Etruscan Jewelry Part 2: Jewelry for the Head and Earrings

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As might be expected, important collections of Etruscan jewelry are preserved in museums close to the sites where the objects themselves have been discovered. One of the most extensive of such collections is that in the museum of the Vatican, which was brought together by Pope Gregory XVI from the districts which till 1870 formed part of the papal domain.

The British Museum, the Louvre, and the museums of Berlin and Munich all contain a large number of ornaments from the old cemeteries of the Etruscan races. The earliest Etruscan jewelry coincides roughly with Greek work of the late Mycenaean period, and betrays, from the religious symbols expressed on it, a marked Oriental or Egyptian influence.

At a somewhat later date, that is from about 500 to 300 B.C., it is evident that the Etruscans largely followed Greek models, or imported from Greece, especially from Ionia, some of the finest artists in the precious metals.

Etruscan jewelry can then be divided into three distinct styles: the primitive, somewhat Oriental in character, and of fine but not artistically attractive work ; the later, when the primitive art had been subjected to Hellenic influence and produced work of the highest artistic and technical excellence; and the latest style, in which Greek art, still followed, but in a vulgarized form, results in ornaments noticeable for their size.

The Etruscans appear to have paid particular attention to the decoration of the head. Following a custom in vogue throughout Greece, men as well as women adorned themselves with fillets ; while women also wore highly ornate hair-pins, with heads shaped like balls, acorns, and pomegranates, decorated in granulation.

Many of these pins must have served to fix the diadems and fillets for which the Etruscans appear to have had an especial liking. The latter are composed for the most part of the foliage of myrtle, ivy, and oak, in accordance with the symbolical ideas attached to these leaves.

The greater number are of plate of gold, so thin and fragile that they can only have been employed as sepulchral ornaments—like the wreath of ivy leaves and berries of thin gold still encircling the bronze helmet from Vulci in the Room of Greek and Roman Life in the British Museum, and a similar wreath of bracteate gold around a conical bronze helmet in the Salle des Bijoux Antiques of the Louvre.

Earrings of the finest period bear a striking similarity to Greek ornaments of the same date. The first type is pen-annular in shape, one end terminating in the head of a bull or lion, and the other in a point which pierces the ear. To this ring is next attached a pendant.

In the third type the hook which pierces the ear is hidden by a rosette or disc from which hang tassel-shaped appendages, and in the middle between them small animals enameled white, such as the geese, swans, and cocks in the British Museum, and the peacocks and doves in the Campana Collection in the Louvre.

Earrings of another class are saddle-shaped, formed like an imperfect cylinder, one end of which is closed by an open-work rose cap, which completely enclosed the lobe of the wearer’s ear. The latest Etruscan earrings, of pendant form, are mostly of great size and in the shape of convex bosses.

Continued in Part 3

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Etruscan Jewelry Part 1: Their Use of Gold

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The Etruscans appear to have had a peculiar passion for jewelry. Even in early times, when the excessive use of personal ornament was considered a mark of effeminacy, they were famed for their jewels.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, speaking of the Sabines, says that “they wore bracelets on their left arms, and rings, for they were a gold-wearing nation, and not less effeminate than the Etruscans.” Like most other nations of antiquity, the Etruscans dedicated to the service of the dead costly articles of adornment which they had worn when living; though the greater number of these jewels are flimsy objects made for mortuary purposes.

On Etruscan sarcophagi the men have torques about their necks, while the women have sometimes torques, sometimes necklaces, long earrings, and bracelets, and both sexes have many rings on their fingers.

Though systematically rifled in former times, Etruscan tombs have yet preserved to the present day a large number of jewels, sufficient to prove that the possibilities of gold were never more thoroughly grasped than by the Etruscans.

Their earlier jewelry—for the later is much coarser—shows extraordinary fineness and elaboration of workmanship. They possessed a peculiar art of fusing and joining metals by the use of solvents unknown to us, which rendered invisible the traces of solder. Surface decoration was produced by the interweaving of extremely delicate threads of gold, by a sparing use of enamel, and particularly by the soldering together of particles or globules of gold of such minuteness and equality as to be scarcely perceptible to the naked eye.

Animal or human forms were skilfully executed in relief by repousse, or produced in the round with the assistance of solder. But the chief characteristic of their jewelry, and that which mainly distinguishes it from the Greek, is its ornamentation with grains of gold of microscopic size.

The method of decorating the surface of gold with fine granules, which is usually termed granulation, is one which was in favor among all ancient gold workers in the countries bordering on the Mediterranean.

The ” pulvisculus aureus,” as it was called in Italy, came into common use towards the close of the Mycensean Age, at a time when the Phoenicians were making their influence felt in Cyprus, Sardinia, and Etruria, where examples of this method of gold working particularly abound.

We are probably right in assuming that this granulated work was indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean, and that, as it has been found upon jewels of undoubted Phoenician origin, the Phoenicians were not un-instrumental in disseminating it along their trade routes.

Cellini, in his description of the process of granulation in his Tvattato deir Oreficeria, speaks of each grain being made separately and soldered on, a technique probably practiced by the ancient jewelers. But in the case of the minutest Etruscan work, it is not improbable that the grains—at first natural, though subsequently artificial—were sprinkled like dust over the parts of the surface which had to be covered.

This fine granulation belongs only to the early and best Etruscan jewels. Larger grains were used for later work.

It is remarkable that the secrets of the old Etruscan goldsmiths have never been wholly recovered in Europe. That the art of granulation, though mentioned by-Cellini, was not generally practiced by the goldsmiths of the Renaissance is evident from the examples of their work that have survived. In recent years attempts have been made to revive the art; but as the well-known productions of Castellani the elder, with his sons Alessandro the connoisseur and Augusto, and of Carlo Giuliano, are connected with the later history of jewelry, further reference will be made to them subsequently.

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Continued in Part 2