All Seeing Eye

A secret royal romance is believed as attributing to the popularity of eye miniatures worn as jewelry accents in the eighteenth century. This type of fashion accessory was produced in limited numbers of one to two thousand pieces, so the rarity makes this half inch dated vintage ornament especially appealing among today’s jewelry collectors.

Fashion trends tend to fade as quickly as they are introduced, but do notably leave their own historical reflection. During the period when these decorative eye pieces were being embraced, ironically the US Congress was adopting an insignia of the all seeing eye atop of a pyramid and likewise the covert illuminati society employed a single eye as one of its symbols. It is curious that the government and illuminati covertly held the human eye image as reflecting strength, while ladies of fashion boldly wore such momentous badges unbeknown as announcing what was evolving as the all powerful.

The documented origin of the attraction to a single human eye is not well defined. The first eye miniatures, as these feminine jewelry pieces became known, seem to have originated in France. The wearing of this kind of adornment grew further with popularity in England and appeared to be attributed to a scandalous royal romance. In 1785, the 22 year old Prince of Wales commissioned the miniaturist Richard Cosway to paint a love token for the recently widowed Maria Fitzherbert, with whom he was madly in love and secretly planned to marry later that year.

Thus began the trend of eye miniatures.  A period trend used as a symbolic exchange between lovers and friends as keepsakes, inclusive as mementoes of loved ones lost. These carefully painted images were made into brooches, pins, lockets, and rings, or set into bracelets or snuffboxes.

Fashion is fickle, and within a couple of decades these once prized miniatures were considered hopelessly out of date. As late as the 1950s, they were considered freakish, at least in the eyes of the art critic Davis Piper.  Mr. Piper shuddered feeling such creations “captured a repulsively detailed, almost anatomical, account of the mere surface of the eye and the contagious flesh.”

The solitary eye seems to reflect a haunting, dream-like quality that prefigures the work of twentieth century surrealists such as Man Ray’s famous Indestructible Object, in which a cut-out photograph  of a single eye swings back and forth on the pendulum of a metronome.

…or Magritte’s unsettling close-up of his wife’s eye in L‘oeil.

Though more contemporary artists do not reference to have been acquainted with the eye miniatures of an earlier age, it may well be that the Surrealists’ influence enabled people to look at eye miniatures in a new light or perhaps it is the same light of the all seeing eye, an eye ready to wink at centuries of secrets!

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