Memento Mori and Mourning Jewellery
I’m welcoming in this spooky holiday with a blog post about the macabre world of memento mori and mourning jewellery.
Memento mori is Latin for “remember that you have to die". It was a medieval Latin Christian practice of reflecting on mortality, heaven and hell and the salvation of the soul in the after life. In art symbolic reminders of mortality are used, most commonly - skeletons, coffins, urns and weeping willows. Skeletons act as a stark reminder of the vanity of earthly riches.
Memento-mori jewellery dates as far back as the 17th Century.
In Victorian times families would commission items of jewellery to be made out of a deceased love ones hair, to remind them of their dearly departed. Human hair was selected as it does not decay even over long periods of time. Rings such as these circulated after the execution of King Charles I amongst his loyal supporters.
Hair brooches were often surrounded by a pearl border which represent the tears shed in the mourning of loved ones.
A lover's or child's eye were sometimes painted onto brooches or pendants, although not always done in mourning - the effect is somewhat creepy!
According to Erica Weiner - (a collector of mourning jewellery) "People started making memorial jewelry because there was no photography, and if your loved one died you wanted something as a touchstone to remember them every day."
Contemporary Memento more and Mourning jewellery
Contemporary Jewellers are readdressing the theme of memento mori and mourning jewellery in interesting and unique ways . Below are some examples of jewellers, who's work can be interpreted as modern day memento mori.