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All jewelry of the late Renaissance runs a gradual and profound change of taste. Slowly and by imperceptible stages the earlier style, with its minute enameled figures in high relief, gives place to a desire for sparkling diamonds, and a pleasure in the glitter of faceted stones.
In the sixteenth century diamonds, rubies, and other stones played a comparatively insignificant part in jewelry, and were prized mainly for their decorative value, but during the course of the seventeenth century a more prominent role was gradually conceded to precious stones.
Used singly at first, in table-cut form, to give a center of interest or a note of color, they came finally to be arranged in long rows. A complete change was brought about in the whole character of jewelry by the prominence thus given to the precious stone.
From the commencement of the seventeenth century Germany began to lose the position which, during the greater part of the century previous, she had occupied as a jewel-producing center while the Thirty Years’ War, by handicapping her industries, caused the jewelers to seek employment elsewhere.
It was mainly from France that the new ideas in the form of ornaments emanated. The French are fortunate in possessing separate words to distinguish different kinds of jewelry. Two distinct jewelry categories began to emerge. One was of jewelry formed of gold, enamels and precious stones. The other was composed of stones along with minimum metalwork. By the revolution of taste in the later days of the Renaissance the first category gradually superseded the second; while the two crafts of the silversmith and the jeweler replaced the ancient craft of the goldsmith.
Changes in the mode of wearing clothes, and in the materials employed for them, had an enormous influence on jewelry. In place of the velvet and brocade that prevailed during the Renaissance, damask came to be worn, together with an extravagant taste for lace and ribbons. The wearing of the silken stuffs that began to be issued from the factories of Lyons, and of the lace that formed their accompaniment, necessitated the use of ornaments more in keeping with these materials ; with the result that the jewelry of the period assumed an open and lace-like character, suitable also for the display of precious stones. At first colored stones were used—the ruby, sapphire, and the emerald ; but soon the diamond held sole possession of the field.
In Renaissance ornaments this latter gem played only a secondary part, and was employed solely for the sake of contrast, but it now appeared as the chief object in view, and formed the ornament by itself, all other parts of the jewel, the setting, and possible addition of other stones, being wholly subordinate to it.
For the first general employment of the diamond in jewelry one must look back to the fifteenth century, to the invention of the art of cutting that stone. From that date until the beginning of the seventeenth century, every diamond, as is seen both by jewels and their designs, was one of two forms: either the ” point,” a four-sided pyramid or the faces of the native octagon crystal of diamond and making them exactly true and regular ; or the ” table,” in which the point of the crystal is reduced to a square or oblong plane, the opposite extremity being also in plane form, but of smaller extent, with sloping faceted edges.
This simple cutting did so little to augment the brilliance of the diamond that the jewelers of the sixteenth century had to depend on the foiling of the stone, in which art Cellini in his treatise, with his characteristic appreciation of his own merits, tells us that he particularly excelled. The change of taste in the seventeenth century may be attributed to the opening up of the diamond fields of Golconda on the southern borders of the State of Hyderabad, at the beginning of that century, and to the enterprise of the French travelers who, during their frequent voyages to Persia and India, dealt largely in precious stones. These travelers succeeded in establishing new commercial relations, which led to the introduction into Europe of abundance of precious stones and particularly diamonds; while the narratives of their journeys, furnishing more exact knowledge of the quality and value of the products of the East, attracted towards precious stones a new interest.
Owing to the abundance of material imported from the East, the market for precious stones assumed an entirely different aspect; while the quantity and beauty of the material thus at their disposal spurred on the stone-cutters towards the improvement of their technique, until at the end of the century they arrived at the true cutting of the diamond. Besides the “point,” which was but rarely used, the table-cut diamond alone was employed until the commencement of the seventeenth century. About that time there came into use the “rose,” a half-crystal, flat at the base and with a convex top covered with a number of small facets.
Stones faceted in this manner were at first mostly small and unimportant and cut very irregularly into four or six facets. Between the years 1641 and 1643, Cardinal Mazarin, a great lover of the diamond, is said to have encouraged the promotion of experiments by the Dutch lapidaries which led to the true “rose” cutting.
Anyhow, a more systematic method of faceting in sixteen facets began to be employed about that time. This process, though it left much to be desired, was an immense improvement, and set forth the qualities of the stone in a way that had not been possible by the forms previously in use. ” Roses,” together with “tables,” lasted until the invention of the “brilliant” at the commencement of the eighteenth century by the Venetian, Vincenzo Peruzzi, though rose cutting was popular for some time after, and is still used for certain stones.
