Greek Jewelry Part 5: Pins, Girdles

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In earlier times simple pins formed of gold wire appear to have been often employed to fasten the dress. Bow-shaped brooches were also worn, but few gold brooches are met with except those belonging to the later Greek ornaments. These are characterized by a small arched bow and a long sheath for the point of the pin decorated with designs in fine filigree.

The goldsmith’s art is much more limited in its application to girdles than to head or neck ornaments ; and yet, as is well known, girdles formed an important item in the dress of men and women. The girdle over which the long tunic hung in deep folds was often of simple cords with tassels affixed to the ends.

Homer speaks of Hera as wearing a ” zone from which a hundred tassels hang.” Girdles appear to have been mainly of soft ligaments, which probably, with the increase of luxury, were adorned with gold ornamentation.

It is remarkable, at all events, that those species of gold ornament that can certainly be recognized as girdles are obvious imitations of textile fabrics. Corresponding to the ornaments found at Mycenae which were employed by the primitive Greeks for decorating their garments are thin plates of gold, termed bractece, pierced with small holes, which served the later Greeks for similar purpose.

They are repousse, and have clearly been stamped with dies, for the designs on them show constant repetition. They are of various sizes and shapes, and it is evident that some were meant to be worn as single ornaments, while others, sewn on in lines, formed regular borders or designs on the robes.

It is possible that, like the ball-shaped buttons met with in many fanciful formations, some of more solid construction served the purpose of clasps that drew together the dress at intervals along the arm, and acted as fastenings at the neck or on the shoulder. Some attachments of this kind in the form of round discs, with their gold surface richly ornamented with filigree and also with enamel, may have been actual brooches and have had hinged pins affixed below.

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Greek Jewelry Part 4: Rings, Bracelets and Necklaces

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The decorating of the head with wreaths was a very common practice among the ancients on festive occasions of every description.

The wreaths with which the dead were adorned for burial, made in imitation of natural leaves, form a large portion of funereal jewelry. One of the most famous of this species, found in 1813 at Armento (S. Italy), and purchased about 1826 by Ludwig I, King of Bavaria, from Countess Lipona (formerly Queen of Naples and wife of Joachim Murat) is now in the Antiquarium at Munich. Here the wreath, formed of roses, narcissus, myrtle and genii, while on the top is placed a statue with an inscription underneath it. This splendid specimen was probably employed for votive purposes.

Dating from the third century B.C., and also from Magna Graecia, is the gold crown in the British Museum which was acquired from the collection of Count Tyszkiewicz in 1898. Being of more solid construction, though excessively light and elegant, this, and similarly elaborate crowns in the Louvre, were probably worn by ladies of high rank.

In addition to these diadems composed of many minute parts, the simplest and probably the most usual form is that of a flat band increasing in breadth towards the middle, and ending there sometimes in a blunt point marked by a palmette.

Pins that served the purpose of fastening up and decorating the hair vary in style, their heads being formed sometimes of flowers, and sometimes of animals or human figures, resembling those employed as pendants to earrings.

Probably the most important is the handsome pin in the British Museum from Paphos in Cyprus. The head, surmounted with a bead of Egyptian porcelain with a pearl above, is in the form of a capital of a column. At the four corners are projecting heads of bulls, and between these are open cups or flowers, towards which four doves with outstretched wings bend down as if to drink.

Typical necklaces of the best period consist of a chain about three-eighths of an inch in width, of closely plaited gold wire. From this are suspended numerous smaller chains, masked at the top by small rosettes and hung below with vases, spindle-shaped pieces, or a rhythmical combination of other ornaments covered with fine filigree.

The British Museum possesses several superb necklaces. To the finest one, found in the island of Melos, colour is added by means of green and blue enamel.

Bracelets and armlets, which are rarer than necklaces, are of three forms : a fine plaited chain, like that of the necklaces, united by a clasp in the form of a knot; repouss(: plaques hinged together ; and a circlet of beaten gold of more solid construction.

The primary object of the finger ring was its use as a convenient method of carrying the engraved stone which was to serve as a signet. Hence in early times more attention was paid to the engraving of the gem set in the ring than to its mounting.

Many early rings are entirely of gold and made generally of one piece, with a large flat bezel engraved like a gem. A great number of them, though apparently solid, are hollow, and formed of gold leaf punched into shape and then filled up with mastic to preserve the form.

