Noire Gloire: 18th Century Mourning Customs in a time of Revolution

Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin 1792 [source]

Up until the 18th century mourning was a luxury enjoyed (sic) mainly by royalty and those with sufficient aristocratic pedigrees. When Sir Henry Unton, a mere Ambassador, MP and civil servant extraordinaire, died of bubonic plague while in the queen’s service in 1596 he was accorded a baron’s funeral for services rendered, a full two stations higher than his own of Knight.
Certain mourning customs that were familiar to the Victorians, the worlds best mourners, would have seemed equally at home four-hundred years earlier. While the 16th century was awash in black, the upper class women (and by that we mean aristocratic) draped themselves in various veils and bauble-free headgear, usually in black, sometimes in white if you were Marie Stuart (please clip those “r”s like a proper scot). Men donned a hooded cloak, seen quite clearly in Sir Henry’s funeral procession. These are not monks, but friends and family, who would be expected to wear the garment up to six months depending on their relation to the deceased. Male mourning would later lose the mourning cloak and cowl, and substitute darker, more somber versions of au current fashion.
Prior to Et in Arcadia ego (Nicolas Poussin, 1637-1638) death iconography was quite literal, and consisted mostly of deaths heads and crossbones, reapers, and uniquely animated cadavers out to pay a call.
During the enlightenment era a fundamental change occured. While mourning goods became more affordable by the middle classes, mourning customs began to be sentimentalized as the enlightenment philosphies began to change the very basis of family life and family feeling. Rousseauian ideals and neoclassical motifs collided so that by the second half of the 18th century every grieving mother envisioned herself a stoic Roman matron mourning her Brutus while posing attractively on the lawn with an obelisk. Early on it was primarily in mourning iconography that women played out these neo-classical fashion fantasies, long before they appeared draped over the heaving bosoms of the demi-monde at the Palais Royale.
Mourning Jewelry and Portraiture
It was common custom for a person to stipulate in their will to have memorial jewelry made for loved ones (rings, brooches, lockets) either using macerated hair to paint with, or locks of hair woven to create a pleasing pattern or design, with a sentimental phrase, pertinent names, dates etc. The to-be-deceased would have set aside some locks of hair for this purpose. So it is with little surprise that (especially) during the Terror, when people were certain of their own demise, we find the condemned preparing for death, and their own remembrances there-after. Locks of hair and other tokens are exchanged frequently, bequeathed, and smuggled out of prisons by sympathetic, and sometimes merely pecuniary, opportunists. This was especially the case for the royal family. Despite thorough efforts by the revolutionary government to deter the traffic in royal relics, there were reports of locks Louis XVI hair being sold in little boxes, and “large silver rings, which have secret openings, containing in their upper part, made convex for this purpose a small piece of the coat of Monsieur Veto…” [source: The Politics of Appearance – Wrigley]
Royalist Sympathies
landon_Le Comte Pierre-Jean de Bourcet et sa famille_1791.jpg
Le Comte Pierre-Jean de Bourcet et sa famille
Charles Paul Landon 1791
Inscription: Landon–officier de la maison
de feu Mgr le Dauphin–1791

The year is 1791 and Bourcet, as an official in the house of the Dauphin, is displaying his royalist sympathies with a lack of subtlety that does him credit. Upon the table to the left are marble busts of the king and queen, one white lily (of france) lies dying upon the table, while a second remains in a french blue vase. I speculate that the lilies are the two dauphins of france, the elder of the two perished just before the fall of the bastille in July of 1789. The Bourcet family seems to be mourning their own loss. M. de Bourcet’s downward gaze falls upon the fallen lily, hand empty and outstretched, while the other holds his eldest affectionately to his side. The four children stand between their parents. The eldest, father’s little soldier, gazes forlornly at the portrait on the floor, a toddler on Maman’s lap reaches towards the portrait upon the wall, too young to understand where his deceased brother has gone, while the young girl watches pensively by her youngest sibling’s cradle, the infant turns away, perhaps ready to join the elder sibling who went before, and take her place in the empty frame above. Madame and Mlle. are the only two who gaze at the viewer. Who is the painting beneath the table?
The Victim’s Ball
To read more on the most unusual mourning practice of the age, view my post and gallery on Les Bal des Victimes!
Will posterity believe that persons whose relatives died on the scaffold did not institute
days of solemn and common affliction during which, assembled in mourning clothing,
they would attest to their grief over such cruel, such recent losses, but instead [instituted]
days of dancing where the point was to waltz, drink and eat to one’s heart’s content.

