English architect and artist James “Athenian” Stuart literally walked from England to Athens in 1719 to learn Latin, Greek and to study Italian and ancient Roman art and architecture. During his journey he met nobleman, amateur architect and artist Nicolas Revett, who was on his Grand Tour of the Continent. They returned to England together.
Sponsored by the London Society of Dilettanti, a convivial dining society that by the middle of the eighteenth century had gained an influential hold in cultural matters, they traveled back to Greece with others to draw and record its ruins.
Returning to England in 1755 they published their findings in the ground breaking Antiquities of Athens, which was produced in five lavishly illustrated folio volumes from 1761 – 1816.
This pioneering work’s influence was central to the establishment of the Greek revival (Neo-classical) style, which became a dominant force in architecture influencing the decorative, performance arts and high society in France, England and America. Everything about Ancient Greece was aligned with everything considered fine and fashionable and its influence would have a profound effect well into the 20th century.
Following the Revolution in France (1789–1799) fashions all over Europe changed from flounces and frills, to simple styles inspired by the classical costume on the much admired sculptures from Ancient Greece.
The very beautiful Mme Recamier, the wife of a prominent banker favoured a form of dress made from flimsy materials that was often worn wet to imitate the costume on Greek classical statues. She used to greet visitors to her home in muslin classical array with bare feet and flowers in her hair.
She would invite them to come and view her boudoir, which became the most famous bedroom in Paris in the neoclassical style. It would be hard to imagine anyone refusing Juliette Recamier considered one of the great beauties of the day and renowned for always wearing pearls, never diamonds.
Many cultures revere the pearl. For the ancient Greeks they were a symbol of love and marriage. Muslims enclose the faithful in Paradise within a pearl. Christians believed the pearl represented knowledge and truth and should not to be cast heedlessly before those not worthy. In short, at least for a time pearls became a metaphor for rarity, purity and virtue.
Get not your friends by bare compliments, but by giving them sensible tokens of your love*
Jewellery was seldom worn, following the revolution in France, apart from pendants of cruciform design set with semi precious stones.
In various forms the Maltese Cross was the badge of many well-known orders, including the British Victoria Cross and Order of Merit, as well as the German Iron Cross.
The Maltese Cross was a symbol of the Knights of St John, given to those who had demonstrated acts of valour.
The beautiful cross depicted is made from Carnelian, a gemstone much admired and used by Roman women in their jewellery during the first century.
Despite its ups and downs the Church in England was always a stronghold for man in times of material and spiritual trouble.
Its tower was a lookout and its bell rang out the news whether good, or bad.
In 1760 George III had come to the throne and though noble was not fashionable, but intensely pious. He set an example for those who considered themselves of good breeding and by the end of the century they were nearly scared to death and back into church by the French Revolution.
His reputed madness did not help and there was many other factors that led to a groundswell for a return to religion in England. This revival of the desire to become serious Christians ultimately led to the so-called Oxford Movement (1833-1845) and restoration of the practices of the Church Catholic in England.
The Reign of Terror confirmed everyone’s belief that atheism and a total disregard for the rights of property had led to such an appalling state of affairs in France.
So it is not altogether a surprise that something like the Maltese cross would become popular as a piece of jewellery at this time, especially when it was awarded to Lady Emma Hamilton who was the mistress of Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Emma was acknowledged by all the most powerful people in the land to be not only very beautiful but also a determined strong minded woman and she used her liaison and ability to mix in high society well.
It enabled her to send food and money to the starving people of the island of Malta.
The Latin Cross can be found on coins, monuments and medals. It was a pagan symbol for millennia before the foundation of the Christian Church. It also became popular at this time carried by more people than any other religious talisman.
In Scandinavia this style of cross was considered magical known for bringing good luck and diverting evil. Depictions have been found on Bronze Age stones being used as a destructive hammer by Thor, the God of Thunder and War. It was also considered a symbol of the earth, its points representing north, south east and west and has been found as far apart as in China and Africa.
