The Look of Love
Updated: Jul 13
The term “lover’s eye” is a fairly recent addition to the auction world. However, the origin of these pieces dates right back to the late 18th century. As often goes with origin stories, the exact facts are somewhat blurry.
The most popular tale relates to George IV (the Prince of Wales at the time) and his love affair with the Catholic commoner Maria Fitzherbert. In the late 18th century, not being of noble birth and a Catholic in a protestant country, put somewhat of a dampener on your chances of bagging a prince, especially one soon to be a king. The story goes that Maria rejected the Prince’s first proposal. But, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt by the future King she accepted but then fled to Europe.
In an attempt to get his fiancée to return to England, the Prince sent her another proposal letter with the following note:
“P.S. I send you a Parcel … and I send you at the same time an Eye. If you have not totally forgotten the whole countenance. I think the likeness will strike you.”
In the aforementioned parcel was a miniature of the Prince’s eye painted by the renowned artist Richard Cosway. Evidently, the present worked and the pair were married in 1875. No official record of this painting exists but there are some fantastic examples in private collections and museums around the world.
Often pearls and diamonds form a tear, transforming a lover’s portrait into an object of remembrance. It wouldn’t be uncommon for a brooch such as this to have a panel containing hair to the reverse of the piece.
These fascinating rings are not only beautiful eye portrait miniatures on the front but the reverse is often inscribed with the name and age.
Having someone’s face on a piece of memorial jewellery encourages the wearer to grieve and having just their eye seems more intimate.