Jewellery Studies Past Issues - 2020/2

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2020/2. Augmented Portraits: An Alternative Approach to 17th-Century Mourning Jewellery. Anna Venturini

Mourning practices have traditionally pivoted around the need to preserve a likeness, a faithful representation of the lost individual to be cherished and bequeathed to posterity. In the centuries preceding photography, this role was entrusted to commemorative portraits and miniatures, whose effectiveness depended on their verisimilitude and resemblance to the sitters. Mimesis, then, has always played a central role in mourning practices, with memory and emotion being triggered by lifelike renderings of those who have passed away. This paper rethinks the traditional role of likeness in the process of grieving and memory-making through a re-examination of mourning jewellery designed in 17th-century England. In fact, by representing the deceased as nothing more than a lock of hair and gold-wire monogram, mourning jewels can be envisaged as ‘augmented’ portraits, able to convey a recollection of the individual whose intensity is independent from visual resemblance. For the wearers of these jewels, what mattered was the illusion of a physical proximity with the bodies of their beloved, and so much so, that feeling them was more meaningful than seeing their faces.

Anna Venturini is from Udine, Italy. She graduated in Italian Literature at the University of Bologna in 2016. After completing an MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture at the Warburg Institute in London, and a MLitt in Museum and Gallery Studies at the University of St Andrews, she joined Christie’s London as Auction Coordinator in the 19th-Century European & British Art department in 2018.