Victorian Symbology

Victorian Symbology

The Victorians wore jewellery which conveyed nuanced meaning, expressed sentiment and brought fortune. They celebrated life events, friendship, love, and courtship with these designs. Below is a list of motifs and an outline of what they symbolised  for the Victorians. Many of these meanings remain today although others have been lost along the way.

BIRDS

Birds had a wide variety of meaning for the Victorians. For example, swallows symbolized love and mating for life.

Read more about the LANGUAGE OF BIRDS

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Victorian turquoise and silver bird bangle. Elder & Bloom.

 

 

CRESCENT MOON AND STARS

The crescent moon represented a new relationship and the hope it would “wax” into matrimony. Read more about ASTROLOGICAL MOTIFS

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The simple crescent moon was a popular motif in the late Victorian era
England, c. 1890
Gold set with diamonds
V&A Museum

 

CROSSED OARS

Crossed Oars symbolised ‘contentment’.

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Photo source: Spielman Antiques

 

 

DOGS

A dog symbolised loyalty and friendship.

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Victorian Dog Motif Brooch. Lang’s Antiques.

FIGURE EIGHTS

Figure eights symbolised eternity or ‘infinity’.

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Victorian ‘Figure Eight’ Brooch. Photo Source: Lang Antiques.

 

FLOWERS

Flowers and plants had diverse hidden meanings for the Victorians. An entire ‘language of flowers’ was developed, known as ‘Floriography‘.  Read more about the LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS

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Forget-me-not, rose and acorn motif. The acorn symbolized strength and longevity.
Paris, c. 1820-1840
Brooch with gold, diamonds and turquoises.
V&A Museum

 

GARTER MOTIF

The garter symbolised chastity and virtue. The ‘order of the garter’ was an order of chivalry founded by the British monarchy.

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Garter Motif brooch. Source, Lang Antiques.

 

GREEK KEYS

The Greek Key motif symbolised infinity or the ‘eternal flow of things’. Read more about the GREEK KEY MOTIF

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GRIFFINS

The mythical griffin represented courage.

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Victorian Griffin Pendant. Elder and Bloom.

 

HANDS

Hands had a variety of different meanings, depending on the form, including affection, strength, family and love.

See THE HAND MOTIF  See also  FEDE, CLADDAGH, GIMMEL and PUZZLE RINGS

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Victorian Hand Motif Necklace / Watch Chain. Elder and Bloom.

 

HEARTS

These symbolised love, friendship, affection and devotion. Combined hearts and flowers signified fidelity and remembrance.

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Victorian Heart Earrings. Elder and Bloom.

 

HORSESHOE

Horseshoes symbolised good luck and fortune.

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Victorian Horseshoe Motif Brooch. Source: Ebay.

 

KEYS

Keys symbolised knowledge and success and were also given as a ‘coming of age’ gift on the 21st birthday. They also meant ‘you have the key to my heart’.

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Victorian Key Pendant. Source: Butter Lane Antiques.

LIZARDS

A lizard  symbolised ‘wedded bliss’ and was given as wedding or anniversary gifts.

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A Victorian opal, diamond and ruby salamander brooch, late 19th century.
Bonhams.

LOVER’S KNOT

Lovers’ knots symbolized ‘eternal love,’ ‘fidelity’ and ‘commitment’. See also  FEDE, CLADDAGH, GIMMEL and PUZZLE RINGS

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Victorian Lover’s Knot Ring. Lang’s Antiques.

SCARAB

Scarabs symbolised ‘endurance of the soul.’ They rose to prominence with the ‘Egyptian Revival’ Movements.

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Victorian Scarab Necklace. Lang’s Antiques.

 

SHAMROCKS AND FOUR-LEAVED CLOVERS

Shamrocks and four-leaved clovers symbolised good health, good luck, and happiness. They were very much associated with Ireland and many were produced there. They could often be made with real shamrocks or four-leaved clovers set under clear enamel, rock crystal or glass.

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Victorian Four-Leaved Clover Brooch. Source: Ebay

 

SNAKES  

Snakes symbolised eternal life, sexuality and mystery. Read more about SNAKE MOTIFS

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Victorian gold serpent ring. Elder and Bloom. 

