MEDIEVAL HEAD-ORNAMENTS AND NECKLACES

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Medieval head ornaments and necklaces from the tenth to the sixteenth century belong for the most part rather to the general history of costume than to that of jewelry only, and it will be unnecessary to follow those extravagances of fashion which, especially during the fifteenth century, were presented by the head-dress of women.

More germane to the subject are the fillets, bands, and chaplets worn throughout the Middle Ages by women when their heads were uncovered, and during a more limited period by men also. The original form of these was a ribbon, which encircled the brow, held back the hair from the face, and adjusted the veil, while wreaths, either of natural flowers or of plain gold, were a frequent decoration for young women.

Hence the bands or chaplets, which took their motives from those more simple ornaments, were made either wholly of metal, or of gold flowers sewn upon an embroidered band, both forms being enriched with pearls and precious stones.

The fillet later on became a heavy band composed of separate pieces of metal joined by hinges, and showed a close resemblance to the broad belts of the knights. The wearing of such head-ornaments was not confined exclusively to the nobility, for the receipt of a sale of jewels by Agnes Chalke, spicer of London, to a certain John of Cambridge in 1363, includes a ” coronal of gold, wrought with stones, that is to say, with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and pearls.”‘ Exquisite circlets set with these gems are worn by the choir of singing and music-making angels on the wings of the Van Eycks’ famous “Ghent Altar-piece” in the Berlin Museum.

The fillet, whether a complete circle or hinged, received about the fourteenth century additional enrichment in the form of trefoils, fleurs-de-lis, crosses, and foliations, erected on cuspings upon its upper edge.

A simple but charming example of a circlet, dating from the fourteenth century, is preserved in the Musee du Cinquantenaire at Brussels. It is of silver gilt, formed of hinged plaques, each mounted with from three to four collets set with pearls, and with pastes in imitation of precious stones, while additional ornaments in the form of fleurs-de-lis are fixed erect upon it.

From the diadem of this character originated the coronets worn by those of high or noble rank; the use of these, amid the ceremonies of later courts, crystallized into a system of class privilege. Such diadems or coronets approach the form of the regal crown, which in England, as early as the eleventh century, was enriched with rays and floriations.

The regal crown, with which we are not immediately concerned,” by the addition of arches, was converted about the fifteenth century into what is technically known as the “close” crown.

Round the helmets of knights in the fifteenth century ornamental wreaths called orles were worn: these, originally composed of two bands of silk twisted. No attempt will here be made to enumerate the various forms of crowns and coronets.

MEDIEVAL HEAD-DRESSES together, were afterwards richly jeweled. One of the most famous of jeweled hats was that of Charles the Bold, thickly encrusted with huge pearls and precious stones, which was captured by the Swiss after his death at the battle of Nancy in 1477.

Of female ornaments of the same period it need only be stated that the elaborate head-dresses, such as the cornette, escoffion, and Jicnin —it is sometimes difficult to imagine how women had sufficient strength to keep them balanced on their heads—were profusely adorned with pearls, gold spangles, and precious stones, and in some cases with crowns or crown-shaped combs of elaborate gold work enriched with gems.

The Italians, with more refined taste seem to have escaped from such extravagances sooner than the rest of Europe, and to have been content for the most part with a simple bandemt encircling the forehead. Among the most interesting varieties of personal ornaments in the Middle Ages are certain jewels or brooches worn in the hat, and known as enseignes.

From the lead signs or ornaments worn by pilgrims there was gradually evolved a special class of jewels on which the great artists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries exercised their utmost skill, and which at the present day are among the most highly prized of all early articles of personal jewelry.

Rivers near large cities have supplied us with much of the knowledge we possess of the manners and habits of those who in former times dwelt upon their banks. Whenever dredging or digging disturbs the beds of such rivers, objects of antiquity, which seem to have gravitated there, are sure to be discovered.

The municipal museum of many a city of ancient foundation preserves choice works of antiquity recovered from its river’s bed. Among the most remarkable objects brought to light in this manner are certain curious medieval ornaments, which belong to the age that has bequeathed exceedingly few examples of articles for personal use.

The ornaments referred to are the small badges or signs of lead, given or sold, as tokens, to medieval pilgrims to the shrines of saints or martyrs, and known as “Pilgrims’ Signs.” They were obtained from the attendants at shrines and exhibitions of relics, who kept ready a large variety bearing the effigy or device of some particular saint, or the symbol that had reference to his acts of worship. Each sign or token was pierced with holes, or more frequently had a pin cast in one piece with it, making it available as a brooch.

It was thus fastened to the hat or other portion of the pilgrim’s dress as a testimony of his having visited the particular shrine indicated by the token. These badges, which date from about the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, were manufactured at the churches or monasteries to which pilgrimages were made.

Molds for casting them are preserved in the British Museum and the Guildhall Museum; and a forge was found at Walsingham Priory where the sacristan melted the metals employed for their manufacture. It will be outside the present purpose to enumerate all the varieties of form assumed by these interesting and historically most valuable objects. Important collections of them are preserved in the British Museum and Guildhall Museum in London, and in the Musde Cluny, Paris.

In England the most popular relics were those of Our Lady of Walsingham Priory, and particularly Several writers on Pilgrims’ Signs state that a furnace destined for the same purpose may still be seen in an upper chamber in Canterbury Cathedral.

Inquiry on the spot has failed to confirm the truth of this statement. The furnace in question has been used solely for the purpose of casting lead work for repairing the roof. The badges were probably made somewhere in the Cathedral precincts.
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