Winged feminine figure. Bronze by sculptor Adolfo Apolloni 1904. Burial monument of the Calcagno family at the Staglieno Cemetery, Genoa - Italy.
“This enamelled gold mourning ring commemorates the death of Samuel Nicholets of Hertfordshire who died on 7th July 1661, as is recorded in the inscription inside the ring. The ring is hollow, and a lock of hair curls around within it, visible through the openwork of the enamelled decoration of skulls and coats of arms.”
You may be curious as to why my page is suddenly being flooded with Mourning artifacts and that is due to my slight obsession with the Art of Mourning. I’ve always been a moth dancing precariously close to the macabre flame and I profess that I live to indulge in the darker side. I am fascinated by the obsessive need of the Victorians to keep the departed alive and with them at all times. This fascination with death and life has kept me bound to the Victorian era since I was a small child. I am an avid collector of memento mori. From the tragic post-mortem photography to the locks of hair lovingly set into cold jet, I treasure each piece as if it were from someone I knew and lost.
I have written a brief history of the Art of Mourning and I apologize if anything is incorrect. I write from my own knowledge and personal research. Forgive any errors on my behalf.
The Art can be traced back to Queen Victoria who started the vogue in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. When Prince Albert passed away in 1861 Queen Victoria entered into a state of mourning that lasted for 40 years until her own death in 1901 . As was the fashion (in this time and that) Victorians adopted the habits of the Queen.
This adoption gave birth to the customs that became the law. Widows were required to leave their homes wearing only the plain full black attire and a “weeping veil.” This lasted for one year and a day and was known as the Full Mourning.
The next nine months were known as the Second Mourning in which the widow was allowed some small trinkets and ornamentation which included lacy embellishments to her otherwise plain attire and mourning jewelry.
The final stage of mourning was known as Half Mourning and it lasted from three to six months. This saw the re-introduction of more elaborate fabrics and trims. Colour began to make an appearance gradually as the half mourning came to a close. During this time all sorts of jewelry was allowed.
Jewelry played a huge role in this period. Not only was it a social symbol of status and wealth but it became a connection between the dearly departed and those left behind. Most of the jewelry was made of jet known as black amber; a fossilized coal. Hair jewelry (which is what I mainly collect) became very common. It was made using locks of the deceased’s hair clipped straight from the parlour and set into various ornamentations.
There is an almost cult like following of this ritual of grief and sadly this practice has long since gone out of fashion. It was the Victorian era that saw the birth of the performance of sorrow which became an art in itself.
I leave you know with a popular Victorian epitaph:
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you must be.
Prepare for death and follow me.