Early Egyptian Jewelry: Bracelets and Rings Part 3

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Sculptures and paintings represent bracelets by bands of red or blue color on the arms, and show that the Egyptians wore four—one on the wrist and one above the elbow of each arm. Some of the earliest are composed of glass and gold beads threaded so as to form various patterns. The more solid forms of bracelet are ornamented with inlaid work. Rings for the arms, as well as the ankles, are generally of plain gold—both solid and hollow—sometimes bordered with plaited chain-work. Bracelets of thick and occasionally twisted wire, found as early as the twelfth dynasty, usually have the ends beaten out into a thin wire, which is lapped round the opposite shank so as to slip easily over the wrist. Bracelets in the form of serpents belong to the Ptolemaic and early Roman periods.

The commonest ornament is the finger ring. The ring was not only an ornament, but an actual necessity, since it served as a signet, the owner’s emblem or badge being engraved either on the metal of the ring or on a scarab or other stone set in it.

There are three main types of Egyptian rings. The first and simplest, composed of a seal stone with a ring attached, is formed of a hoop with flattened ends, each pierced, which grasp the scarab. Through a hole made in the scarab was run a wire, the ends of which, passing through the extremities of the ring, were wound several times round it. The revolving scarab exhibited its back when worn on the finger and the engraved side when necessary to use it as a seal. The general outline of the ring is like a stirrup, a form which of course varied in accordance with the size of the scarab.

In a second type of ring the swivel disappears, and the ring is in one piece. Its outline retains the stirrup form, but the inside of the hoop is round and fits closely to the finger. Of this type are rings, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth dynasty, formed of two hoops united at the top and having the names and titles of the owner deeply sunk in hieroglyphics on oblong gold bezels.

A third type, almost circular in outline, is of similar form to the signet-ring of the present day.

In addition to those which were actually worn in life, are models of real rings employed solely for funeral purposes to ornament the fingers of the wooden model hands which were placed on the coffins of mummies of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties.

The model rings are made of faience with fine glazes of blue, green, and other colors, with various devices, incuse or in intaglio, upon the bezels, which are generally of oval form.

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Jewelry of the Egyptian Tombs Part 2

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Examples of jewelry furnished by the Egyptian tombs are to be found in the museums of almost every country. Undoubtedly the finest collection is in the Viceregal Museum of Egyptian Antiquities at Cairo. It contains jewels of the earliest dynasties, very few of which are to be found outside it. Dating from the great Theban dynasties, the eighteenth and nineteenth, when the jeweler’s art reached its highest level, are many beautiful examples, notably the famous set of jewels discovered in the tomb of Queen Aah-hetep (1600 B.C.). Fine collections are also preserved in the British Museum, in Berlin, Munich, and in the Louvre.

Following the sequence of ornaments from the head downwards, mention must first be made of diadems or front-lets. These were composed either of ring ornaments, set with precious stones and strung in a variety of ways, which hung down over the temples, or of gold bands ornamented in cloisonn(^ inlay with the favorite allegorical representations of animals in various arrangements. In the case of royal personages there is a uraius in front.

Among all Oriental nations of antiquity of whom we have any accurate knowledge, earrings have always been in general use by both sexes ; but as far as can be judged from monuments, these ornaments appear in Egypt to have been worn by women alone. M. Fontenay’ claims that the holes visible in the ears of statues of Rameses II—such as the colossal head in the British Museum, cast from the original in the temple of Ipsamboul—have been pierced for earrings. But even so, earrings had probably only a sacerdotal or sacred significance,

and were worn by the sovereign only, and on very exceptional occasions. Earrings, however, found very little favour even among women until what in Egyptian chronology are comparatively late times. Those that do occur are of the simplest kind, formed of a ring-shaped hook for piercing the lobe of the ear, hung with a blossom-shaped or symbolical pendant. Large penannular rings of various materials were occasionally employed as ear ornaments; the opening in them enabling them to be fitted on to the upper part of the ear.

Necklaces appear to have played a very prominent part in Egyptian ornaments. No tomb seems to be without them, and the wall paintings also prove their very general use. Most frequent is a chain consisting of various materials strung together, generally with a large drop or figure in the center, and pendent motives introduced at definite intervals. The latter, of every imaginable variety of design, occur in rhythmical alternation, and are occasionally introduced between two rows of beads. The peculiarly severe and regular decorations of the Egyptians—more particularly the various charming adaptations of open and closed lotus flowers—are here found in the finest forms of application.

Especially is this shown on the ornament called the usekli collar, which figures on every mummy and mummy case. Formed of rows, generally of cylinder-shaped beads with pendants, strung together and gathered up at either end to the head of a lion or hawk or to a lotus flower, this collar or breast decoration covered the shoulders and chest, and is found in that position on the mummy, attached frequently to the winding-sheet.