Rock carvings with images of the cross have been interpreted as a solar symbol and alchemists throughout the centuries believed it represented air, earth, fire and water. Others believed it symbolised health, fertility, life and immortality or the union of heaven and earth, spirit and matter and the sun and stars.
During the revolution in France some aristocrats managed to escape to other countries, including England where Christian ladies of innate sense and sensibility, such as Jane and Cassandra Austen favoured wearing the cross.
Jane Austen’s brother bought topaz crosses for his sisters going without to give them to them. Topaz is much more precious than citrine another gemstone, which it is often mistaken for. The best quality has a lively characteristic suffused with peach hues.
Sacrificing for love is entirely in keeping with a Christian understanding of perfect love, which makes no demands and seeks nothing for itself. This characteristic abounds in so many of the people in Jane Austen’s life and novels.
It was entirely appropriate Elizabeth Bennett would be wearing a cross when she first met Mr Darcy, aka in contemporary times actor Colin Firth.
We can well understand Mrs Bennett’s excitement on hearing of Darcy’s marriage to her daughter Elizabeth when she says ‘What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have’.
However we can only imagine the love jewellery Darcy gave Elizabeth when they did get together because sadly Jane Austen didn’t choose to enlighten us.
Travel on the roads improved after 1793 with the installation of turnpikes, which meant the road users paid for the upkeep of the roads. Mr. Darcy could travel fifty miles of good road in a little more than half a day’s journey to the great country houses and their interiors in his landau. They provided a sensational setting of classic order for on centre stage, according to Jane Austen’s novels, social folly.
Jane Austen’s novels of young women ‘fighting the battles of the heart to win the prize of marriage upon the field of courtship’, belong as much to her times as do the list of battle honours won by those involved in the war campaigns.
Throughout the eighteenth century the ring remained one of the most significant of all love tokens, its unbroken circle reinforcing a message of commitment to marriage and the happy couples eternal regard, one for the other.
Some had the addition of coloured stones spelling out a term of endearment. Each stone had a meaning … emerald for love… turquoise for forget-me-knots, ruby for passion and so forth.
Owners at this time also re-modelled old jewels to accommodate newly acquired gemstones and it is more than likely that Elinor from Sense and Sensibility went to Gray’s in Sackville St to carry on “the exchange of a few old-fashioned jewels of her mother”.
The ideal jewel to complement high waisted opaque dresses with puffed sleeves needed to be simple, geometric and flat and pendants were exceedingly popular. This superb example uses almandine garnets in deep shades of red that glint with fire and light. Set into rose gold and backed by foiling to add refaction, this is a shape rarely seen and available in the first thirty years of the nineteenth century.
Garnets fitted into the craze for archaelogical jewellery as they had been popular with all ancient Mediterranean civilisations particularly Egypt, Greece and Rome. January is a garnet in birthstone and it is also the sign of Aquarius in the Zodiac.
The word garnet comes from ‘granatum’ the pomegranate, because the gem colour was supposed to be the same as that of pomegranate fruit, which has a bright purplish red flesh.
The coming to power of Napoleon Bonaparte as Consul, and later Emperor of France would change not only the political and social scene in the western world but also the world of costume of which jewellery was an integral part.
Novelist, dramatist, satirist, philosopher and brilliant letter writer Denis Diderot (1713-1784), during revolutionary times, became the moral philosopher and apostle of the Enlightenment. His dictum that the function of art was to make ‘virtue adorable and vice repugnant’ meant that Ancient Rome became a symbol for the revolutionary protest.
During this period Napoleon was a student in Paris and grew personally very passionate about the history of ancient Rome. All the images of his leadership in France prove he embraced and projected this knowledge of history through the use of the iconography and symbolism.
Added to his innate understanding of public relations and his own brilliant marketing techniques means that all the images of him portray him as a successful, powerful leader.
Napoleon Bonaparte lived in a masculine society, which valued friendship. He was attracted to strong men of courage, who spoke their minds and came from all backgrounds. Jean Baptiste Isabey designed the costume and regalia he wore at his coronation on 18th May 1804.
His portrait depicts him seated on a massive throne covered in Roman ornamental devices. His feet are on a pillow symbolising his newly obtained nobility and the lofty heights he had now risen.
