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THE history of Renaissance jewelry in general may be approached by reviewing the condition of Italian jewelry in the fifteenth century. In the foregoing outline of European jewelry to the end of the fifteenth century—which has served as an approximate date for the termination of the medieval epoch—practically no reference has been made to Italy.

Italian jewelry certainly merits the great reputation it has always possessed. Nor is this’ surprising, considering the prominent part played by the goldsmiths in the renaissance of artistic taste—by these craftsmen who, in the highest sense artists, were the first to break the fetters of tradition, and yield to those impulses that sought a wider field for the gratification of their creative instinct.

Hence the history of the jeweler’s art in Italy at the period of the Quattrocento largely resolves itself into the biographies of those master sculptors and painters, who worked first as goldsmiths and jewelers, and throughout their careers remained ever mindful of their original trade.

Venice, which in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was the wealthiest city and the principal port in Europe, though rivaled in the former century by Bruges and by Antwerp in the latter, encouraged the use of luxurious jewelry, as did the great cities of the north.

But Florence undoubtedly took the lead as an artistic center, judging alone by the artists she produced. The paintings of the Venetian school (the work of Crivelli, for instance), and those of the schools of Tuscany, etc., reveal the exquisite beauty of ecclesiastical jewelry, and of the ornaments with which men, no less than women, loved to deck their persons.

Nearly every painter possessed an insight into the mysteries of the goldsmith’s craft, and represented his subject, whatever it might be, with careful attention to its jeweled accessories.The great merchants of opulent and artistic cities, such as Siena, Milan, and others, besides Venice and Florence, delighted in rich jewels; and the masters of the schools of painting which had their centers in these towns have preserved in glowing pigment a faithful record of these delicate works of art, on which the eminent jewelers of the day lavished their skill and ingenuity.

The great superiority and beauty of the personal ornaments revealed to us in this manner must first of all be ascribed to that awakening to the full joy of life that was so characteristic a feature of the Renaissance.

The rapture of spring ran riot in men’s veins. Life was an uninterrupted succession of revelry and gaiety, amid splendor of coloring and glitter of gold. The goldsmith emerges from the subordinate state he occupied in the medieval guild, and attains fame as a free artist, whose duty was to minister personally to the luxurious tastes of those who played a part in the gorgeous pageant of the new epoch.

The goldsmiths included among their ranks great master craftsmen, whose perfection of technical skill seemed to find satisfaction only in overcoming the greatest problems that their art could offer. Vasari tells of the very close connection and almost constant intercourse that existed between the goldsmiths and the painters.

Indeed, nearly every artist, before applying himself to painting, architecture, or sculpture, began with the study of the goldsmith’s craft, and passed the years of his apprenticeship in the technical details of an industry that then supplied the strictest method of design.

The names of several artists of the Renaissance have been handed down who are specially recorded as having worked at jewelry. One of the earliest of those who began their career in the goldsmith’s workshops is Ghiberti, who throughout life remained faithful to that species of work. His jewelry is specially extolled by Vasari. Following upon Ghiberti were two great jewelers, Tommaso (commonly called Maso) di Finiguerra and Antonio Pollaiuolo; the former famous for his nielli, the latter for his enamel-work upon relief.

Pollaiuolo’s love for jewel-forms in his paintings (executed together with his brother Piero) is seen not only in the Annunciation at Berlin, but in the group of SS. Eustace, James, and Vincent in the Uffizi, and the portrait of Simonetta Vespucci at Chantilly. – Born in 1435, a few years after Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Verrocchio resembled in the peculiar versatility of his genius, others of these typical artists of the Middle or High Renaissance—the Epoch of the Goldsmith it has been termed.

A jeweler whose influence in his own day was greater, and whose fame almost equaled that of Cellini, was Ambrogio Foppa, called Caradosso, who was born about 1446 at Milan. He worked first in the service of Ludovico Sforza, and afterwards at Rome, where he died as late as the year 1530. He seems to have been skilled in every branch of the goldsmith’s art, and especially excelled in making little medallions of gold, enriched with figures in high relief and covered with enamels, which were worn as en-seignes in the hat or hair.

His work in this direction is highly extolled by Cellini, and his skill in enameling specially mentioned by Vasari. Among the artists of the end of the fifteenth century who, after being goldsmiths and jewelers, became celebrated as painters must be mentioned Botticelli (1444-1510), Domenicodel Ghirlandaio(i449-i494), and Francia (1450-1517).

