When The Eyes Have It!

When The Eyes Have It!

When The Eyes Have It!
By now you have figured out that I love to make jewelry and I am always looking for interesting factotum about jewelry. Here is one I think you will really enjoy.
What would have been sexier for early 19th-century British nobles than having a passionate affair? Flirting with their lover right in front of everyone. How? By wearing one of the most intimate parts of their beloved—the eyes—all over their body.
Eye miniatures, also known as lover’s eyes, were a sub genre of jewelry that became the height of fashion in the Georgian era. For centuries, tiny personal portraits of one’s beloved had been common adornments, but depictions of that person's eyes alone were something pretty new. Although eye miniatures were first spotted around the time of the French Revolution, they became very popular across the Channel around the same time, due to one particular royal trendsetter.
That fashion-forward fellow was the Prince of Wales, the future George IV and eldest son of King George III of American Revolution fame. In contrast to the moral rectitude of his famously faithful father, George Jr. collected true loves like other men did horses. His most infamous affair started in the early 1780s, when the prince fell head-over-heels for married Catholic Maria Fitzherbert.
The 1701 Act of Settlement forbade British royals, especially the future head of the Church of England, from wedding Catholics. Despite her eminent unsuitability, George wooed Maria with endless affection, a faked suicide attempt, and quite a few gifts. He also commissioned British miniaturist Richard Cosway to paint a portrait of his eye, which the prince mailed to her, along with a marriage proposal.
Maria eventually made her lover a portrait of her own eyes. The two were wed soon after, which was illegal; George III eventually forced them apart and made his son marry a German princess. Although the match with Maria was ill-fated, the Prince of Wales started an imitable fashion for eye miniatures, or “lover’s eyes.” Only about a thousand of these exist today. All were produced between the 1780s and 1830s, in America, Western Europe and Russia.
Affluent individuals would wear these trinkets on every appendage, from finger rings to brooches and pendants. Presumably, only the wearer and the portrait subject would know the identity of the beloved being depicted, keeping the experience intimate. And the places people would wear them—on the wrist, near the heart—created a “tactile connection between the owner’s body that mirrored the emotional closeness between subject and wearer,” as art historian Jennifer Horn noted in The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America.

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Carol Tenwalde

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