This mourning brooch is made of gold, pearls, black enamel, and hair. Yes, that’s right — hair. On New York trips our favorite first stop is the Met Museum. In November, Sam and I checked out “Death Becomes Her: a Century of Mourning Attire” in the Met’s newly remodeled Costume Institute.
Mourning Brooch, 1868, Tiffany & Co. Hair was often used in jewelry as a memento of a lost loved one.
Most of the clothing on display was for women. In the Victorian era, the century in question, men normally wore black suits, and the addition of a black armband, cravat, or hatband was often enough to qualify them as mourning. Besides that, the proscribed mourning period for men was not as long. The ladies had new black dresses made, or dyed their existing ones (with, by the way, toxic dyes).
Something for the stylish mourner.
After all that, what a relief to see the gift shop, full of jet black jewelry and… breath mints.
… Mystifying Mints! a la mystifying oracle I presume? Yes, I’m mystified.
Next stop, the Greek galleries. I didn’t realize the “mourning” pattern of this tour until later, when I looked at my photos. Here’s just one example.
Marble stele (grave marker) of a woman, Greek, Attic, mid-4th century BCE
Next day, lower Manhattan: even if I’d known this topic was coming, I couldn’t have done a better job of finding things gone (but not forgotten). We took a walking tour of New Amsterdam sites, now mostly replaced by history markers. In 1653, New Amsterdam became an official Dutch city. The City Tavern became the Stadt Huys (City Hall).
Now City Hall is gone, but the outline of its foundation is marked in yellow bricks.
Then on to the old Custom House building, now the Museum of the American Indian. I was feeling a bit mournful myself by that time, and the only photo I took was of this staircase.
When it was time to head back, we walked past the World Trade Center site. I didn’t know until after we came home that it was the day 1 WTC opened.
September 11 Memorial in the foreground
Now back to that Greek stele for just a moment: the curator’s note suggests it’s reminiscent of Aristotle’s description of common beliefs about the dead –
“In addition to believing that those who have exited this life are blessed and happy, we also think that to say anything false or slanderous against them is impious, from our feeling that it is directed against those who have become our betters and superiors.” — Of the Soul, quoted in Plutarch, A Letter to Apollonius
And of course we also find it hard to let go of their possessions, which is the main reason I started this blog. I get letting go of the things mixed up with fear of letting go of the person — this was my mother’s quilt, Bob’s book, my aunt’s chair, my father’s handkerchief — that’s the root of my problems with downsizing. It’s past time I got over that. Life gets better every day, even though some of my loved ones are gone. I shouldn’t need the evidence of all this ‘stuff’ to remember them. Being here is enough, and as long as I am, they’re not forgotten.
Now tell me — what do you think of the mourning clothes?
Death Becomes Her, at the Metropolitan Museum through Feb 1, 2016
More on the Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, but not Forgotten
National Museum of the American Indian