The “rose” leaped into fashion at its first appearance, and the taste for diamonds and other precious stones seems to have dominated under Louis XIH and Louis XIV, when they became the principal objects in jewelry.
Gold was worked into the form of garlands, flowers, and all sorts of designs for the purpose of mounting precious stones and setting off their beauty. The enormous increase of luxury in this direction was entirely in keeping with the whole conception of an absolute monarchy as developed by Louis XIV, who made it the duty of the grandest gems, and to carry the value of lands and forests upon their own and their wives’ apparel when they appeared before the eyes of their sovereign.
Though actual examples of the seventeenth-century jewelry are rare, at any rate in public collections, we can become acquainted with its characteristics by the numerous prints bequeathed by the goldsmiths of the time. These prints, like those of the sixteenth century, were not invariably the work of their designers, since it was no uncommon practice for the master-goldsmith to have his designs multiplied for use in his own workshop, and for general circulation, by placing them in the hands of an engraver.
As a rule the nationalities of existing jewels may be in some measure determined by means of the designs from which they were executed. But it is often difficult to make clear distinctions in this manner, owing to the continual artistic interchange which brought the fashions of one place to another, and caused the methods and ideas of the craftsmen to become common property.
The bi-lingual inscriptions which one finds on the frontispieces of many of the pattern-books or sets of designs then published, prove that they were intended for international use. The first attempts to base the composition of the ornament exclusively upon the effect of stones arranged in definite forms, without granting the setting of the plastic metal any independent part, are found in some of the prints of Daniel Mignot, of the year 1590.
Mignot, probably of French extraction, was a-goldsmith of Augsburg, where between the years 1590 and 1616 he produced a number of highly important designs for jewelry, which form a link between the old and the newer styles. While following the artists of the late sixteenth century in the representation of figure designs in ornaments formed of flat strap work curves characteristic of the older school, he presents engravings of pendants, earrings, and aigrettes, in which the stones are set in juxtaposition. That the transition to the newer forms was slow, is shown in the works of the goldsmith-engraver Amsterdam, whose models for pendants, signed with the initials P.R.K., and dated 1609 and 1617, are formed of elaborate open scroll work of tendril design, almost destitute of stones.
Exhibiting features more in keeping with those of Mignot are the designs of Paul Birckenhultz of Frankfort-on-the-Main (1617). They are of fine quality, and take the form of aigrettes and earrings set with precious stones, and elaborate oval pendants terminating with pearls and ornamented with scroll ornaments intended for execution in enamel.
Birckenhultz is the last of the German school of designers to model his work on the productions of the sixteenth-century masters. Henceforth one must look for designs chiefly to France, where an entirely new type of ornament for jewelry, such as is found in no other art production of the time, was brought into existence by endeavors to associate leaf patterns with a number of stones. Its characteristic is the use of a sort of pea-pod or husk ornament and known generally by the (pea-pod style).
In the designs of the time this formal ornament is largely employed for elaborate aigrettes ; but owing to the jewels executed from such designs having been set with stones, the result has been that change of fashion has suffered scarcely a jeweled example to survive.
As a consequence, the objects existing chiefly represent enamel led miniature-cases and pendants. The number and variety of engraved designs for this kind of ornament in the form of jeweled bouquets, chiefly for aigrettes, dating from the first half of the seventeenth century is surprising, considering that it remained a comparatively short time in use. One of the chief advocates of this style is Pierre Marchant, who worked in Paris about 1623.
His rare designs for aigrettes, and wreaths for the borders of pendants, are most graceful, and show a form of leaf ornament which is extremely happily adapted for materials in which the precious stone had to play a prominent part. The foregrounds or bases of nearly all these engravings are remarkable for the landscapes.
These fine compositions, when formed of precious stones, show knots and interlacing s for clasps, pendants, and earrings, in which diamonds are fully displayed in rose-cut forms. As models for objects not composed entirely of stones, we find seals, rings,bracelets, and chains decorated with ribbons and bows mingled with monograms, and emblems, such as death’s-heads. Together with these appear tasteful arrangements for enamel-work in the form of natural flowers of great charm and delicacy. To these last reference will be made later.
The jewels, in the form of pendants, earrings, and brooches, are composed of stones set in various ways the last plate is a miniature portrait of Louis XIV set as a brooch. All his designs are accompanied by garlands of natural flowers. Complete as was the change which was brought about owing to the prominence given to the precious stone, it must not be supposed that the enameler’s art was by any means neglected.
