The whims and tragedies of celebrity have always moved human societies. In more cohesive, pre-modern times when people looked to highborn aristocrats as both the highest cultural and symbolic members of their society (regardless of whether this was with a positive feeling), anything from a decree to a rumor might influence the habits of the people.
During the Georgian era, of English King George III, also known to American revolutionaries as Satan, it seems even his son was the recipient of popular sympathy against the rule of monarchy. A young prince, one day to be George IV, fell for an older woman Maria Fitzherbert, who had survived several tragedies but was without the right shade of blue blood to be approved for the future king. Unable to bring her into the family, he went through an elaborate common marriage anyway, in direct disregard of the law. Innovating a way to be romantic in a ruling culture that held little regard for sentiment or affection, he hired a miniature painter to create a portrait as his love token. Even this was considered too much of a risk of looking like a real marriage, and he was convinced to find something more discreet, and less legally binding. He chose to send her a portrait of just his eye, and in turn he carried a matching portrait of her eye in his pocket.
The forbidden love was a lasting one, while towards the woman he was officially required to marry, and his own father, he maintained his distance from them for life. The tragic story of these ‘first family problems’ found sympathetic understanding in star-crossed lovers, partners of merchants making six month business trips crossing the Atlantic under sail, and any number of lovers who had no say in who their parents formed alliances and transactions with. In a rare show of affinity, the French were so fond of the fad it quickly became assumed that the Lover’s Eye was their invention. In other courts across Europe, where there were no shortage of high borns with illegitimate affections, solidarity with Lover’s Eye led the way.
As a result, many of them are masterful both in painting and jeweler’s settings, meaning you’re not likely to find one in an antique shop all that often, but we will continue to see them revisited as annual Valentine’s social media content for some time, as a reminder of how refreshing the weird can be.
One also has to wonder if there wasn’t another layer of sympathy, or even unconscious symbolism taking place – the tremendous coup of the American Revolution was accompanied by an unusual sign, the stuff of Puritans once believed to be shipped off and done with – the Masonic “All Seeing Eye” that would one day settle into its new home on the Dollar Bill.
Could it be that the Rebellion of the Prince and his choice of symbol were no coincidence, but a very clever jab at his father and unsympathetic members of royal courts everywhere? Or that a part of the visual sensibility of the New World Order was easily appropriated in a tongue in cheek way for the noble right to romance? A lover’s eye could as easily be a way of saying, “this is my Revolution I say, and she’s a ginger named Marianne who lives in the garden house.”