Sunday, 15 March 2015

An Object study 1 - a brooch with an Easter Theme, I think

Although I am working on assignment 4, I am conscious that I am not writing in the blog, as I usually wait until there is something worthwhile to put on. So, I thought I might do a visual study of an object, just a small analysis to practice. When I was a student in design history a long time ago this was something we were being trained to do, with deep historical research into a given object. The best example of this in popular literature form I have read is Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes (2011), but a study of the Bayeux Tapestry by Carola Hicks (2007) is a pretty good review of the life of this famous object as well. I like that type of narrative, following the life history of an object in its cultural context. Some time ago there were some very good TV programmes entitled ' The Secret life of a Master piece' which threw light on certain paintings in this way.

So, very modestly, I will look at an object, a silver brooch, my husband bought for me in Hamburg in an antiques arcade. It is not particularly valuable, it is by an anonymous maker, but it is interesting in terms of aesthetics and iconography.

The object is a small brooch, approx. 4 cm long, it is in silver, unmarked, there is no silver mark nor are there any maker's marks, and there is no provenance to understand its previous ownership. In the photograph it is oxidised, I left it like that as I like the way the blackness waxes and waines in strength with the shiny silver shining through. The design of the brooch enables it to be mounted horizontally on the garment, the pin is set to the top half on the back, allowing the front to be seen as on the top photograph.

You can see from the photograph that the maker has worked silver in its soft state, heated into a series of more or less vertical elements which in most cases end in rounded tips. The silver bends and flows in organic lines, each element next to each other along a kind of horizontal axis of a lines, which flows across the other elements along two thirds of the brooch's length.

When we first got the brooch both my husband and I thought it was purely abstract; I like the flowing lines, the punctuations and the way the relief of the metal has been shaped. There is depth  to the detail and shadows bring out this depth and individual character of each shape, and although each element is attached to the other the separateness of each is developed through the folds and lines of the metal. But it is just this treatment of each element and the unity of the whole that soon got me thinking that maybe there was more representation and narrative to the form than first appears.

In fact, I am now very sure that it is a 'Passion' brooch, that it is working to represent first, the Last Supper:

and on the other side The Passion:

Why the Last Supper, you may ask - well, I think there is a slight triangulation of the composition in the upper edge of the brooch as you can see in the first picture here; there is a taller central 'character' with a number of side characters by this figure's side. The triangular composition of the Last Supper was used by Da Vinci, and many artists placed the Christ figure in the centre during the renaissance. The Passion, the description of the death of Christ on the cross and the descent from the cross with his mother and others mourning his death in the second picture. is the other half of the design. I may be wrong of course, maybe both halves are of the Passion, but either way I am sure it is a religious brooch.

Without needing to be religious I think this brooch is an art work which must have meant something to its wearer before me. I am surprised tat there is no maker's mark as it is so much closer to being an art work than a piece of jewellery only. Maybe it was a commissioned piece for use at a special event or period in somebody's life.

Because there are no marks it is not clear when it was made - it might be from the 1950s, but then it could be later, in any case the way the silver is expressively moulded and abstracted I like to think it is from the 1950s, which is a period I am quite interested in from a design, fashion and art perspective.

Just to contrast this I will show another brooch I have, which is more clearly dateable - a 'vintage' solver brooch I got in Bruges:

I think this brooch can be much more clearly defined in terms of time - likely to be 1960s and it has a maker's mark, so that those in the know, auction houses for example, might be able to identify it. Again it is not very valuable, but interesting for its design and style. Apart from that I will not comment on this brooch much more, it is only here to show that abstraction in silver has been used in a more pure state and freely while the other works with the ambiguity of shapes creating suggestion and allusion to something else. It is interesting to think about how differently abstraction can be used, how forms can tell stories or be enjoyed for the sake of their own being.

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