Memento Mori vs. Mourning Jewelry

Memento mori jewelry and mourning jewelry are two really neat genres that are often (and understandably) confused with one another. Both deal with death, but in two distinct ways:

Memento Mori Jewelry: Remember You Will Die

Memento Mori is Latin for ‘remember you will die.’ Beginning in the Renaissance, jewelry and artwork representative of this phrase became popular. 

 The 'Torre Abbey Jewel' - a sixteenth century  memento mori  pendant, Victoria & Albert Museum. 

The 'Torre Abbey Jewel' - a sixteenth century memento mori pendant, Victoria & Albert Museum. 

  Memento Mori Ring,   sixteenth century, Victoria & Albert Museum. 

Memento Mori Ring,  sixteenth century, Victoria & Albert Museum. 

 

Mourning Jewelry: Remember somebody else died and you are sad about it. 

Mourning jewelry, unlike memento mori jewelry, commemorates the death of a specific individual. 

 Mourning ring c.1780, Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Mourning ring c.1780, Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Initials, obituary dates, poems and locks of hair could be tucked into rings, bracelets, brooches and lockets to act a token of remembrance for those mourning the loss of a friend or loved one.

Many historians point to the execution of Charles I of England in 1649 as the moment when mourning jewelry really became a fad. After the luckless monarch was beheaded, his followers took to wearing jewels with his portrait. 

 Mourning ring with portrait of Charles I, 17th century. 

Mourning ring with portrait of Charles I, 17th century. 

Mourning jewelry reached the apex of its popularity during Victorian era, and had gone out of fashion by the early twentieth century. If you want to read more about it, you can look at our ‘Jewels of Memory & Mourning’ post from awhile back.