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The student of jewelry the Middle Ages offer Tfar greater problems than the periods of classic antiquity. The main reason for this is to be found in the fact that throughout medieval and later periods ornaments were more closely associated with dress, and dress itself became subject to the most marked changes and constant divergences of fashion.
In the days of antiquity, so far as our knowledge goes, the idea of fashion, in the present sense of the term, did not exist. But in the Middle Ages, as Luthmer points out, it becomes an important factor in the history of civilization.
The duration of each prevalent fashion tended to become shorter and shorter, and the new mode was usually an absolute contrast to the preceding one. Though ornaments, owing to their higher material value, did not alter with each successive change in dress, nevertheless they underwent rapid variations of style.
The custom of burying objects in graves, which continued for a considerable time after the introduction of Christianity, affords a tolerably clear idea of the various ornaments worn during the earlier periods of the Middle Ages.
Coming to a later period, from the time of the first Crusade onward, discoveries in the graves are extremely rare, and one has to look in many directions for information respecting the articles then in use.
Though there seems to have been an immense production of personal ornaments throughout the whole of Europe, their intrinsic value has been too great to allow of their preservation and the artistic qualities of those that have survived cause one to regret all the more the wholesale destruction that must have occurred.
The jewels of the period are, in fact, so few in number, and furnish such striking varieties, that it is impossible to give an exhaustive synopsis of the different changes that took place in their form. The utmost that can be attempted is to take single characteristic pieces and allow them to stand as types of the whole epoch.
Personal ornaments at this time began to have a wider significance than that of being merely decorations pleasant to the eye. Their material value comes more in the foreground. They began to form the nucleus of family and household treasures.
The uncertain conditions of life made it desirable for the individual to have his most precious possessions in a portable form. An unfortunate war or royal displeasure might cost a prince or baron his land or his castles; but his movable goods, consisting of precious stones and gold and silver ornaments, were not so easily exposed to the vagaries of his superiors. Thus the numerous inventories of household goods that have come down from those times show an astounding increase in the matter of jewels and treasures among the great and lesser grandees, both secular and ecclesiastical, while there is a corresponding advance at the same time in craftsmanship.
To this change in the significance of ornaments is to be attributed their rarity in graves. Jewelry had, in fact, assumed the character of money passed from hand to hand, and was constantly, so to speak, re-coined, for even if held in steadfast possession it had to submit to changes of fashion and undergo frequent resetting.
Particularly was this the case at the period of the Renaissance, when almost everything Gothic was remodeled. -Tombs, then, supply little or no information; and for the present purpose one may make shift to use the chance descriptions of romancers, and such pictorial representations of jewelry as are presented by effigies on brasses, tombstones, and other monumental sculpture, and also by illuminated manuscripts.
Monumental effigies show a number of accurately executed personal ornaments, which, belonging as they do mainly to sovereigns and individuals of wealth and distinction, may be taken as the highest types of those then worn.
The miniatures and decorations of manuscripts executed towards the end of the period under review also afford considerable assistance; for illuminators were intensely fond of introducing jewels among the plants, flowers, birds, and butterflies minutely depicted on ornamental borders.
The inventories of personal effects made for various purposes, and often full of graphic details, throughout the whole of the period supply absolutely trustworthy evidence as to contemporary ornaments.
Pictures, which are among the chief sources of information, are not at one’s disposal until towards the termination of this epoch, but such as were produced during the later Gothic style, particularly in Italy-, Germany, and the Low Countries, furnish numerous examples of jewelry painted with loving care and minute detail.
Even from these sources of information, however, one could form but an inadequate idea of the precise character of medieval jewelry. But, while the various reasons mentioned have resulted in the general destruction of articles made for secular use, among precious objects consecrated to religious uses a small number of personal ornaments have been preserved. This may be due, perhaps, to the sanctity of the places containing them, or perhaps to the precautions of their guardians, who have hidden them in time of trouble.
They have survived many and strange vicissitudes, and their safety is now secured by a new-created archaeological value, in place of the religious devotion which was their former guardian. In the treasury—an edifice attached to the church—there was kept in early times, among the vestments and plate used in its services, a vast collection of reliquaries and jewels gradually brought together, and preserved as memorials of the piety of the faithful.