Ghirlandaio is commonly referred to as a maker of the jeweled coronals, popular with the unmarried and newly wedded ladies of Florence. It is probable that he did produce this class of work in early life, but his name seems to have been borne by several members of his family, for in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a goldsmith was often familiarly termed “Ghirlandaio,” as one of his chief occupations was the manufacture of the rich head-ornaments then so much in vogue .

Though Ghirlandaio does not fill his pictures with dainty details like the intricate settings which Botticelli devised for the neck-pendants of the Graces in his ” Primavera,” yet he invariably pays careful regard to the representation of jeweled accessories. Such may be seen in the well-known portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni (1488), belonging to Mr. Pierpont Morgan (formerly in the Kann Collection).

She has two jewels: one, worn on her breast, is formed of a ruby in claw setting with a small beryl above, and hung with three pendent pearls; the other,specially introduced into the picture and cluster of stones—a ruby surrounded by two pearls and three beryls —beautifully set, and surmounted by a winged dragon with a sapphire over its head.

Resting upon a table in the foreground of another picture —a curious panel in the possession of Mr. George Salting—representing Costanza de’ Medici, are several pins, three rings on a roll of parchment, and a pendant hung with three pearls and set with a large and a small sapphire.

In the Pitti Gallery is a portrait, not by Do-jewei. in GhiViaTdTio’s portrait menico, but by his SOU Rldolfo ofGiovannaTornabuoni. Ghlrlandaio, which may be here alluded to owing to the special interest of its subject. The portrait is that of a jeweler holding in his hand and gazing intently at what is presumably one of his own creations—a richly enameled jewel fashioned in the form of a ” pelican in its piety.” Concerning the jewelry of the great goldsmith of Bologna, Francesco Raibolini, called Francia, a considerable amount of information has been preserved.

Born in 1450, he passed the best part of his life as a goldsmith, and not till he was upwards of forty did he abandon the goldsmith’s art for that of the painter.’ One of Francia’s finest paintings is the “Felicini” altar-piece in the Bologna Gallery, executed in 1484 by commission of Messer Bartolomeo Felicini for the church of S. Maria della Misericordia in that city.

Among the many splendid gifts this famous church had received was a jewel which the records say was set by Francia himself. Its beauty was held in such esteem, that by desire of the chapter the artist introduced it into his ‘ Williamson picture, where it can be seen hanging over the head of the Madonna.

Its center is occupied by a fine amethyst, and is bordered by deep blood-crimson enamel, with pearls at the angles. So carefully is every detail of this jewel painted, that a modern goldsmith has found no difficulty in copying it with absolute exactness.

The last of the great jewelers of the Quattrocento was Michelangelo di Viviano, who worked at Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici. He was the earliest instructor of the greatest goldsmith and jeweler of the late Renaissance, Benvenuto Cellini, in whose Treatise and Life he is spoken of with the highest praise.

From actual examples we obtain but slight information of the Italian ornaments of the fifteenth century; but that there is a distinct alteration in the style of jewelry between the Quattrocento and the Cinque-cento, the pictures of these great artistic periods offer abundant proofs.

This difference is particularly noticeable in ornaments for the head. During the fifteenth century we find the forehead heightened, and the space thus obtained emphasized by a single jewel placed at the top of the brow. This form of ornament is admirably shown in Piero della Francesca’s “Nativity” in the National Gallery, and particularly in his ” Madonna and Child,” with saints and angels, and with the donor, Federigo of Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, in the Brera, Milan.

The parts of these two pictures most characteristic of the artist are the figures of the angels, who wear jewels executed with extraordinary brilliancy — compositions of pearls in delicate gold-work enriched with blue enamel. Precious stones and jewels were often sewn, at regular intervals, all round the band of ribbon that encircled the head, as seen in a portrait in the Ambrosiana, Milan, ascribed to Ambrogio da Predis, and considered to be that of Beatrice d’ Este; but it is more usual to find in the center of the brow an isolated jewel, held by a narrow ribbon or silken cord, knotted at the back of the head— as in Caroto’s portrait of the Duchess Elizabeth Gonzaga in the Uffizi, who wears on the forehead a jeweled scorpion, emblem of logic.

There is in the Louvre an attractive and greatly admired portrait of a lady, with her hair held in place by a black cord supporting a diamond in the middle of the forehead. For many years the portrait was entitled ” La Belle Ferronniere,” having been erroneously considered to be that of the blacksmith’s wife (ferronniere) whose beauty enthralled Francis I in his declining years.

