Queen Victoria's Macabre "Mourning Brooches" To Hit The Auction Block This March
Sotheby's London will be staging an auction of the collection of Patricia Knatchbull, the Second Countess Mountbatten of Burma, great-great-grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, great-niece of Russia's last Tsarina, first cousin to Prince Philip and the daughter of Britain's last Viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten on March 24, 2021. Among the almost 400 lots, the sale will offer four mourning brooches that had brought solace to Queen Victoria. The distinctive brooches will appear at auction for the first time, having been passed down in the family for generations.
The tradition of wearing mourning jewellery dates back to the 16th century when macabre pieces served as a tangible reminder of death or the physical embodiment of the concept of memento mori. But by the 19th century, mourning took on a different tone with the emphasis shifting to the individual and the celebration of love, sentimentally and remembrance. This change was inspired by the monarch herself, whose name became synonymous with the act of mourning after she famously wore black every day for 40 years after the death of her husband.
Over the course of Queen Victoria's reign, she suffered many losses, spending decades not only mourning her husband Prince Albert, but also her mother and three of her children. During these years, she covered herself in black crepe and wearable mementoes of her loved ones, setting an example for her court. The public admired her dedication and mourning jewellery became among the most important commissions.
On the anniversary of Prince Albert's death on December 14, 1878, the Queen's third child, Princess Alice, died of diphtheria. Soon after, the Princess' youngest daughter, Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine, also died of the same disease at the age of four. Three of the mourning brooches mark Princess Alice's tragic passing which includes an onyx and seed pearl button with a miniature portrait of Princess Alice (sale estimate GBP£1,000–1,500), agate and pearl pendant and a hardstone with a lock of hair inscribed "from Grandmama VR" (sale estimate GPB£1,000–1,500), enamel and diamond cross centring on an onyx heart with Alice beneath a coronet (sale estimate GBP£2,000–3,000).
The fourth piece was commissioned by Prince Albert in 1861 for Queen Victoria to mark the death of her month. The piece, an agate and diamond pendant, opens to reveal a miniature photograph of the Queen's mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, later Duchess of Kent, with a touching inscription by the Prince Consort (sale estimate: GBP£1,000–1,500). Many of these brooches include a lock of hair due to the Victorian belief that hair had sacred and immortal quality, containing the essence of the person who passed.
Prior to the auction on March 24, the lots will be exhibited in New Bond Street on March 20–23, 2021. For more information, please visit the official Sotheby's website.