In numerous cases the treasury must have constituted a veritable museum, exhibiting examples of jewelry of each successive style. Some idea can be formed of the immense scope, as well as of the magnificence of its contents, from the early inventories which archaeologists of recent years have taken pains to gather together and publish.
The relative abundance of jewelry of Merovingian and Prankish times, and the great rarity of jewelry from the ninth century onward, are phenomena observable in every museum. The reason for this lies in the fact that until the time of Charlemagne the dead were buried with their weapons and with every article of jewelry.
The Emperor forbade this mainly as a heathen practice, but largely because he saw the disadvantage of so many costly objects being withdrawn from circulation, with consequent loss to the national resources.
This almost complete absence of examples renders, it difficult to estimate precisely the style of ornaments then in use. But as far as can be judged, Byzantine influence seems to have affected all forms of jewelry.
It is known, at all events, that until about the twelfth century active commercial transactions between France and Germany on the one hand, and Byzantium on the other, were carried on by way of Venice. Not only did Byzantine workmen settle in the great seaport of the Adriatic, but imitations of work from the Eastern Roman provinces were probably made there at an early date by native artists.
Such traffic appears to have been particularly active during the Carlovingian period ; while the close friendship of Charlemagne with Haroun al-Raschid, the celebrated caliph of the Saracens, renders it further probable that models of Oriental art abounded in the West in the ninth century.
These were not merely confined to articles of jewelry and other goldsmith’s productions, but included also sumptuous dress materials interwoven with threads of gold, embroideries studded with gems and pearls, and other objects which the splendor of the rulers of the West and the princes of the Church borrowed from the magnificence prevalent in the East and at the Byzantine Court.
The Eastern influence which during the fourth and fifth centuries had come westwards by way of Byzantium, and had acquired new power owing to the sovereignty of the Arabs in Spain and Sicily during the eighth and ninth centuries, increased considerably at the time of the Crusades.
The knights and princes of the West brought back not only impressions of culture from Syria and Palestine, but also actual specimens of gold ornaments and precious stones. There then began an invasion of skilled workmen from the towns of Asia Minor, and a regular importation of such treasures by the merchants of the Italian republics, to wit, Venice, Genoa, and Pisa, who, under the banner of the Cross, re-established their trade with the East.
Until about the twelfth century ornaments followed for the most part the style of those in use in the Eastern Roman provinces. Some were adorned with cloisonne enamel introduced from Byzantium, and first executed by Continental workmen about the eighth century.
Cloisonne, however, was, in turn, abandoned for champleve enamel, the manufacture of which upon the Lower Rhine had been encouraged by the Church, through the instrumentality of the Greek monks. By the beginning of the twelfth century, they seem to have become lastingly independent of the East, even with regard to its ornaments, as may be inferred from various remarkable productions in gold and silver, and particularly in gilded copper adorned with champleve enamel, such as shrines and other sacred objects.
Many of these are still preserved in the ecclesiastical treasuries of Germany, while museums at home and abroad all possess beautiful examples. Though the personal ornaments of this period are now almost entirely lost to us in the original, there has yet been preserved a treasure of inestimable value in the form of a technological manual handed down from the Middle Ages.
The work referred to is the famous treatise of Theophilus entitled Schedula Diver-sarum Artiuni, which describes the technical processes of almost all the industrial arts cultivated eight centuries ago.
After describing his workshop, Theophilus mentions his tools, and proceeds to describe minutely the various processes necessary for the metal-worker to understand; and shows how the goldsmith was required to be at the same time a modeler, sculptor, smelter, enameler, jewel-mounter, and inlay-worker.
Altogether, to judge from the directions there given, more especially those relating to the technical work of the goldsmiths, these Schedttlcs would seem to reflect the ancient knowledge and practices of Byzantine workmen, of which, however, the goldsmiths of the twelfth century appear to have become completely independent.
The perfection of artistic work attained by the monasteries led to the production of sumptuous objects to meet the requirements of the Church in connection with its services, while costly shrines were made to contain the numerous relics brought home by pilgrims from the Holy Land.
Continued in Part 2
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