A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Exhibition: September 2012 to January 2013

In Death Lamented features rings, bracelets, brooches, and other pieces of mourning jewelry from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Ranging from early gold bands with death’s head iconography to jeweled brooches and intricately woven hairwork pieces of the Civil War era, these elegant and evocative objects are presented in the context of their history, use, and meaning, alongside related pieces of material culture.

The exhibit runs from 28 September 2012 through 31 January 2013, Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM.

Publication

A companion volume developed to accompany the exhibition of the same title, In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, by Sarah Nehama with a foreword by Anne E. Bentley, features 110 full-color illustrations of exemplary pieces of mourning jewelry. The essays and captions provide valuable historical context for the changing styles of mourning ornamentation and the social customs around grieving.

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The New Republic

As the 18th century closed and the 19th century advanced, the images people chose for their memorial tokens softened. The stark reminders of death gave way to vignettes of loss and mourning—women in neoclassical robes wept at tombs, or plaited bands of hair appeared underneath crystals—more intimate reminders of a lost loved one. In addition, painted portraits of the recently departed yielded to the emergence of photographic techniques.

In the examples below, portraiture and contemporary printing techniques accompany the traditional designs. In contrast with the more somber colonial and Revolutionary era, this later style of observing death evoked affection, friendship, and eternal love.

William Cheever
Minature portrait, watercolor on ivory, 1786

Edward Wigglesworth mourning ring
Gold, crystal, paper, enamel, 1794

William Dawes rings and boxes
Left: Rose gold, hair, pearls; Right: Rose gold, hair, pearls, enamel by Stephen Twycross, circa 1800

James Bowdoin silhouette mourning ring
Gold, ink on plaster, glass, circa 1805

Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple mourning ring
Gold, enamel, 1809