Jewellery Art in the Ancient Egypt

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Ancient Egypt 7 Poster
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The earliest surviving articles of jewellery are Egyptian. Many techniques are represented: chiselling, moulding, hammering, inlay, filigree and cloisonné. Egyptian jewellery also includes the earliest known instances of ‘granulated’ work. The principal ornaments of the bulk of the Egyptian people were beads and amulets of stone and earthenware. Bead-making reached its highest perfection during the 17th dynasty, when necklaces were enlivened not only with scarabs but with little pendants and other ornaments.

Glass beads were also introduced during this period. Both men and women wore deep collars of string beads. Large silver loops were worn by the Egyptians through the pierced lobes of the ears. Bracelets were worn on the forearm and the upper arm. Rings of ivory and earthenware were worn by the common people, while gold and silver were reserved for the wealthy. Metal rings were generally set with semi-precious stones. The signet ring of the Paraoh often consisted of a red cornelian cut in the form of a scarab. Babylonian and Assyrian sculptures show men and women wearing necklaces, ear-rings and bracelets, and the discovery of articles of adornment at Ur disclosed that these were made either of gold or of silver.

A vast store of jewellery was discovered during excavations along the shores of the Aegean, the types of ornament including diadems, ear-rings, necklaces, bracelets, pendants, brooches and rings. Where metal occurs it reveals knowledge of the various methods of repoussé, twisted wire and granulated work. Ornamental motifs are based principally on the sphinx, the griffin and the bull’s head.

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Greek jewellery includes diadems, hairpins, necklaces, ear-rings, fibulae, brooches, bracelets and rings. Engraving, gem-cutting and filigree work reached the greatest degree of perfection among the Greeks. The chief decorative designs were geometric motifs, animal and human figures. The Etruscans were noted particularly for their filigree and granulated work in gold. Their methods were lost to the modern world until the 19th century when Castellani of Rome discovered goldworkers in the Abruzzi to whom the Etruscan technique had descended. In its general character Etruscan jewellery resembles that of the Greeks.

Cloisonné enamel and repoussé work are frequent methods of ornamentation. Roman jewellery clearly derives from the work of both the Greeks and the Etruscans. But the delicate, graceful designs of the Greeks became heavy and ornate in the hands of the Romans. Where the Greeks and the Etruscans used gems sparingly, the Romans were lavish, and where the Etruscans delighted in intricate patterns of filigree or granulation, the Romans preferred massive, plain surfaces.

Byzantine jewellery derived from three sources: Greece, Rome and the East. The ease with which precious stones could be procured resulted in an even more prodigal use of them than that which the Romansn had made. Thus splendour of colour was the keynote of Byzantine work, and this found further expression in enamel, which was mainly cloisonné. Niello work was much used in decorating gold and silver, especially rings.

The barbarian peoples who overthrew the Roman Empire produced remarkable jewellery. That of the Teutonic invaders displays a special type of ornamentation. Instead of the gems being fixed individually in a setting which is burnished or bent over them to keep them in place, the pieces are ground flat and each cemented into a compartment, or cemented into holes pierced in sheet metal. This is known as ‘plate’ inlaying. The effect produced is of rich, flat colour approaching that of mosaic or cloisonné enamel.

The style derived from the East. It was common to all the barabaric tribes though the treatment of the metal surrounding the gems differed considerably in different places. In Scandinavia the decoration consists of entwined and contorted animals; in Merovingian and Anglo-Saxon work the design is usually based on knot work in twisted and beaded wire; the Frankish tribes favoured bird forms. In all the more westerly countries precious materials were used less lavishly.

T-shaped fibulae were much favoured by barbarian tribes. The Anglo-Saxons produced two special forms of fibulae, the cruciform shape which is found exclusively in Scandinavia and northern England and the discshaped variety. The use of enamel constantly increased. Owing to the gradual abandonment of the custom of interring a man’s belongings with him, few specimens survive of the Anglo-Saxon period. Exceptions are the Sutton Hoo treasure and the Alfred jewel.