It is now generally held to be a portrait of Lucrezia Crivelli, mistress of Ludovico Moro, Duke of Milan. The name of the painter is a matter of dispute, though the work is still ascribed, as it has long been, to Leonardo da Vinci.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the Romantic movement was at its height, a similar ornament was revived, and received its present name under a misconception of the subject of the picture.

In the sixteenth century this simple ornament is abandoned, and it was the painter’s task to depict magnificent coiffures, like those of Veronese’s ladies, sprinkled with jewels and entwined with ropes of pearls. As regards the ornaments for the neck, the changes of fashion in the two periods and the artistic mode of expressing the fashion demanded a different style of jewelry.

The slender neck which is displayed in the portraits of the earlier period required lighter ornaments than did the massive forms of the later. ” The artist no longer trifled with single gems, hanging on a thread, but painted a solid chain, and the light, close-fitting necklace becomes pendent and heavy.”‘

The distinct refinement exhibited in Italy in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries did not demand a great profusion or variety of jewelry. As the pendent ornament for the neck-chain, a simple jewel formed by one stone in the center and smaller stones or four pearls around seems in most cases to have been sufficient.

Circular pendants of niello-work surrounded by silver-gilt bands of corded ornament were much in use, and a small number, dating from about 1460 to 1530, have survived. They sometimes bear a religious subject.

But not infrequently the head of a lady is represented in profile, generally with a flower under her nose, and it is possible that these were worn by men as a pledge of affection from their lady-love.

Finger rings with somewhat similar designs were also worn. Beyond a small number of objects of this description, very few examples of Italian Quattrocento jewelry have escaped the crucible. The change of taste even between the early and the full Renaissance was sufficient to cause their destruction.

Among surviving jewels of this century is a very beautiful gold and enamel pendant in the collection of Mr. Pierpont Morgan. It is circular in form, and was probably intended as a reliquary. Upon the front is an Annunciation in high relief. The garment of the Virgin is enriched with red and blue, and that of the angel with red and white enamel; the checkard base being of translucent green.

Around is a border of leaves and flowers enameled red and white. The openwork back consists of a central rosette, surrounded by interlacing curves, and edged with a delicate wreath. It remains to draw attention, by means of a beautiful representation of jewelry in painting.

Some measure of compensation for the unfortunate lack of actual examples of Italian Quattrocento jewelry is obtained, apart from their representation in pictures, by the very remarkable use that was made of jewel forms for the marginal decoration of manuscripts.

Such enrichment s of the borders of missals, etc., by means of painted jewel ornaments, would seem to be but the direct outcome of the system whereby most of the painters, sculptors, architects, and no less eminent miniaturists received their first instruction in art in the workshops of the goldsmiths. It is certain from their quality that the jewels represented in manuscripts, generally in their natural size, are the work of artists well acquainted with the jeweler’s art, whose eyes were further impressed by the

embroidered edgings of ecclesiastical vestments enriched with jewel ornaments and sewn with pearls and precious stones.

In painting with corresponding luxury the border decorations of church missals, the miniaturists have obviously not drawn on their imagination, or constructed jewel forms in a mere haphazard manner. The individual pieces, often complete jewels, are just such as might at the time have been found on the shelves of some goldsmith’s workshop.

Among the most skillful of such reproductions of jewels are those in the celebrated choir books of the cathedral of Siena, particularly the pages painted by Liberale di Giacomo da Verona, who worked at Siena from the year 1466. An examination of these illuminations reveals Liberale as an artist thoroughly conversant with the jeweler’s craft: so that his work, together with that of his followers, such as the Florentine Giovanni di Giuliano Boccardi, the Dominican Fra Eustachio, Litti di Filippo Corbizi, Monte di Giovanni, Antonio di Girolamo, the famous Attavante, and the various miniaturists of King Mathias Corvinus of Hungary, apart from its charming execution, constitutes a veritable storehouse of information respecting the ornaments of the period.

Particularly fine examples of jeweled and enameled decorations are also contained in choir books in the cathedral of Florence, missals in the Barberini Palace, Rome, a Bible of Mathias Corvinus in the Vatican Library, several books in the Brera at Milan, and the fine Glockendon missal {circa 1540) in the Town Library at Nuremberg. More important perhaps than all is the Grimani Breviary, now in the Library of St. Mark’s, Venice. The ornamentation of this famous work, the product of a Flemish artist of the final years of the fifteenth century, displays a northern naturalism favorable to the striking representation of jewel forms, and serves to illustrate the close and active relationship, then existing between the Flemish and Italian goldsmiths.

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Author: connielimon2014

Bead Jewelry Artisan, mother of one daughter and grandmother of two grandsons, daughter of Korean War Veteran.

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