“Memen to Mori” silk embroidery,

“Memen to Mori” silk embroidery,

Moses and Elizabeth Peck,
Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1810

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size of the embroidery: 13½” x 10½” • framed size: 20” x 17¼” • sold

The beginning of the nineteenth century saw a great interest in memorializing the deceased; the Latin phrase, “Memento Mori,” with its biblical origins, found its way onto paintings and decorative arts of the Federal period including ceramics, jewelry and of course, embroideries. Schoolgirls throughout New England memorialized deceased family members by making beautifully designed embroidered pictures that incorporated the specific information about their deaths as well as religious verse that served to comfort and to caution.

Moses Peck, watchmaker and silversmith, was born in New Haven in 1717 and removed to Boston where, in 1758, he married Elizabeth Townsend, born in 1729. They died, respectively, in 1801 and 1795, and this exemplary silk embroidery depicts a stunning architectural monument memorializing them. They were the parents of seven children, at least two of whom lived to adulthood and married, and it is likely that one of their granddaughters worked this embroidery. The classical lines of Federal design of the period form the black and white monument which is surmounted by a large flame-top urn. A graceful leafy tree with shaded trunk arches over the scene and the inscriptions were all written with graphite pencil on the silk. Details include the monogrammed initials of Moses and Elizabeth under the swag on the top plinth and the use of seed stitch to provide shading to the marble monument as well as to form a decorative border just above the band of black along the bottom of the tomb. 

While this may indeed be a depiction of the actual grave site of Moses and Elizabeth Peck, it is just as likely that the instructress overseeing this embroidery designed this impressive monument just for this depiction. Worked in silk and pencil on silk, it is in excellent condition and has been conservation mounted into a 19th century gold leaf frame with a replaced eglomisé glass mat.

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