Monday, 12 March 2012

What a Find! Stuart Crystal Earrings Circa early 18th Century

Portrait of Amalie of Zweibr├╝cken-Birkenfeld

Stuart Crystal dates from the 17th Century and can be attributed to the politics associated with the Stuart Monarchy and the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Royalist supporters of the King, wore upon their person a ring, slide, pendant or brooch which was faceted rock crystal set underneath of which was either a portrait of the King, a lock of his hair with gold initials (often referred to as a cypher). Stuart Crystal pieces continued into the 18th Century, these were often memorial or sentimental in theme, trends associated with the Georgian Period.

Stuart Crystal earrings, pink foiled with gold cypher

English in origin, these beautiful earrings date somewhere between the Late 17th Century to the mid 18th Century & although the pink foiling underneath one of the crystals does show signs of wear, they are a beautiful example of Stuart Crystal jewellery. They have been step cut and bevelled to reflect light, mounted on silver with gold ear wires (original reverse fittings), pink foiling with gold cypher on each - the cyphers are quite elaborate and I am unable to determine what the cypher (initials) are; these earrings are sentimental; most likely a tribute to a marriage. One can only imagine the Lady who wore these beauties, they reflect light beautifully and must have looked amazing in the candle light of a Georgian ball.

These mementos are a testament to the beautiful sentiments of the Georgian (and Pre-Georgian) periods in history and are so fascinating and enigmatic that it's no wonder they are remarkably rare to come across and inspire many an enthusiast. I would direct anyone who has an interest in Stuart Crystal jewellery to Hayden Peter's website the Art of Mourning as he has some very interesting pieces, not to mention further valuable information regarding memorial and sentimental jewellery:

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Place of Intrigue: The Tower of London

"Here lands as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs. Before Thee, O God, I speak it, having none other friend but Thee alone."
- Reputedly spoken by Elizabeth I when she arrived at the Tower of London as a prisoner

England. With the Tower in the background.

Castle, palace, prison; these words alone invoke grandeur with an air of expectation, anticipation and wonder. The Tower of London stands at the very heart of the capital and became the epicentre for many of the dramatic and bloody events seen in English history. The Tower was first constructed by William the Conqueror in the early 1080's and each successive monarch added to its fortifications, nothing quite like it had ever been seen in England before, it's immortalised presence dominating the skyline for miles. 

My first visit to the Tower was in 2005 and I spent an entire day walking the grounds (much to the boredom of my husband who doesn't share my passion for history) and could have spent many more. It was a crisp Autumn day and there weren't too many tourists about. The Tower seems to possess this other worldliness, as you walk over the bridge & through the gates the atmosphere seems to shift; as though you're stepping over some invisible threshold. It's no wonder with its past history that the Tower retains some of its residual memories...perhaps I was all too lost in the moment, visiting a place I had longed to since a child? To me, it just seemed alive!

The White Tower

With an anticipated move to London on the cards later this year I hope to spend many more days wondering around this wondrous place; I need more than just 1 day to fully absorb its history and it would be nice to be able to visit whenever I fancied, to take my sketchbook and stroll the grounds...

Queens House

I just wanted to share my love for the Tower of London, as grand and tragic as its past may be, I find it as equally alluring and naturally, it has one or two interesting ghost stories!

On another note, I recently I purchased 'Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London' by Nigel Jones which I hope to read shortly (my TBR shelf is notoriously high & as I'm also working on illustrating a book at the moment, I seem to be adding to it more often than reading the books that grace its shelves). Nonetheless, this book piqued my interest and hope it lives up to my expectations...

A Tale of Two Georgian Mourning Portrait Miniatures

'When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure'
- Author Unknown

These two historical portrait miniatures belonged to the Hechler Family of Strasbourg, with the original order label fixed on the backing dated 1810 for Fr Hechler. On one of the miniatures in neat cursive script (by none other than the child portrayed in the miniature) in French & loosely translates into the following; My mother had a whim of character which she displayed sometimes when we visited the cemetery together. I was little more than one year of age, she showed me the tomb and tried to make me understand that was where my father slept. Le Papa.

The wife of the deceased sits, pointing to the tomb of her husband clutching her young child to her, J F Hechler is inscribed on the tombstone with the elegant boughs of the weeping willow framing the scene around them. This particular miniature has been painstakingly created with the macerated hair of the deceased, quite often, these sepia pieces often included the hair of the deceased which (in my opinion) only adds to the sentiment of the miniature.