On his head is a splendid gold laurel wreath in the Greek taste. as worn by Roman Generals during a military triumph. Each leaf represented a military victory to his credit. So great was the weight of this ornament when it had been completed it was necessary to prune it in order to make it more practical for use.
He is holding in his hands two uniquely French sceptres purpose built for his coronation. The gold rod in his left hand is surmounted by a surviving medieval ivory ornament of the ‘Hand of God’ in a blessing gesture meant to represent the ‘hand of justice’. (Roman Generals in charge of provinces throughout Roman Empire dispensed Justice).
In his right hand is another of the few surviving pieces of the medieval French crown jewels currently on display in the Louvre. The gold rod is over five feet long surmounted by a lily supporting a small statuette of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne undisputed ruler of Europe in the eighth century.
The magnificent Regent diamond, previously worn by Marie Antoinette, was set into the handle of his coronation sword.
His undergarment of white silk was extravagantly embroidered with gold thread as was the incredible velvet gold embroidered coronation robe he wore.
It was scattered with Imperial bees, his personal symbol of industriousness.
Napoleon was besotted with his lovely wife, the widow from Martinique who had won his heart and he loved giving her presents. He had married Rose Josephe Tascher Beauharnais in 1794 giving her a ring engraved ‘to destiny’.
He told her “I don’t like your name; from now on I will call you Josephine.” His love letters described her as ‘the moving spirit of my life’ revealing the passionate side of his nature.
A letter dated December 1795 states ‘a thousand kisses, but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire’.
Josephine’s jewellery, and that of Napoleon’s family, was more than impressive and recorded in Jacques Louis David’s famous painting of the coronation.
Her tiara was given to her in love by Napoleon and worn at her coronation in 1802.
It has to be one of the most beautiful objects of the period and was made from platinum and set with 1040 diamonds weighing in all about 260 carats and she wore it in love and pride.
Napoleon sisters also wore superb jewellery that he gave to them in brotherly love, as he believed love needed to be practiced, not just written out.
Josephine’s favourite diadem was made of shell, gold, pearls, precious and semi precious stones and set with superb cameos, carved from a single shell.
The fashion for deeply carved cameos increased soon after Napoleon’s Italian campaign of 1796.
Many of these were of ancient Greek or Roman origin and were set in all sorts of jewels such as tiaras, necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
In England by the beginning of the nineteenth century the yearly calendar was divided by six months at home, four months in London and a month or six weeks in Bath or some other such watering place, with a month set aside for travelling.
George, Prince of Wales, Regent of England, later George IV, scandalised the nation with his reckless and lavish living habits.
He gave an impressive diamond riviere to his mistress Elizabeth, Lady Conyngham, who reputedly received gifts of jewels valued at the time in the region of £80,000.
From this period onward brilliant cut diamonds were set in open mounts, although smaller stones or rose diamonds continued to be set in closed mounts for some time.
Only a small number of diamond jewels of this quality survive in their original closed settings.
Jane Austen left the world on the brink of unprecedented change, which would intensify with the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne in 1832.
Jewellery design between 1820 and 1840 followed the evolution of fashion and technical innovation.
The generous décolletages of 1830’s ball and evening gowns encouraged a fashion for large collars worn about the shoulders, rather than around the neck consisting of rich and elaborate arrangements of diamonds and precious coloured stones or gemstone clusters connected by chains.
By the 1830’s long chains were being worn in large numbers and in a variety of ways around the neck, across the shoulders, tucked into the belt or pinned on the corsage.
When Queen Victoria came to the throne in England, as a young girl of 17, she became an important influence on fashion.
Prior to the death of her Prince Consort, Albert (1861) she wore jewels in great abundance and the intimate jewels of sentiment, such as her engagement ring in the shape of a ‘snake’.
A symbol of eternity it became greatly favoured. He was extremely fond of designing jewellery for her and she documented this in her diary.
