Love and longing have been expressed powerfully across the millennia through the language of art and jewellery. There is a cornucopia of symbols associated with passions of the heart and the stories associated with antique and vintage jewels are especially evocative.
In ancient Greece the goddess of love, Aphrodite (in Rome she was called Venus), was sometimes depicted with Eros (aka Cupid) whispering into her left ear. We go on to find Cupid appear in many guises: he may be blindfolded and firing his arrows at will; or shown being stung by bees to depict the pleasure and the pain associated with falling in love.
Arrows are a recurring theme both in sacred and romantic artistic pieces. In Flemish Renaissance necklaces, lions and stags made of baroque pearls were stabbed with arrows to symbolise the power of love to subdue. Later, large arrow brooches were decorated with diamonds, emeralds, or glass paste as a Georgian fashion.
The cult of Venus has brought important connections to the world of jewellery. Pearls adorned her, roses and doves surrounded her and they still express the emotions of affection.
The natural world provides many motifs that express the language of love. A phoenix rising from the flames represents love revived and the salamander, which was believed to be able to survive fire, sent a message of passionate love – although moths fluttering around a candle flame warned of the dangers of intense desire.
Dogs are associated with faithful love, while the ancient ‘ouroboros’ symbol of a snake swallowing its own tale is representative of eternity and has therefore long been given as gifts to denote everlasting love.
Some jewellery keeps its intimations secret. Posy rings of the Middle Ages were engraved with amorous inscriptions hidden inside the band, sometimes written in cryptic style. Geoffrey Munn explains that the owl in the cage on the watch and fob that Empress Josephine commissioned for Napoleon Bonaparte was part of a veiled description of “love’s dominion over wisdom.”
The popular “REGARD” and “LOVE” rings used the initial letters of precious and semi-precious stones to communicate sentiments.
Victorians had a deep understanding of the traditional meanings of flowers and so we see myrtle, laurel and ivy leaves as emblems of fidelity on tiaras and brooches; forget-me-nots represented by turquoise stones to tell the recipient of your true love; and mistletoe interpreted as a kiss.
Two of the greatest lovers of the 20th century, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, commissioned Cartier in 1936 to design an Art Deco ruby and sapphire brooch comprising the inter-twined initials W.E. for Wallis and Edward, to celebrate their union.
Whether you are giving a silver locket so that your amour can keep your portrait close to them, or a pendant with a ship to help your relationship weather the storms of life, your present will be sure to warm the heart.
You can find fabulous vintage and antique pieces on our Changemaker Marketplace and daily @changemaker.marketplace
Reference: “The Triumph of Love” by Geoffrey Munn is an eloquently written book which I drew on for this article. Check your local bookshop and ABE books for copies
By Chrissie Masters, Editor