Favorite decades: 1910's, 1800's, 1870's
Favorite artists: Anthony van Dyck, Giovanni Boldini, Henry Fuseli, Thomas Lawrence
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Mourning bracelet, 1840-60, McCord Museum
Jewellery made from hair was very popular in the mid-19th century.
Symbols of life, hair has long been associated in many societies with funeral rituals. This piece of mourning jewellery, worn during this period in memory of the deceased, was a reminder of the inevitability of death. However its price, sometimes high, also made it a symbol of social status.
When the hair was that of a friend or living relative, the piece of jewelry was worn as a token of esteem. This one, however, was no doubt made from the hair of a deceased person and worn in his or her memory. Such jewelry was not acceptable during the period of deep mourning, when only jet accessories were permitted.
Hair is a material that can be braided, woven, sown, knotted and coiled to produce all kinds of shapes and patterns. Horsehair was also used for this type of jewelry.
Not all hair jewelry was made by jewellers. Magazines explained to their readers how to make it at home.
This kind of jewelry had existed in Europe since the late 17th century.
Bracelets, necklaces, earrings and watch chains were made of both men’s hair and women’s hair.
Mourning necklace, 1875-1900, McCord Museum
Perhaps surprisingly, mourning became an occasion for increased consumption. It might seem much more natural to expect that the grief associated with the death of a loved one would result in indifference to any form of consumption. But such was not the case in Victorian Canada. Paradoxically this deeply private time gave rise to eminently public rituals. Death imposed a number of rules, the most important of which specified the details of permitted activities and dress. To abide by the constraints of deep mourning, mourning and half-mourning, for example, a widow had to have dresses, shawls, bonnets, gloves, handkerchiefs and underwear in strictly codified colours. For many months, only black jet jewellery was allowed. To those who followed the codes, mourning was a time of heavy spending.
This heavy necklace with a gothic cross and medallions decorated with small flowers, probably pansies, is designed for mourning. It is made of a synthetic material imitating jet, a black stone.
Jet is a precious stone found in abundance near Whitby, England. In the Victorian era, the town had many manufacturers of jet jewellery.
According to the rules of mourning, no jewellery was to be worn in deep mourning, the length of which depended on the degree of relationship to the deceased. Next came mourning, during which only jet was permitted, followed by half-mourning, when either jet or gold could be worn.
The owner of this necklace, who is unknown, was expressing her taste for the gothic, a style much in vogue in the 19th century. She also showed her very Victorian knowledge of the symbolic language of flowers, in which pansies represent thoughts.
Brooch, 1754 England, the Victoria & Albert Museum
Hair had long been important in sentimental jewellery, but during the 18th century it took on a new prominence. It could now form the centrepiece of a jewel, arranged in complicated motifs or as plain, woven sections. Tiny fragments of hair could even be incorporated into delicate paintings. Some designs were made by professionals, but many women chose to work the hair of loved ones themselves, using gum to secure their creations.
Hair jewels were worn to cherish the living as well as to remember the dead. The survival of many pieces celebrating love and friendship indicate their great social importance
Child’s mourning garment, ca 1882 England, the Victoria & Albert Museum
Little girl’s mourning garment, in the form of a short princess-line coat dress made of black grosgrain lined throughout with white cotton. The garment has a rounded neck with a self fabric neckband, and fastens the length of the front with metal hooks and stitched loops. The hem and wrist-length sleeves are finished with vandyke tabs bound and faced with self fabric. The coat is shaped to fit at the waist: it is cut in six pieces, the front two of which have long darts. Lines of stitch holes indicate that two mitred pieces of fabric which were originally positioned at the waist back have been removed.
Mourning tiara, 1880’s Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic), the Victoria & Albert Museum
Jet is the fossilised remains of driftwood. In Britain, the main source is Whitby, in Yorkshire. It became particularly popular in mourning jewellery in the mid 19th century.