One of the most important Egyptian ornaments is the pectoral, which, as its name implies, was worn on the breast, suspended by a ribbon or chain. In all probability it formed a portion of the everyday costume of men and women, but its symbolism points to its chief use as a mortuary ornament, and it is found on almost every mummy.

Pectorals are usually in the form of a pylon or shrine, in the middle of which is often a scarab, the emblem of transformation and immortality, adored by the goddesses Isis or Nephthys. These ornaments were made of metal—rarely gold, more often gilded bronze—and very frequently of alabaster, steatite, and basalt sometimes glazed, and of earthenware always glazed.

In the Cairo Museum is a pectoral of pure gold inlaid with carnelian, lapis-lazuli and turquoises, which was found at DashCir in 1894 in the tomb of the Princess Set-Hathor (twelfth dynasty). Discovered at the same time was a pectoral having at the top a vulture with outspread wings and below the name of Usertsen III supported on either side by hawk-headed sphinxes. The open-work pectoral of Queen Aah-hetep, of solid gold, also at Cairo, is one of the most beautiful of all specimens of Egyptian jewellery. Another golden pectoral, found in the tomb of Kha-em-uas, son of Rameses II, is in the Louvre.

Somewhat similar to the pectorals are jewels in the shape of conventional hawks. As emblems of the soul they are found placed upon the breast of the mummy The finest are made of pure gold decorated with cloisons shaped according to the natural formations of the body and wings of the bird. The talons grasp a pair of signet rings. Allied to these are ornaments known as csgides, which were occasionally also worn on the breast. A very beautiful specimen, the ccgis of Bast, is in the Louvre.

Continued in Part 3

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Early Egyptian and Phoenician Jewelry Part 1

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Most of the forms met with among the jewelry of the civilized nations of later times are found represented in the ornaments of the Egyptians. It is fortunate that important specimens of all descriptions of these have come down to our days. This we owe to the elaborate care which the Egyptians bestowed on the preservation of the dead, and to the strict observance of funeral rites, which induced them to dress and ornament their mummies with a view to future comfort both in the grave and in the after life.

The ornaments, however, buried with the dead were frequently mere models of what were worn in life, and the pains taken in making these depended on the sums expended by the friends of the deceased after his death. While those who were possessed of means and were scrupulous in their last duties to the dead purchased ornaments of the best workmanship and of the most costly materials, others who were unable or unwilling to incur expense in providing such objects were contented with glass pastes instead of precious stones, and glazed pottery instead of gold.

With the exception of many finger rings worn by both sexes and some female ornaments, the greater number of jewels discovered in the tombs are of inferior quality and value to those which the deceased had worn when living.

A peculiarity of the jewelry of the Egyptians is that, in addition to its actual purpose, it generally possesses something of the allegorical and emblematic signification, for which their mythology offered plentiful material. Among the emblems or figures of objects which symbolize or suggest the qualities of deities, the most favorite is the scarab or beetle, type of the god Khepera.

The use of scarabs in burial had reference to the resurrection of the dead and immortality. Other important emblems include the tiza or tttchat, the symbolic eye—the eye of Horns, the hawk-god; the cobra snake, the emblem of divine and royal sovereignty; the tet, the four-barred emblem of stability, endurance, and lastingness; the human-headed hawk, emblem of the soul. These and many others, as well as figures from the animal world, were worn as ornaments, and especially as amulets to bring good fortune or to ward off evil.

Color plays an important part in Egyptian jewelry. This love of color was displayed in the use of glazed ware, incorrectly termed porcelain, but properly a faience, much employed for all articles, as necklaces, scarabs, and rings, and particularly for the various kinds of amulets which were largely worn as personal ornaments.

The most usual and beautiful was the cupreous glaze of a blue or apple-green color; yellow, violet, red, and white are also met with, but less frequently, and chiefly at later periods. But color showed itself above all in the surface decoration of jewelry, produced by the application of colored stones and the imitation of these inserted in cells of gold prepared for them. The chief materials employed for the purpose were lapis- lazuli, turquoise, root of emerald or green feldspar, jasper, and obsidian, besides various opaque glasses imitating” them.

With the exception of enamel upon metal, which is only found in Egypt in quite late periods, the Egyptians appear to have been acquainted with all the processes of jewelry now in use. Chasing and engraving they preferred to all other modes of ornamenting metal-work, as these methods enhanced the beauty of their jewels while retaining a level surface. They were also highly skilled in soldering and in the art of repouss work. The great malleability of gold enabled them to overlay ornaments of silver, bronze, and even stone with thin leaves of this metal ; while ornaments were also composed entirely of plates of gold of extreme thinness. In articles where frequent repetition occurs, for instance, in necklaces, patterns were produced by pressure in molds, and then soldered together.

Continued in Part 2

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