Magnificent jewellery much influenced by oriental example was produced in Visigothic Spain. The chief articles were votive crowns inscribed with the names of the various Visigothic kings who reigned during the 7th century. The craft of the Merovingian jeweller is represented by the contents of the tomb of King Childeric. Many of the objects comprise thin plates of gold over some baser metal decorated with cloisonné work, almost always in garnets. Celtic metalwork and jewellery, remarkable for their fine craftsmanship, stand apart from the general development of the period. They are distinguished for the skilled use of the hammer and rivets, for the Celts were ignorant of the art of soldering. Early examples of Celtic jewellery are characterized by ornamentation in inlaid enamels and chasing.

The chief article of medieval jewellery was the ring. Both the bracelet and the ear-ring fell out of fashion owing to the vogue for long sleeves and for headdresses which covered the ears. During the Renaissance the art of jewellery was highly esteemed. Many outstanding artists of the period designed jewellery, among them Mantegna, Verrocchio, Ghirlandajo, Leonardo and Dürer. Cellini was more celebrated for his jewellery than for his sculpture. Stones were generally mounted in openwork settings and were often chosen for their irregularity of form; thus an odd-shaped pearl became the body of a mermaid and an emerald the fore-part of a sea-horse. Transparent stones in Renaissance jewellery are usually backed with foil and diamonds are backed with black. Elaborate chains and collars composed of massive links were regarded as emblems of wealth and distinction. During the 17th century the ring fell from favour, though the execution of Charles I revived an earlier custom of wearing memorial rings.

Throughout the 18th century two classes of work were common, described by the French as ‘bijouterie’, the art of working in gold and enamel, and ‘joaillerie’, the art of mounting diamonds and precious stones. Rococo motifs are used in pieces belonging to the earlier part of the century, whereas classical themes predominate in the later work. To the latter half of the period belong some of the most charming examples of mourning jewellery, nearly all of English origin. Portrait miniatures were surrounded with tiny stones and borders of black enamel, cameos showed figures in classical garb gracefully posed under a tree or porch and gazing at an urn or tomb. Tortoise-shell was often used for hair-slides, combs and waist-clasps and was ornamented by a method resembling inlay, for which purpose gold, silver or pindibeck was used. The 18thcentury’bijoutier’ expressed his skill particularly in the chatelaine, the more costly examples of which were made of gold and enamels.

The industrial revolution changed the art of jewellery into a commercial industry in which individual creation played an ever smaller part. Black onyx and jet were popular in about 1840 for brooches, bracelets and earrings. An ornament, instead of being an independent work of art now became one of a set of identical objects. There was a reaction against machine-made jewellery towards the end of the 19th century when the French jeweller Lalique turned for inspiration to the jewellery of the Orient, Egypt, Greece and Italy. He ignored the hierarchy of gems and used any stone, even flint if it suited his design. Platinum jewellery is a 20th-century contribution to the field of ornamentation. Handwrought jewellery is still made in small quantities. Salvador Dali has made fantastic ornaments reflecting the same spirit as his paintings, and Calder has composed some interesting pieces of twisted copper wire and hammered brass.

Oriental jewellery strikes quite a different note from both ancient and European forms. Indian jewellery is characterized by profusion of both colour and decoration, a lavish display of gems and gold, though these to European eyes often seem faulty and flawed. The archaic beaten gold of Mysore illustrates the way in which Indian craftsmen elaborate an extensive surface of ornament from an apparently inadequate quantity of material, beating it to the thinness of tissue paper. The Chinese have produced little jewellery for the sake of ornament alone. The most characteristic form of ornament was inlaid featherwork. Japanese jewellery is characterized by great restraint; effects are gained by intricacies of surface and treatment rather than by any display of gems. The metals used are often alloys of little intrinsic value.

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