The ornamental rings of the later Greeks have been found chiefly in the luxurious colonies of Magna Graecia. One of the most charming designs is in the shape of a serpent which coils itself many times round the finger, with its head and tail lying along the finger. It is worthy of remark that though a number of Greek rings are in existence, never in Greek art, as in Etruscan and Roman, do we find any representation of the human figure with rings on the fingers.

Continued in Part 5

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Greek Jewelry Part 3: Earrings

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The almost complete absence of specimens of jewelry from the mainland of Greece is due to those acts of pillage which continually took place at localities well known as cemeteries. Only in tombs concealed by their environment, or lost to sight in semi-barbarous countries, have sufficient ornaments been found for us to form an estimate of the perfection which this branch of the industrial arts then attained.

The chief sources of these discoveries have been the Crimea, the Greek islands, the west coast of Asia Minor, and Southern Italy—known in ancient times as Magna Graecia. Of these districts by far the most important was that on the northern shore of the Black Sea, called formerly the Tauric Chersonese and now the Crimea, where in close proximity to the warlike Scythian tribes a Greek colony had settled as early as the sixth century before our era.

Excavations made also in the adjacent peninsula of Taman have revealed numerous articles of gold, all belonging to the latter half of the fourth century. The wealth of gold on. the shores of the Black Sea, which is the basis of the early Greek legends of the Golden Fleece, had attracted merchant adventurers at an early date.

And the Greek goldsmiths who settled there forwarded their productions both to their mother-country and to the neighboring lands of the barbarians. Excavations undertaken by the Russian Government near Kertch, the ancient Panti-kapaion, gave rise to an important discovery in 1831, when the opening of the celebrated tumulus Koul-Oba revealed a magnificent display of Greek jewelry.

These treasures, and others which the enterprise of the Russian Government has brought to light, are preserved at St. Petersburg in the Museum of the Hermitage.

Italy, less systematically ravaged than Greece, has proved exceedingly rich in finds of antique jewelry. Except for a few scattered fragments from Greece proper and the other sources mentioned above, public and private cabinets, outside Russia, are made up almost exclusively of the results of excavations in the burial-places of Magna Graecia.

In no ornament did the Greek jeweler exhibit his-fertility of invention to a greater degree than in the variety and beauty of the forms given to earrings. They divide naturally into two classes.

The first, the earlier, are ring-shaped, of two halves formed in a mold and united together. They terminate at one end with a human head—like that of a Msenad in a specimen in the British Museum—or more usually with the head of a lion, bull, or some other animal.

To the second class belong those attached to the ear by a hook masked by a rosette or disc. From this hang one or more pendants of a variety of designs. In rare instances these consist of beads hung to little chains; but the logical sense of the ancients preferred for the purpose things that might be imagined as floating, such as a little figure of Eros, or a tiny Victory bearing a wreath. The place on the ring where the pendant is attached is almost invariably made prominent by a saucer-shaped rosette, a mask, or similar object ornamented with fine threads of gold. Opaque enamel, of white, blue, or green, is sometimes found applied thinly to the surface of the metal.

Many earrings are of the most complicated design. When the ear-pendant was confined to a ring with a crescent-shaped lower part, this ornament would produce no effect except when the wearer was seen in profile.

In order to make the ornament visible from the front, the idea suggested itself to hang the crescent ring on to a smaller one.

Wonderfully well executed are some of the later Greek earrings in which small figures are attached directly to the hook which is inserted into the ear. Among these are figures of Eros playing a musical instrument or holding a jug as if pouring a libation.

By the amplification of the appendages we find the simpler earrings assume such an immense increase in dimension as to make it impossible that they were attached to the lobe of the ear. It may be assumed that they were fastened to the diadem or front-let, or to a plaited tress of hair, and hung over the ear, or more to the front over the temples. Naturally this species of ornament, owing to its weight and the many separate pieces of which it was made, would prevent the wearer from making any rapid movements, but was adapted to a slow and dignified pace in walking. It would also have the additional motive of increasing the commanding appearance of the individual. A splendid pair of head appendages of this character discovered at Kertch are now at St. Petersburg.

They are composed of two large medallions representing the head of Athene, whose helmet is adorned with sphinxes and gryphons. From these are suspended several rows of amphora-shaped ornaments covered with fine filigree decoration.

