Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hidden meanings and Victorian symbolism.

Victorian culture spanned sixty years and went through a number of changes but one theme seems to have lasted throughout, sentimentality. There were always artistic undercurrents pushing back against this trend (think Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley), but in general, popular culture preferred to indulge in exaggerated emotion, be it in the name of love, joy or tragedy.

The tendency towards Victorian sentimentality manifested itself in a number of ways but one that I find intriguing is the complicated use of symbolism used to express feelings, thoughts or messages, most notably with the use of flowers. A simple bouquet or posy might thrill or devastate it’s recipient depending on the meanings of the flowers chosen. To add to the drama, not everyone attributed the same meaning to every flower. Flower symbolism had been around for centuries with varied histories so in time actual dictionaries were printed on the subject with each author having their own interpretations. For example lavender might mean devotion OR distrust. Imagine the misunderstanding (and possible mayhem) this could cause if both parties had different dictionaries! In general though, meanings were agreed upon. Victorian symbolism spilled over into other areas as well, particularly jewelry design. Just recently I acquired a lovely Victorian necklace and decided to try and interpret the meaning. It was great fun! Above is a picture of the necklace that was sold from my website. Below I will give you the meanings of the images and materials used

Swallow - Faithfully returning home/ or just home. Supposedly the swallow was one of the first birds to land on deck when a ship was close to land, not surprisingly, aside from a popular motif for jewelry it was also a favorite tattoo for sailors!

Seed Pearls - purity, innocence, harmony and humility

Three Leaf Clover – domestic virtue and fertility. Also a white clover signifies a promise and these tiny clovers have a white seed pearl in the center

Forget me not – Faithful love

As soon as I put the symbols together the meaning seemed obvious, I was certain this had to be a bridal gift.... and much to my delight, upon further research I found out that seed pearl jewelry was a customary gift for a young woman turning 18 yrs OR a bride before her wedding!

There are lots of resources to research Victorian symbols. If you are interested I suggest you start with the Internet and look up key words like the "language of flowers" or "Victorian symbolism". It’s great fun and I guarantee you will never look at Victorian jewelry the same way again!

Until our next blog, enjoy and take care!


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