This Valentine’s Day, we take a closer look at the ardent history of the lover’s eye brooch, featured in our post on Romantic Antiques through the ages. In 1784, at the tender age of 22, the future King of England fell passionately in love with a commoner–a twice-widowed Catholic commoner, six years his senior. George, Prince of Wales, pursued Maria Fitzherbert relentlessly until she married him in an illicit ceremony on December 15, 1785. It is unlikely his father, King George III, would have sanctioned the marriage but if he had, the Prince would have been automatically removed from the succession to the British throne. As a symbol of their secret union, the pair exchanged the world’s first lover’s eye brooches. Through a veil of anonymity, they could bask in each others’ loving gaze.
A decade later, in order to become King, George parted from Maria Fitzherbert and married a royal cousin, but the following year, the now King George IV wrote his last will and testament, bequeathing his “worldly property . . . to my Maria Fitzherbert, my wife, the wife of my heart and soul.” In life, they were never reunited but when King George IV died in 1830, he was buried with her eye miniature around his neck. This royal romance that has captivated history was no less compelling at the time, leading to a trend of lover’s eye jewelry in the Georgian era. Specialized portrait miniaturists would capture one eye on ivory, framed by a wisp of hair or a bridge of the nose–hinting at an identity never revealed. The portraits appeared in the royal courts of Europe between the 1790s and 1820s. Experts estimate that fewer than a thousand were produced making them very rare and valuable. For the history of the lovely one featured here, contact Leah Gordon Gallery.