Le Papa

The second miniature is equally as beautiful, with the mourning widow inscribing a dedication on the trunk of the willow to her husband. Inscribed on the tomb, in German is: God clears the way for those with a clear conscience and loosely the translation of the inscription on the trunk is: Follow God.

The exquisite detail and sepia toning in these two miniatures is superb, the face of the bereaved woman resolute with grief, the poor bemused child clinging to the mother in reassurance. The provenance is quite rare (German) as generally most surviving pieces are English or French and even rarer that these are two pieces survived from the same family, a highly unusual example of hair mourning art, exquisite nonetheless.

During the Georgian Period, death was a constant and the medical knowledge at the time lacking (to say the least); pieces such as these miniatures served as a comfort & treasured keepsake, illustrative of their respect and adoration for their lost loved one, containing something of the essence of the person incorporating a lock of their hair, a precious item that could be kept close as a constant memory (Memento Mori (trans. Remember you must die) a constant symbol throughout Georgian period mourning jewellery & Art).

These two miniatures only emphasise my passion for the Georgian Period, they are beautiful examples of a time where loved ones were immortalised in treasured keepsakes. 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

In which I love Georgian Jewellery 1714 - 1830

Ever since I was a child I have held a fascination with the past, I would spend hours digging up my parents yard; the block sat in front of what use to be an old Orphanage & I would dig up all kinds of things; from old toys to beautiful pieces of china & glass (although mostly broken)...this led to my eventual studies in Early European History, Roman/Greek History & Egyptology.

However, there is one particular period that continues to distract me whenever I find myself browsing through an antique jeweller (or fair for that matter as I find the furniture equally delectable) and that is the Georgian Period which ranges from 1714 – 1830 which can then be classed into three separate categories; Queen Anne (1714-1750), Rococo (1750-1780) and Neoclassical/Romantic (1780-1830).

For me, collecting antique jewellery is the allure of times past; I often wonder about the items history; of who owned it before I? And did the wearer love the piece as much as I? To me, Georgian jewellery is the epitome of jewellery; it’s so absolutely beautiful there is simply nothing even remotely like it in the jewellery of today. It’s a shame that quality Georgian jewellery is scarce (that, & the pieces are generally quite expensive) or they have been broken up (for an example a Georgian Riviere necklace in order to create several pairs of earrings); as a collector, I find this devastating although equally satisfying when I come across a piece which is quite perfect…unfortunately there are also many, many fraudulent pieces out on the market which include (but not limited to) Stuart crystal & eye miniatures, mainly due to the high price these pieces can (& often do) demand. All I can advise is to research, research, research and if it seems to good to be true, then it probably is!

Georgian sepia clasp, strung on a french muff chain commemorating a marriage

This particular piece I purchased some time ago and I wear it almost on a daily basis; it dates somewhere between 1780-1830 as the piece illustrates a women in Neoclassical style; It was originally a clasp and I imagine would have been strung on pearls and worn as a bracelet however, it has been (quite crudely so) turned into a slide/pendant at some later date. Although it’s a shame that a jeweller modernised this piece and did a poor job with the gold work (fill in where the side clasp originally was) I still find this piece most alluring, and little did I realise at the time, that it features in the book: Georgian Jewellery by Ginny Redington Dawes on page 136 and is commemorative of a marriage therefore a love sentiment piece. All the symbolism in this piece points to love and the execution of the miniature is quite exquisite, the detail amongst the best I have come across; the piece finished off with a boarder of seed pearls…

This photo was taken from the dealer I originally purchased this from (with permission); it's a better photo of the exquisite detail of the sepia miniature.

From the sun filled Georgian Drawing room to the sumptuous evening gala balls these gems gleamed & glittered their best in the natural sunlight & candle light twinkling like stars off the foil backed gemstones. This period was a time where emotion played key and was expressed through wearable sentimental pieces of jewellery.

For anyone who is interested in the period, I highly recommend purchasing the book: Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830 by Ginny Redington Dawes with Olivia Collings. It is the only book that I have come across that encompasses Georgian Jewellery as a whole covering the period 1714-1830 in full. Not only is the information valuable but the photos are drool worthy, it's a book I find myself revisiting time and time again.