representation of the whole of the Procession of Alderman Kirkmans Funeral

In the above funeral procession through London, each row shows a different stage of the procession, from carriages to aldermen to infantry. Its detail shows all the elements of uniforms worn and what the funeral motions were. When relating this ceremony to the reflecting mourning male, the image becomes more striking. He is drawn at an individual moment of mourning that is quite private to be seen. It would not be difficult to surmise that this pin was worn inside the lapel and away from the eyes of viewers, as it does show quite a private moment.

The use of lapis as a border holds the same symbolism as blue enamel. This is a fashionable statement, but also one of intense love and respect. Colour theory is nothing new to modern times. Colour is the identity of emotion, be it red for passion (love or anger), black for death or blue for royalty (a more modern concept). This Sherman ring uses green as a colour for its primary use of mourning, but the question is why. To understand this ring and its use of colour, it is important to look back upon the evolution of green in mourning jewels to see how the colour was used and why. Since the Renaissance, coloured enamel in jewellery was not uncommon, with various techniques taken from classical methods to be applied to jewellery construction. From the Cloisonné, where wire creates the definition of the enamel filling, being an antique technique, but seen in use from 12th century examples, to the champlevé, where the ridges are filled with enamel. Any technique which could be used to infuse a jewel with colour meant that its identity could be changed depending on what the colour was. For a jeweller, particularly in the 1840s onwards, having enamelled jewels with specific colours pre-designed would be easy to tailor for anyone wanting an interior inscription for sentimentality.

Mourning Stickpin With Coffin and Male, c.1780

The use of lapis (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 lapis 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, the blue lapis, 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.

Mourning Stickpin With Coffin and Male, c.1780

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.

A Gentleman in Mourning
It’s very rare to capture a moment in time with any pre-photographic jewel, but that is what this stickpin does. It transcends the typical idyllic Neoclassical mourning depiction and brings the immediacy of mourning directly to the viewer. One is to assume that the gentleman seen in this piece is actually the person in mourning who wore it, which brings a tremendous amount of gravity to its message. Even in terms of wealth, this piece would be highly individual, but doesn’t show the quality of a perfectly staged miniature. It lends itself to a scenario that had an amount of speed in his creation, as the gentleman is in a common pose for a composition, but the coffin completely changes the composure of the scene.

Mourning Stickpin With Coffin and Male, c.1780

We can assume that this would have been quite a realistic depiction for its time, as the modern viewer looks at what interment would have resembled in the 1780s, yet there is direction in its art. There is no background and only the simplest of textures given to the floor of the scene, with a hard line for the man to stand upon. This is the artist’s way of utilising the oval shape of the stickpin to their strengths, whereas a piece with an urn often suggest a place of burial if there is a dedication written under the urn on an ivory disc.

As often with these jewels, we cannot lose sight of what their intent was for. This was for a man in mourning, regardless of the person he was mourning, it should tremendous emotion in its simple composition. Fashion, design or materials cannot take away the genuine feeling behind this wonderful stickpin and for as long as humanity can emote, it always will.

Further Reading:

Link > Eliz Legrew Ob 4th July 1791 AE 34 / Sepia Male Mourning Ring

Link > A Navette Sepia Hairwork Mourning Ring, c.1790

Link > A Father’s Grief in a Ring from 1796

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama