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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