Monday, October 10, 2011

A Mysterious, Romantic Eye, c. 1790-1830

Monday, October 10, 2011
Susan reporting:

I'm just returned from a glorious day at Winterthur Museum, Garden, & Library, and as is always the case, I've been inspired, awed, and amused. Established by Henry Francis du Pont, Winterthur's vast museum collection contains nearly 90,000 objects, featuring decorative and fine arts made or used in American from 1630-1860.

Obviously, not everything is on display at once, so there's always something new to discover as different pieces are cycled through the galleries or presented as part of special exhibitions.  The collection is wide-ranging and endlessly fascinating, from exquisite needlework to master cabinetry, priceless portraits to elegant chamberpots (a post on 19th c. bourdaloues  at Winterthur remains one of our all-time most popular.)  Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of the most intriguing pieces I saw today.

One of my earliest blog posts was on "lovers' eyes", the small brooches and rings made popular in the late 18th c. by the Prince Regent and his lover Maria Fitzherbert. I've always liked them, and was delighted to spy this one today. Painted in watercolor on elephant ivory, this eye seemed particularly lively, which  makes me guess the rest of the lady was merry as well. That guess is as good as any, since the identity of both the lady and the recipient of this brooch have long been forgotten. The painting is framed by a gold snake swallowing its own tail – a sentimental symbol of eternity, and eternal love. It's a very small brooch,  only about an inch across, making it easy to wear secretly pinned inside a coat, or on the underside of a lapel. A most romantic little love token, isn't it?

Above: Pin/Brooch, England or America; 1790-1830, Winterthur Museum Collections, Gift of Roland E. Jester in memory of Margo Jester.


Louise Partain said...

This reminds me of Jo Beverly's book, A Lady's Secret, in which his daughter carries a picture of the Marquess of Rothgar's eye which was given to her mother during a youthful indiscretion.

britcellist said...

Is that where the phrase "I'm keeping an eye on you" comes from?

Also how about a version of bourdelouer? "Port a loo"


Michelle said...

I'd never heard of those -- they're so neat and romantic!

Althea Preston said...

I've always thought they're so nifty and yet, a tiny bit creepy as well, but then again, I've read way too much Stephen King...

It had to take a very skilled hand though to paint that in such detail.

Liz said...

What a strange item - I agree, it's perhaps a bit creepy!
Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

Dina said...

I love it!

Margaret Evans Porter said...

The art museum in Birmingham will soon mount an entire exhibition of lover's eyes:

There is a forthcoming scholarly work and descriptive catalogue, published in hardcover:

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