Observatory (543 Union St., Brooklyn)

n tonight’s lecture–the introductory lecture of a 3-part series on human relics and Victorian mourning jewelry–master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will focus on what are termed “speaking” reliquaries: the often elaborate containers which house the preserved body parts–or relics–of saints and martyrs with shapes which reflect that of the body-part contained within.

Bachmann will examine these fascinating objects from an art historical perspective, and discuss their relationship to concepts of human body parts as icons of the immortal. They will be put into the larger context of Christian death rituals, in particular the veneration of saints body parts as sacred and magical relics. Also discussed will be the extremely odd proclivities of a variety of renaissance saints, such as Catherine of Sienna who drank pus from open sores. This will serve as the genesis in our further discussions of human hair, teeth, and nails as icons of the immortal.

Hairy Secrets: Human Relic as Memory Object in Victorian Mourning Jewelry is a series which will explore in lectures and a workshop the history of the preservation of human remains for reasons sacred and profane, culminating in the flowering of Victorian hair art mourning jewelry, or jewelry which incorporates the hair of the beloved dead.

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