Inside the Collection

Love and jewellery

Detail of eye portrait originating out of the Prince of WalesLove it or hate it, it’s Valentine’s Day! A day that has celebrated romantic love in the West since the Middle Ages, it is often marked with the giving of gifts as tokens of love.

Love and jewellery have long been associated with each other, from betrothal to mourning; it has been given and worn to show passion, devotion and loss. It’s around this time every year that advertisements start popping up declaring diamonds to be the perfect way to declare love.

Throughout history, people have expressed love through jewellery and adornment in many forms and although the late Georgians loved their diamonds as much as we do, they also declared love through miniature portraits.  

Photograph of eye brooch

This brooch is an example of an eye portrait fashionable in jewellery between the 1790s-1820s. The eye portrait allegedly originating from the Prince of Wales’ desire to court the ‘unsuitable’ Mrs Fitzherbert. The Prince sent a miniature of his eye painted by Richard Cosway with a letter proposing marriage to Mrs Fitzherbert dated 3 November 1785.

The eye portrait used on jewellery enjoyed popularity in Europe between the 1790s-1820s. The focus was only on one eye, with the eyebrow and eyelash represented, providing a tantalising hint at the owner’s identity without actually revealing it. Only the wearer and the giver of the gift would know the identity of eye.

Photograph of hair brooch

Expressions of affection were displayed with the addition of the delicate placing of a loved one’s curls or plaits embellishing the portrait.

There is something enticing about this ‘lover’s eye’ brooch that draws people in. The glimpse of the wearer’s identity makes us want to know more. Who was she? Who was her lover? What was her story? We will probably never know who she was, for the time being; let’s just enjoy this beautifully crafted piece of Georgian jewellery  

This brooch will go on display in the  Museum’s major jewellery  exhibition to open in September 2014.

Rebecca Evans, Assistant Curator

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