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 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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