My beloved one gave me such an unexpected present, a wreath- made to match the brooch and the earrings. It is entirely his own design and beautifully carried out. The leaves are frosted gold, the orange blossom of which porcelain and four little green enamel oranges, meant to represent our four children’.
The new wealth acquired by the middle classes around the middle of the century and the easier supply of precious metals guaranteed by the discovery of gold in California and Australia had a positive influence on the jewellery industry and it flourished, especially in the second half of the century.
Victorian sentimentality has been the object of much disparagement by historians but it is entirely in fitting with the times. Large floral pieces created a glamorous display on grand occasions but could also be dismantled into smaller, more wearable elements, such as brooches. Floral jewellery made a touching gift of love or friendship. It could also convey symbolic messages.
In The Language of Flowers, first published by Mrs Burke in 1856, the lily of the valley signified a return of happiness, while the convolvulus could have a number of meanings – from the bonds of love to repose or even extinguished hope.
A typical gift from a groom to bride was a brooch in the form of a flower bouquet. Each individual flower had its own meaning.
The rose was sacred to Venus and a symbol of love. It carried no fewer than 35 related interpretations, depending on its variety and whether it was in bud or bloom. The pansy, stood for ‘think of the giver’, second only to the rose. Mistletoe represented a kiss, ivy was an emblem of fidelity and marriage and daisies stood for innocence.
Women throughout Europe in the nineteenth century were set a fine example of devoted love by Victoria, whose children married into many of the European monarchies. They subsequently became guiding spirits of many influential homes.
No longer shackled by official duties, ladies stamped the events of the day with their passion for love and elegance. This era has often been called, rather disparagingly, the Age of Housekeeping, and no object of jewellery reflects that sentiment more than the Chatelaine
Worn in the daytime at a woman’s waist attached to a belt early examples have attached to them a seal, a watch, keys, scissors, thimble case, notebook and so forth. although I am not sure how many were given in love.
Popular since the seventeenth century many were extremely stylishornamented with enamelling, beads, beaded tassels, cameos, and rarely semi precious stones.
Sometimes during this period you would find them set with classical medallions made of the beautiful blue jasperware by that very talented Mr. Wedgwood. As the century wore on they became more utilitarian and by that time there was once again a mounting interest in archaeology.
Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan Jewellery was now coming to light, unearthed from great archaeological sites in unprecedented quantities.
The variety of jewellery found was evidence of great creativity and imagination with an outstanding richness of design, composition, weight and decoration and throughout the rest of the nineteenth century jewellers would eagerly seek to replicate them.
None were more beautiful than the articles of jewellery produced during the Hellenistic Age between 323 BCE (death of Alexander the Great and end of the Greek Classical period) until about 27 BCE (BCE=Before Christ Event), were unearthed and being made of gold, were in superb condition.
No longer shackled by official duties, ladies stamped the events of the day with their passion for love and elegance.
A marvellous satirical sketch of a young lady, or English devotee of the High Classical School of Ornament which appeared in the British weekly magazine of humour and satire Punch on 15th July 1859 reflects just how difficult all these ‘ancient’ ornaments were to wear and an amusing edited extract from Punch to accompany it makes the point clearly.
‘My dearest Maude
You know that the Randoms have just returned from their long residence on the Continent, and I am longing to tell you that I spent a day last week with Imogen Random, who kindly showed me her jewel casket. O Maude! How I wished for you to share my excitement….the letter is very large and it goes on…
…Imogen, however confided to me (I am sure I am committing no breach of trust in imparting it all to you dear) that the only drawback to her classical arrangements is her very small and diminutive stature…the weight of her gladiator’s necklace is positively distressing to the collar bones; her hair is visibly diminished since she took to wearing Greek daggers and Roman pins, both of which are so pretty and so antique, … and her poor little ears suffer martyrdom with the weight of her favourite earrings, exquisite flying figures of Victory, which are supposed to be constantly whispering joyful tidings of new conquests…and it ends…employ every art with your Papa to induce him to bring you and Flora to the Eternal city where we go, that you my have the inexpressible happiness of shopping at Castellani…
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2009 – 2014
*Socrates (469 BC-399BC
NB: This is Part 3 of a four part series