 

STONES

Acrostic jewelry was a way to convey a sentimental message by way with the first letter of each stone, the first letter of which spelled out a word. Read more about the LANGUAGE OF STONES

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England, c. 1830
Pendant, gold with lapis lazuli, glass in imitation of opal, garnet, emerald and gold.
Here, the pendant has the stones of Lapis Lazuli, glass in imitation of Opal, Vermeil ( the old name for garnet ) and Emerald which spell LOVE.
V&A Museum

Further reading: https://beautifulantiquetreasures.com/2013/02/21/charm-bracelets/

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Language of Birds

The Language of Birds

The Victorians assigned symbolism to many things and birds in jewellery held a nuanced and precise meaning. Below is an overview of this meaning.

SWALLOWS AND BLUEBIRDS

Both swallows and bluebirds had a special meaning for seafarers because these birds were the first sign that land was near. Swallows were thought to lead ships home and prevent them from being lost. The meaning assigned to these birds became to be ‘safe home’, or ‘to safely return home’ and so they were often given to loved ones when they set out on a journey. They also symbolised ‘heart and home’  and were associated with faithfulness. ‘Messengers of Venus’ was another assigned meaning. Flying birds in general were thought to represent the soul.

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Victorian turquoise set swallow or bluebird brooch

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Aesthetic Movement (Late Victorian) ‘Sweetheart Brooch’. Swallows are known to mate for life so were therefore often given to one’s sweetheart. Brooches with the swallow motif are often known as ‘sweetheart brooches’.

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A blue bird or swallow with a wishbone was  a common design, signifying ‘Wish for lasting love’

DOVES

Doves have carried the meaning of hope and peace since ancient times.  During Victorian times, they were often shown with the word pax (the Latin word for peace) holding an olive branch in their beak. The dove was a symbol of faith and was meant to represent The Holy Spirit.  The French ‘Saint Esprit’ or ‘Holy Spirit dove’ could often be depicted descending from heaven to earth with wings spread. Doves were often pavé set with turquoise, which was meant to bring luck to the wearer. When the dove held a heart in its beak, it symbolised love.

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Victorian Turquoise Pavé dove bangle. Currently for sale at Elder and Bloom.

BIRD’S CLAW

A bird’s claw meant ‘Thinking of you’ or ‘Praying for you.’

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In Victorian times, actual bird’s claws were sometimes turned into brooches. (One of these will never be sold by Elder and Bloom!)

PHOENIX

phoenix represented renewal, resurrection, rebirth and immortality.

Griffin

Griffins signified great courage.

 

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Art Nouveau Griffing locket. Previously sold by Elder and Bloom. For more information see here.

SWAN

Swans were symbolic of ‘purity and grace’.

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Late Victorian swan brooch. Previously for sale at Elder and Bloom.

HUMMING BIRD

The meaning of the humming bird was ‘God’s Tiny Miracle’

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Victorian Hummingbird pendant. Previously for sale at Elder and Bloom.

PHEASANT

The pheasant was thought to symbolise nobility, virtue and refinement.  It also evoked the spirit of the countryside.

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Victorian pique pheasant brooch. Previously for sale by Elder and Bloom.

LOVE BIRDS

Love birds signified faithfulness, eternal love and marriage

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Victorian ‘love bird’ brooch.

BLACKBIRDS

Blackbirds were worn during mourning.

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Victorian Blackbird mourning brooch.

CROW OR RAVEN

A crow or raven meant ‘Protection of friends’.

OWL

An owl represented vigilance and wisdom.

PEACOCK

A peacock represented immortality, beauty and knowledge.

EAGLE

An eagle represented nobility, strength, courage, wisdom and power.

FEATHERS

Feathers signified ‘obedience’ and could imply the obedience of a wife to her husband or to God.

PARROT

Parrots and birds of paradises were also often depicted but I have yet to discern the symbolic meanings.

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Victorian parrot pendant with real feathers.

See also:

The Language of Stones

The Language of Flowers

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.