BARBARIC JEWELLERY OF EUROPE Part 2: Early European Treasures

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The “treasure of Petrossa,” dating from the fourth century a.d., contains some of the earliest examples of inlaid jewelry in Europe. Few treasures of which record has been preserved are equal to it in archaeological interest. It was discovered in 1837 by peasants on the banks of a tributary of the Danube, near the village of Petrossa, about sixty miles from Bucharest. Much of it was broken up shortly after its discovery. What remained was seized by the Government and conveyed to the Museum of Antiquities at Bucharest, where it is now preserved.

The treasure includes a gold torque with hooked ends, like the Celtic torques from the British Isles; a crescent-shaped collar or gorget of gold with its surface pierced in the manner of plate inlay, and set with garnets and other stones ; three bird-shaped fibulas ; and a larger ornament, also in the shape of a bird, intended probably as a breastplate. The heads and necks of the birds are inlaid in the cloisonne manner; their lower parts are ornamented with plate inlay.’

Dating from the Merovingian period are the treasures of King Childeric I in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris. The founder of the Merovingian dynasty died in 481, and was buried at Tournai, in Languedoc, surrounded by his treasures and robes of state. A remarkable book descriptive of this treasure has been published by Professor Odobesco, of the University of Bucharest, in which the whole process of inlaying is discussed at considerable length.

The same subject has been treated with the most minute care by the well-known art historian, M. Charles de Linas. THE TREASURE OF GUARRAZAR year 1653, when all memory of the place of his interment had perished, a laborer accidentally uncovered the royal grave and brought to light the treasure it contained.

The regalia consisted of a sword, a bracelet, fibulae, buckles, about three hundred gold bees—the decoration of a mantle—and a signet-ring of gold. This ring was not set with a gem, but had its oval gold bezel engraved with a full-faced bust holding a spear. It bore the legend childirici regis.

On the night of November 5, 1831, the Bibliothque was broken into by burglars. An alarm being given, they fled, and threw their spoil, which included, among other objects, Childeric’s regalia, into the Seine. The river was dredged, and a great part of the treasure was recovered. The ring, however, was never found ; but its design is preserved in Chiflet’s Anastasis CJiilderici, while the signet itself has been reconstructed from an impression of the seal in wax, found in the Bodleian Library in a copy of Chiflet’s work, once the property of the great antiquary, Francis Douce. Except on this jewel, the traditional surface decoration of Teutonic jewelry is admirably represented.

Every item of the treasure is inlaid with thin slices of garnet or red glass, arranged in the cloisonne manner between gold partitions. The most wonderful, probably, of all treasures-trove is the famous ” treasure of Guarrazar,” discovered in 1858 at a place called La Fuente de Guarrazar, near Toledo.” It included eleven crowns of pure gold set with precious stones.

The peasants who unearthed the treasure broke up the crowns and divided the spoil. But the story of the discovery became known ; and having been pieced together, most of the crowns were conveyed to the Musee Cluny at Paris, and the remainder placed in the Real Armen’a at Madrid.

Most important of those at Madrid is the crown of King Svinthila. Its surface is pierced with holes arranged in rose-shaped patterns, and set with large pearls and cabochon sapphires. From the lower rim hangs a fringe of letters set in the cloisonne manner with red glass paste, suspended by chains. The letters form the inscription svintilanus rex.

The chief crown in the treasure at Paris is that of King Reccesvinthus. It consists of a broad circle of gold, 8 inches in diameter, mounted with thirty huge Oriental pearls and thirty large sapphires, all set in high collets and separated by pierced open-work. The margins are bands of cloisonne work with inlays of red glass. Suspended below by twenty-four chains are letters of gold inlaid like the borders, forming the words reccesvinthus.

Attached to each letter is a square collet hung with a pear-shaped sapphire. The crown is suspended by four chains from a foliated ornament encircled with pendent pearls and sapphires, and surmounted by a capital of rock crystal. A massive cross 4 inches long and 2 inches wide hangs below the crown. It is set with eight enormous pearls and six large and brilliant sapphires, the latter mounted in high open bezels. From its foot and limbs hang three paste imitations of emeralds, with pear-shaped sapphires below. The combination of the pure gold with the violet sapphires and the somewhat faded luster of the pearls produces an exceedingly harmonious effect of color.

The majority of these crowns were votive offerings to a church, to be hung above the altar ; the larger ones may have been actually used at coronations, and afterwards suspended in some consecrated building and the dedicatory inscriptions attached in remembrance of the ceremony. They certainly appear to be native work of the Spanish Visigoths, executed under the influence 54 of the style prevailing in the Eastern Empire.