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Marie-Thérèse de Habsbourg Impératrice d'Autriche_1772.jpg
Marie-Thérèse de Habsbourg Impératrice d’Autriche, mother of Marie Antoinette
1759 Louis Carrogi
La Veuve Reysfeltz, de Wesel [source]
18th cent. Louis Carrogi
Madame la comtesse de Cossé, belle-soeur du maréchal de Brissac [source]
1760 Louis Carrogis
Monsieur le curé de Deuil
dans la vallée de Montmorency
Monsieur Pinson
by Lié-Louis Périn-Salbreux
by Lié-Louis Périn-Salbreux


1780 Lévite de Deuil
Marie Antoinette’s mourning for her mother
l’Impératrice Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche [source]
Late 18th Cent. Mourning Portrait
Baby waiving goodbye
Reverse: hair-work ivy, weeping willow & forget-me-nots
[source: Mourning Art & Jewelry]
Canadiens au tombeau de leur enfant
18th Cent.
Mourning brooch circa 1780
Eternal flames burn at the mourners feet
1787 Dame assise sur un canapé, tenant un enfant
by MaximilienVillers
Women clutching their infants in proximity to black crepe shawls are always to be suspected
Jacques_Thouron_La famille Mégret de Sérilly_1787.jpg
La famille Mégret de Sérilly
Parents on the mantle, Maman wears a black shawl while les enfant turns its little face away
Jacques Thouron 1787
FRONT: “In heaven and in my heart
Memorial to a husband, 1780s-90s
[source: Mourning Art & Jewelry]
BACK: “In heaven and in my heart
[source: Mourning Art & Jewelry]


1790 Widow
1790 Mademoiselle de Salienne, future Madame Isabey
Jean Baptiste Isabey
Note: In mourning
augustin_vêtue d'un costume de deuil_1792.jpg
Vêtue d’un costume de deuil
Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin 1792 [source]
augustin_Madame Vanhée née Dewinch 1792.jpg
1792 Madame Vanhée née Dewinch
With urn and drooping rose, this could very well be a mourning portrait if that is an obelisk in the background.
by Augustin [source]
Baronne de Chalvet-Souville. Née, Marie de Broutin. Musée Carnavalet. Francois-Andre Vincent, 1793
The Baronness points to a drawing of her husband, the Baron de Souville, once Governor of the French colony of Reunion, her first finger encircled with a black enameled mourning band, around her neck we presume it is his portrait that hangs. It is 1793, and sartorial mourning is no longer politick.
1794 Robe a la Turque
Half Mourning
FRONT: 1792 French Memorial Pendant
disolved hair, seed pearls & gold wire
Mother grieving for her daughter
[source: Mourning Art & Jewelry]
BACK: 1792 French Memorial Pendant
Hair work with initials in seed pearls “JK”
[source: Mourning Art & Jewelry]
1795-ish Jean Baptiste Isabey
Costume of the Directoire
in half-mourning
augustin_Le temps qui détruit tout conserve l'espérance_1798.jpg
Portrait de femme vue jusqu’aux genoux
Inscription sur la feuille de papier tenue par le modèle :Le temps qui détruit tout conserve l’espérance
Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin 1798 [source]
Aristo Attorney executed
during the Lyons Massacre, December 1793
[source: Mourning Art & Jewelry]
Late 18th cent. memorial portrait with hair work
[source: Mourning Art & Jewelry]
1797 Portrait un Femme
Pierre Charles Cior
Portrait_de_jeune_femme_ portant_une_mantille_de_dentelle_noire.jpg
Young woman in black mantle
Late 1790s
Note fashionably cropped hair, transparent costume still evident with mourning crepe
Romany François Antoine.jpg
Mid to late 1790s
Mother and Son holding miniature portrait of a loved one
Portrait de Laetitia Bonaparte
Mourning Crepe
Silk french cap with mourning crape

Portraits with bits o’ black crêpe, taffeta, velvet and no provenance, but that are intriguing none-the-less:

1789 by Séné Louis
Portrait de femme en robe-redingote noire
1790s M&eagrave;re et enfant
by Peter Edouard Stroely
1800 Portrait de femme en robe empire noire
1775 La prière du matin
Jean-Baptiste Greuze
Portrait de jeune femme, avec une robe aubergine by Guerin
Lagrenée Anthelme-François_Jeune femme assise s'appuyant au dossier d'une chaise_1795.jpg
1795 Jeune femme assise s’appuyant au dossier d’une chaise
Lagrenée Anthelme-François
Portrait de l’artiste et de sa première femme, Marie Sophie Giguet
by Charles-Etienne Leguay
Gérard_ comtesse_Regnault_de_Saint Jean_d'Angély_1798.jpg
1798 Portrait de la comtesse Regnault de Saint Jean d’Angély, née Laure de Boneuil
François Pascal Simon Gérard
Capote en Crêpe jaune, garnie en noir, Sac Falbalassé
Yellow crepe hood, trimmed in black, Falbalassé bag
Journal des Dames et des Modes 1797
1798 Cornette de Crêpe, à Longues Pointes
1798 Chapeau de Paille, garni d’une, Echelle de Rubans


1790 Le comte de Beaujolais (1779-1808) à onze ans
by Jean-Urbain Guerin [source] [source]
Portrait de Madame de Boullongne en vestale by Guerin
augustin_Le temps qui détruit tout conserve l'espérance_1798.jpg
Portrait de femme vue jusqu’aux genoux
Inscription sur la feuille de papier tenue par le modèle :Le temps qui détruit tout conserve l’espérance
Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin 1798 [source]