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James Bowdoin silhouette mourning ring

James Bowdoin silhouette mourning ring Gold, ink on plaster, glass


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    A ring believed to have been commissioned by James Bowdoin’s widow, Elizabeth (Erving) Bowdoin (1731-1809), after her husband’s death.

    Silhouettes, known earlier as "profile portraits," became popular during the mid 18th century. Although sihouettes were not used for memorials only, they suited mourning pieces as well. Working with a live, backlit subject, the artist would trace the profile from the sitters shadow-a detail that would have further meaning once that individual had passed away. The stark black on white was also in keeping with mourning colors.

    James Bowdoin served as governor of the State of Massachusetts in 1785, after an active career in the government of the colony, from the 1750s to the 1770s. Although initially supportive of the royal governors, he came to oppose British colonial policy and became a strong advocate for independence. His highly politicized report on the 1770 Boston Massacre helped shape public opinion in the colonies.

    Elizabeth (Erving) Bowdoin, James' widow, probably commissioned the ring after her husband's death in 1790. John Miers, who created and signed the profile, was a prominent British silhouette artist, which suggests that the image was added later, most likely when the Bowdoin's son-also James-visited London in 1805. According to an advertisement on the back of another miniature, Miers's London studio provided "Excellent likeness in profile in a style of excellence iwth unequalled accuracy which convey the most fordable expression & animated character the very right size for Kings Broaches lockets etc. Time of sitting 3 minutes." In this instance, however, Miers would have worked from a silhouette or miniature that James had carried with him.

    The above description is from In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry. By Sarah Nehama. Prefaces by Sarah Nehama and Anne E. Bentley. University of Virginia Press. 2012.