The custom of wearing mourning dress was encouraged by Queen Victoria’s prolonged mourning after the death of her husband Albert in 1861. Formal mourning required black crepe or bombazine clothes along with ‘a few trinkets to accentuate the general sombreness of the costume’. This tiara shows that jet or its substitutes was worn at the highest level of society: only those above a certain social class would have had the occasion to wear a tiara. It is interesting that it is made of ‘French jet’, a cast glass substitute for jet. As supplies of jet were not sufficient to keep up with the demand, dark cast glass known as ‘French jet’ or ‘Vauxhall glass’ was often used.
Ballgown, 1864 US, Peterson’s Magazine
It says it’s a “ball dress”, but it looks way too casual to have been worn at a standard ball. Anyone know what that’s all about?
This dress could be considered a formal gown for an older lady, but actually, the probable main reason it was labeled as ‘ball gown’ was because this same dress was also featured in a colored fashion plate in Godeys magazine in September 1864, as a day dress I believe, Petersons and Godeys frequently copied fashion plates from Europe, but usually with a year or two delay because fashion trends had to slowly cross the ocean and of course that took a while, we’ll sometimes to protect themselves from total copyright infringement, they would change the color, or details, or purposes of the dresses they so obviously copied, for the same dress to appear in both of the popular ladies magazine so close together time wise was because once the publishers got their hands on the European fashion plates, they went straight redoing them for their own magazines, so in short, maybe it’s labeled ball gown because they were trying to steal the imagine but make it their own by calling it a ball gown, maybe they got word that Godeys planned to publish the dress too and if they knew Godeys planned to call it a day dress, they had to change it to ball gown, the dress is so pretty they would have wanted to feature it in their magazine so changing it’s purpose would be worth it, on a more personal note, I plan to make a ball gown version of this dress one day, I’ve been in love with it for a while, I just got to plan the design and find the right fabric and motivation, lol
Old post, but this is an interesting response.
Portrait of a Young Woman by Lorenzo di Credi, 1490’s Florence, the Metropolitan Museum of Art
This damaged but evocative portrait has been identified as the widow of Credi’s brother, who was a goldsmith. This would explain why she is dressed in black and holds a ring. The juniper bush (ginepro) behind her could refer to her name, Ginevra di Giovanni di Niccolò. The picture was inspired by Leonardo’s portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Bust of Archduchess Margaret of Austria (1480-1530) as a Widow by anonymous, after 1506 the Netherlands, Kunst Historisches Museum Wien
This seems to be a much more flattering version of a portrait in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium by Bernard van Orley. If the van Orley image is the original, then the Vienna one probably dates from at least 1518, when van Orley became Margaret of Austria’s official painter. She could be mourning for her father, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, who died in 1519.
There’s a mourning theme coming up!
Mourning ring, ca 1787 England, the Victoria & Albert Museum
This ring and its pair are inscribed ‘Cease thy tears, religion points on high/ CS ob.25 Jan 1787 aet 70/ IS ob. 18 Sep 1792 aet 72’. They are mourning rings, possibly for a couple with the initials CS and IS who died aged 70 and 72. On the front of the ring, a vase of drooping gem-set flowers symbolises mourning.
Throwing Off Her Weeds by Richard Redgrave, 1846 UK, the Victoria & Albert Museum
A young widow is impatient to discard her black mourning clothes (known as widow’s weeds) because she has plans to marry again. The seamstress is showing her a lilac-coloured dress, a colour considered appropriate for a woman in the last phase of mourning. At this time, the mourning period for a husband was expected to be at least two years.
Originally the picture included a figure of a soldier, the widow’s new suitor, entering through the doorway. Critics thought this was vulgar, and Redgrave painted the figure out, but he kept a number of other visual clues to suggest that the woman is soon to be married again: there is a bridal bonnet in the hat-box in the foreground, and a sprig of orange blossom (a flower which was usually worn or carried at weddings) on the dressing table.