At a date not long after their production, the use of this particular species of decoration of jewelry, owing probably to the revival of the art of enameling, rapidly declined in western Europe; and though it continued to be practiced in the East, it had virtually disappeared at the close of the Merovingian period—by about the year 800, when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the West.

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BARBARIC JEWELLERY OF EUROPE Part 1: European Treasure Hoards

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During the period of the great migrations,when hordes of barbarians swept like waves across Europe over the tracks of Roman civilization, all traces of classical art rapidly vanished, save in Constantinople, which remained, as it were, a corner of the antique world.

The forms of classical jewelry in natural course either totally disappeared or underwent a complete transformation, and there appeared instead a new process for the decoration of personal ornament, which in earlier times was practically unknown, save to the goldsmiths of ancient Egypt.

Just as the desire to imitate precious stones led to the introduction of enamel, so the Gothic nations who hailed from the south-east corner of Europe brought into jewelry the Oriental love for color. Colored stones, usually garnets, or red glass, cut in slices, were inlaid on a metal surface, or were placed side by side, separated only by intervening strips of metal.

This process of inlay or incrustation is of great importance, since almost every species of jewelry in Europe from the third till about the eighth century is thus decorated. The Goths invented no new jewelry, but adapted a style which had long been in existence. And though the forms of their jewelry may be due to the growth of local traditions, its decoration is clearly the result of influences connected in some way with the East.

Originating, as it doubtless did, in Persia or in the further East, this process of inlay was adopted by the Gothic nations during the earlier centuries of the Christian era, and made its first appearance among them in the districts of the Caucasus and in the Crimea. From thence it passed to the Lombards in Italy, to the Burgundians in Austria and Switzerland, the Visigoths in Spain, the Merovingians in Gaul, the earlier Scandinavians in Denmark; and by the Saxon tribes in Northern Germany it was carried to England, where it attained its highest perfection in the superb circular brooches that have been brought to light in Kent.

By the discovery of specimens of Asiatic and Germanic jewelry ornamented in this manner, the path of the migratory tribes can thus be traced right across the Continent. Yet for the reason that conditions of property and nationality became altered from one generation to another, the question to which of the nations numerous pieces of jewelry are to be ascribed, is difficult to solve.

They are often connected with misunderstood Hellenistic and Asiatic traditions, while at the same time showing workmanship with barbaric ideas of form. There are, as has been pointed out,’ two very distinct forms of inlay, one of which is possibly the outcome of the other. One has been termed plate inlaying, the other cloisonnd inlaying.

The first is represented in the east of Europe by the fibulae and gorget in the celebrated treasure of Petrossa, and in the west by the crown of Svinthila in the equally famous treasure of Guarrazar. In these objects a gold plate is pierced, and into the holes thus formed stones are fixed by mastic, and supported from behind by a second plate of gold.

This form of inlaying seems to merge naturally into the other, for at a certain point it may have occurred to the goldsmith to abandon the continuous upper sheet of metal and to cut it into strips to be placed edgewise between the stones. Thus appeared the second form of inlaying, in the cloisonne manner. It is represented in its journey from the East by the ” Oxus treasure.”

In Europe it is illustrated by numerous specimens of Teutonic jewelry from Southern Europe, by the ornaments discovered in the tomb of Childeric I, and finally by the splendid Anglo-Saxon jewelry from the Kentish cemeteries.

Numbers of articles of jewelry dating from the fifth century until the general introduction of Christianity have been discovered in various localities in Europe. But the above-mentioned hoards of treasure demand special consideration, as being, not only the most characteristic examples of the methods of inlay, but also types of the utmost luxury of the period in the way of personal ornaments.

Beyond these no general account of European jewelry need here be given, since excavations in the Anglo-Saxon graves have revealed examples of jewelry which may be taken as fairly representative of the articles then in use upon the Continent as well.

A description may now be given of some of the principal and most typical of these European treasure-hoards, dating from what are known as the ” Dark Ages.” But attention must first be drawn to the important Asiatic treasure found near the River Oxus, in Bactria, in 1877.

This “Oxus treasure,”‘ belonging for the most part to the fourth century B.C., seems to supply the missing link in the chain of evidence which unites the ornamentation of European jewelry with clearly defined Oriental methods.

The chief articles of jewelry in the hoard are two massive penannular bracelets of gold, one in the British Museum, the other at South Kensington. They are ornamented at each end with a winged monster or gryphon in full relief. The surface of the wings and necks of the figures is covered with gold cloisons, once set with colored stones or pastes. The form and decoration of these and the other articles of the treasure in the Franks Bequest in the British Museum seem to indicate the Persian origin of this inlaid work.

Continued in Part 2

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