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Continued in Part 4

Greek Jewelry Part 2

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The jewelry of ancient Greece, which requires more detailed consideration, is that worn from the close of the fifth century onward. The jewelry of the Greeks at this epoch was, like all their other works of art, of surpassing excellence.

Gold was wrought with a skill which showed how well the artist appreciated the beauty of its color and its distinctive qualities of ductility and malleability. The Greek craftsman was ever careful to keep the material in strict subordination to the workmanship, and not to allow its intrinsic worth so to dominate his productions as to obscure his artistic intention.

The Greek goldsmiths excelled in the processes of repouss, chasing, engraving, and of intaglio cutting on metal, and brought to great perfection the art of soldering small objects on to thin surfaces and joining together the thinnest metal plates.

Granulated work, in which they were rivaled by the Etruscans alone, the Greeks practiced with success, but preferred filigree ornamentation, that is the use of fine threads of gold twisted upon the surface with very delicate effect.

Precious stones were very rarely used in the finest work, though on many of the post-Alexandrine jewels, stones such as garnets were frequently employed. Color was obtained by a sparing use of enamel.

The value of Greek jewelry lies in the use of gold and the artistic development of this single material. The minuteness of jewelry did not lead the Greeks to despise it as a field of labor. Whatever designs they borrowed from others the Greeks made their own and reproduced in a form peculiar to themselves.

In other respects they went straight to nature, choosing simple motives of fruit, flowers, and foliage, united with a careful imitation of animal forms and of the human body. The objects we have to consider fall into two classes, according as they are either substantial articles for use or ornament in daily life, or mere flimsy imitations of them made only to be buried with the dead.

As in the case of other nations of antiquity, the demands of Greek piety were satisfied if the dead were adorned with jewels made cheaply of leaves of stamped or bracteate gold. This course was followed mainly for the purpose of lessening expense; but it served also to obviate the chance of tombs being rifled by tomb-robbers or tymborychoi, who practiced a profession which was common in ancient times and offered large and certain profits.

Jewels simply and entirely funereal occupy a prominent position in every public and private collection of Greek jewelry. The rarity of jewels for actual use may be further explained by the fact that articles of that kind would only be associated with the grave of a person of wealth and distinction, and that the more important graves were the first prey of robbers.

Continued in Part 3

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Greek Jewelry Part 1

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Before dealing with Greek jewelry of the classic period some reference must be made to the primitive and archaic ornaments that preceded it. The period and phase of Greek culture to which the primitive ornaments belong is known widely as ” Mycenaean”—a title it owes to the discoveries made at Mycenae, where in 1876 Schliemann brought to light the famous gold treasure now preserved in the National Museum at Athens. A characteristic motive of the decoration of these objects is the use of spiral patterns almost identical with those employed on Celtic ornaments. Beside these and other primitive exhibitions of decorative skill, we find representations of naturalistic animal forms, such as cuttlefish, starfish, butterflies, and other creatures. These are displayed in repouss^ patterns worked in low relief.

Among the most notable objects are a number of gold crowns usually in the form of elongated oval plates ornamented with fine work chiefly in the shape of rosettes and spirals. Most numerous are the gold plates intended to be fastened to the dress. They are ornamented with spirals and radiating lines, with the above-mentioned animal forms, or with leaves showing the veins clearly marked (PI. Ill, i).

Specially worthy of note also are the finger rings with the designs sunk into the oval surface of the bezel. Ornaments of this same epoch, like those in the British Museum from lalysos in Rhodes, and Enkomi in Cyprus, have been discovered throughout the whole yEgean district. They are likewise mainly in the form of gold plates used for sepulchral purposes, ornamented with embossed patterns impressed from stone molds. Some of them are enriched with fine granulation.

This particular process, however, which abounds in Etruscan work, is more frequent on Greek ornaments of the archaic epoch, which dates roughly from about the seventh or eighth century B.C. The types of these, generally semi-Oriental in character, show the influence of Phoenician art, with its traces of Egyptian and Assyrian feeling. Lions and winged bulls on some objects betray the Assyrian style; the treatment of the human figure displays on others the influence of Egypt.

Among the best examples of this Grasco-Phoenician jewelry are those found at Kameiros in Rhodes, and now in the Louvre and the British Museum. Between these and the fourth-century jewels from the Crimea to be described next, the only known Greek jewels are the quasi-Oriental ones from the tombs of Cyprus, which belong to about the fifth century.

Continue in Part 2

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