Though it cannot be compared with that in the best productions of the Renaissance, the enamel-work applied to seventeenth-century jewelry is, nevertheless, worthy of close attention. By one method the surface of the gold was simply incised with designs, and the grooves thus made filled with enamel. By another method only thin lines of the metal were reserved to form the design, and the remainder of the field cut out to receive the enamel. This latter system resembles in appearance the well-known cloisonne; but the metal strips that form the partitions between the enamel, instead of being inserted, are a solid part of the metal base.
Commonly employed on jewelry from the middle of the sixteenth century, it remained in general favor, till about the third decade of the seventeenth century when it gave place to enamel-work of an entirely different kind.
The designs are occasionally for complete jewels, but most of them take the form of very small motives intended as patterns for the shoulders of finger rings, or for the borders, frames, or other details of jewels. Some engraved plates are made up entirely of such motives, on other plates they appear as details, either within a complete design or upon the field outside it. Germany and the Netherlands furnish the earliest examples of these.
The lockets of this period are ornamented with patterns reserved in white on black ground in the form of trailing leaves and tendrils, partly in the “pea-pod” style, and accompanied by lively genre figures in various attitudes.
Perhaps the most attractive of these plates is that which represents a jeweler—probably Toutin himself—firing a jewel which he holds in the furnace by a pair of long tongs, while above is figured a model of the actual jewel—an octagonal box-like pendant.
Toutin, who appears to have been an experimenter in enamels, is entitled to distinction as the discoverer of a new process of using them. The process consisted in covering a plate of gold or copper with an opaque monochromatic enamel, on which designs were painted with colors, opaque and fusible, and of greater variety than had previously been employed.
This method of enamel painting, extensively used for jewelry, proved to be peculiarly suitable to the representation of natural flowers which came into high favor about the same time. The employment of naturalistic flower designs, as displayed on the margins of manuscripts, was one of the features of late Gothic art.
The same tendency with regard to flowers was manifested on the enameled jewelry of the fifteenth century, the most striking example of which is the wonderful necklace seen on the Flemish portrait of Maria Baroncelli. Renaissance ornaments on the whole did not favor naturalistic floral patterns, though flowers enameled in full relief are occasionally found, as on the border of the Phoenix Jewel in the British Museum.
The general return in the early part of the seventeenth century to flower designs for the decoration of jewelry is associated with a curious phase in the social history of the time that accompanied the deep interest then taken in flowers and horticulture. Among flowers, of which the Dutch have ever been enthusiastically fond, and never tired of growing and of painting, the most prominent position was occupied by the tulip. From about the year 1634 the cultivation of the tulip became a perfect craze in Holland, like a violent epidemic seized upon all classes of the community. Gambling of an almost unparalleled nature was carried on in the bulbs, and the flower became fashionable everywhere. In the bouquets which the enamelers arranged with great taste, and painted with extraordinary skill, the tulip is always prominent.
This and many other flowers, and occasionally fruits, were painted in the same manner as a picture, on an enamel ground of uniform color—generally white, and sometimes pale blue, yellow, or black. Small plaques enameled and painted thus are popularly known by the name of “Louis Treize ” enamels, though the majority of them were produced after Louis XIII’s death in 1643.
About 1640 it became the custom occasionally to model the design in relief with a paste of white enamel, which was afterwards painted with vitreous colors according to nature. Towards the middle of the century the background of the flowers was pierced and cut away, so that every single flower, exquisitely modeled and colored, stood out by itself. In addition to tulips of every variety, and hyacinths, sunflowers, and roses, all kinds of lilies were in favor, especially the tipper-lily, the “crown imperial,” whose beautifully spotted blossoms were rendered in their natural colors with striking fidelity.
Flowers executed in this realistic style for jewelry were arranged chiefly in garlands and festoons.
The engravings, with natural flower ornamentation very finely designed and executed, were published about 1650. They comprise crosses, scissor, watch, and scent cases, and pendants—star- and bow-shaped, and set each with a pendent pearl.
To sum up the characteristic styles of seventeenth-century ornament which we have endeavored to describe, the first feature is the general preference for precious stones, and especially diamonds, and the use of the ” pea-pod “ornament for displaying them. From this style we pass, secondly, to the ” “silhouette ” designs. Thirdly comes the development of naturalistic flower designs.
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