Wunderkammers or cabinets of curiosities have long captivated me. Their contents range from naturalistic finds such as rocks, feathers, bones; to strange artificial creations like automatons and anthropomorphized critters. These cabinets also contained Victorian mourning jewellery which consisted of macabre brooches, rings or lockets full of human hair and even teeth. The hair was sometimes woven into an artistic representation of the person who passed away or a symbol of significance. Photos or paintings of the deceased were also popular. I’ve even seen intricate teeth carvings. These types of jewellery were worn in remembrance of your dearly departed.
In earlier Georgian times, a single eye was painted in watercolour onto ivory and made into a brooch or pendant. I’ve seen many contemporary depictions of dead butterflies, moths and other insects with mourning portraits mounted on their backs. My illustration was born from a deceased Cyligramma Latona moth, (otherwise known as a Cream-Striped Owl moth) I found on my doorstep. I keep it behind glass on a piece of tissue paper, and each time I look at it, I feel saddened by its death, but I cannot seem to part with it.
My drawing is, however, of a different type of moth: the Saturnia Pyri, or Giant Peacock Moth, with a wingspan between 15 and 20cm. It is known as the transformation harbinger in folklore, which I’ve depicted as the messenger of sorrow. Resting heavily on its back is a Victorian bezel frame with one single eye. The eye is melancholic with a single tear rolling down.
I’ve signed this drawing differently from my previous artworks, to give it an authentic Cabinet of Curiosities impression. My signature is inside a ribbon name plaque at the bottom centre of the moth.
”In this strange world, this half of the world that is now dark, I have to chase a being that feeds on tears.”
– Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs