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Orders and Ornamentation: Rococo and Georgian Masonic Motifs
The motifs used to decorate objects carried by Freemasons derive from the organization's origins in the medieval craft guild of stonemasons and from associated creation myths mainly surrounding the architectural mysteries of Ancient Egypt. The most recognisable symbols are the Mason's working tools of the set square and compass, which are united in an emblem representing the regulation of lives and actions, and were both engraved on personal items such as snuff-boxes (lots 182-183) and worn as jewels (lots 184-190). Masonic objects are also decorated with tools including the plumbline for justice and uprightness of life and action, the level for equality, the drawing board for divine laws and moral plans, as well as the rough and perfect ashlars for man in his primitive and pious states. Symbols which are not directly associated with the Freemasons' tools comprise the open bible, sun, stars, moon and globe, all depicted transmitting rays of enlightenment, the beehive for thrift and industry and Jacob's ladder, which represents the connection between God in Heaven and man on Earth. Egyptian ornamentation like obelisks, pyramids and hieroglyphics also feature throughout Masonic design schemes as both an allusion to Eucalid and to the tenets of the Rosicrucians, an association of alchemists and mystics devoted to exploring the mysteries of ancient Egypt, whose beliefs the Freemasons appropriated.
The use of Masonic ornamentation on silver, ceramics and glass was particularly popular in the late 18th Century, when the Masons were associated with liberalism and often seen as a subversive organization. As a result, many of the items emblazoned with Masonic motifs were personal objects that could be displayed or concealed at will. The Rococo fashion for Masonic snuff-boxes can be seen in works by the Meissen and Ludwigsburg porcelain factories circa 1750 (lots 191 and 192). During this period, some of the earlier Masonic emblems were transformed into revolutionary declarations of equality and justice, such as the open bible symbolising enlightenment, which took on enhanced meaning as a book of constitution (P. Lewis and G. Darley, The Dictionary of Ornament, Devon, 1990, pp. 199-200)
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