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NECKLACES or neck-chains worn by both sexes are a prominent feature in Renaissance jewelry. Just as in primitive times the neck was encircled by a torque, so at this later period it was the custom to carry heavy chains of pure gold, which were worn in different ways, either round the throat, or else upon the shoulders and low down over the breast. Sometimes one long chain was wound several times round the neck so that the uppermost row closely encircled the throat.

Not satisfied with one, women in particular occasionally wore as many as half a dozen chains of different design covering the body from neck to waist. From the fifteenth until the middle of the seventeenth century neck-chains were a frequent adjunct to male costume, and allusion is made to them in Barclay’s Ship of Fools. Men’s necklaces, apart from the chains and collars of distinction belonging to particular orders or guilds, seem to have been mostly of pure gold.

RENAISSANCE NECKLACES during reign of Henry VIII was in fashion. He wore them to a most unreasonable excess. References to the extraordinary dimensions of these chains show that they must have been extremely inconvenient to wear. Henry VIII’s Book of Payments records the payment in 1511 of $199 to the goldsmith Roy for a chain of gold weighing no less than 98 ounces. This is actually surpassed in Elizabeth’s time, when Her Majesty received as a New Year’s gift in 1588 “one chain of gold, worth one hundred threescore and one ounce.” Queen Mary had a heavy chain of gold made by her jeweler, Robert Raynes, out of the angels received as New Year’s gift, and the curious custom of converting bullion into chains is further exemplified in the case of Sir Thomas Gresham, the bulk of whose wealth on his death in 1579 was found to consist of gold chains.

Pictures without number exhibit these ponderous neck-ornaments, while contemporary wills teem with references to them. That they were very much worn in Shakespeare’s time would be apparent had we no other authority than his frequent allusion to them, as for instance in the Comedy of Errors, where there is a great ado about a chain. Indeed, no gentleman was considered properly equipped unless he had his chain of gold upon his shoulders.

With regard to their form, it seems that chains which appear as though made of plaited wire, and were known in medieval times, remained still in use. But the majority of chains are composed of rounded links of various designs. They are usually of great length, so as to encircle the neck and shoulders several times.

Extraordinarily common though such chains must have been, but few examples have survived, and the reason for this must be that, composed of pure metal, they went direct to the melting-pot as soon as they became unfashionable. Yet owing to peculiar circumstances some still exist. In the Germanic Museum at Nuremberg are preserved several examples dating from the first quarter of the seventeenth century. These formerly belonged to the Holtzendorff family, and were buried during the Thirty Years’ War, at Pinnow in North Germany, where they were unearthed a few years later.

Two gold chains dating from about the middle of the same century are preserved in the Ashmolean Museum. They were presented to Elias Ashmole : the one 29 inches long, formed of thirty-two openwork qua-trefoil links, by Christian V, King of Denmark, and the other, of circular links, by the Elector of Brandenburg in 1680, on the publication of the History of the Order of the Garter.

The custom of presenting chains of gold was as common then, it is to be observed, as in the most ancient times. John Williams, jeweler of James I, was paid sums amounting to upwards of 13,000 for chains of gold given by the King to divers ambassadors. These heavy linked or twisted chains were worn principally by men, but not exclusively, as is clear from numerous early portraits—those, for instance, by the German painters Bernard Strigel and Lucas Cranach, whose ladies (as in the portrait by Cranach in the National Gallery) almost invariably have massive gold chains.

Though generally composed of metal rings, men’s chains, especially those worn by men of high rank, were occasionally composed of cylinders or plaques linked together and enriched with enamel and precious stones. Such jeweled collars were, however, chiefly reserved for women.

Henry VIII’s portraits generally show him adorned with magnificent collars set with pearls and precious stones, and it is recorded that on the occasion of his attending St. Paul’s at the proclamation of

peace in 1515 he wore a collar thickly studded with the finest carbuncles, as large as walnuts.

Among the numerous collars mentioned in his inventory of 1526 is a carkayne of hearts, with a hand at each end, holding a device of a goodly balasse garnished with five pearls and three diamonds, and a hanging pearl.”‘ The jeweled neck-chain worn by women, and composed of strings of precious stones, ” ropes of pearls,” or of jeweled and enameled sections, is often represented in pictures as being gathered in a festoon at the breast and hanging in loops at each side as low as the waist. A chain of gold of this character—one among many similar presented by the Earl of Leicester to Queen Elizabeth—was “made like a pair of beads, containing eight long pieces, garnished with small diamonds, and four score and one smaller pieces, fully garnished with like diamonds.

Besides the chains or collars worn round the neck and upon the shoulders, there were the actual neck lets worn round the throat, and often only distinguishable from the collar proper by their length. These necklaces, which almost invariably had as a central ornament an elaborate pendent jewel, are figured in such profusion in sixteenth-century portraits, particularly by the painters of the German school, that it is needless to mention particular examples.

In Henry VIIIs time they were worn in great abundance. The King loaded his wives with sumptuous jewels, and encircled their throats—on which the axe was eventually to fall—with jeweled and enameled necklaces. The ornaments of Queen Elizabeth, of which she received an immense number, were equally magnificent.

The forms of the necklaces and jeweled neck-chains differ so much that the reader must be referred to the various collections of this country and the Continent. Occasionally necklaces of chain formation or of plaited wire are set with stones, but of more frequent occurrence are those where every single link shows a special development of a bijou kind. In the Renaissance necklace every link is for the most part treated as a symmetrical composition, usually of pendent form. Hence it happens that in collections, as Herr Luthmer suggests, single links of this kind may occasionally be found incorrectly classified under the title of “pendants.”

Those in existence display a variety of very remarkable formations, for seldom are the links exactly alike: generally a large and a small motive are arranged alternately—a larger and more richly decorated central link being inserted into the middle of the chain for the purpose of supporting or introducing the rich pendent jewel. To this type belongs one of the most noteworthy necklaces in existence, which now forms part of the Adolphe Rothschild Bequest in the Louvre. It is of gold set with pearls and precious stones, and is composed of twenty-two openwork links and a pendant, all enameled in relief, the eleven larger links and the pendant containing each in separate compositions a story from the history of the Passion.

The groups of figures are of wonderful execution, and in spite of their minute proportions are singularly expressive, being worked in a delicate and at the same time most resolute manner. When exhibited by the Countess of Mount Charles at the Jewelry Exhibition at South Kensington in 1872, the jewel was 1 Nichols, Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, II thus referred to: “This superb specimen of Italian Cinquecento work has been attributed to Renvenuto Cellini, and is at least as good as anything extant known to be by his hand.” This cautious observation need not disconcert one ; for the jewel is too closely allied in style and workmanship to the jewelry of South Germany of the second half of the sixteenth century to permit of such attribution.

Nevertheless it must certainly be reckoned among the most elaborate examples of Cinquecento jewelry that have come down to us. (The great display of necklaces and long neck-chains ceased about the middle of the seventeenth century. In common with other similar objects they entirely disappeared in England during the Protectorate, nor were they ever worn again in any greater profusion.

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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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