In the first article of this series we have seen how gold jewelry was developed in the ancient Sumerian civilization as well as in Egypt and Crete. The technique of making fine gold jewelry spread to Greece, to Northern Europe and to the Celtic people as well. Now let’s look at the role that gold jewelry played in the pre-Roman era and during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
In the 7th century BC the Etruscans of central Italy were also making fine gold jewelry. The Etruscans perfected the difficult technique of granulation, a technique in which the surface of the metal is covered with tiny gold grains.
In Greece during the Hellenistic Age (the period just after the time of Alexander the Great, 323-30 BC) Greek jewelry was characterized by its great variety of forms and fine workmanship. Naturalistic wreaths were made for the head, and a variety of miniatures - human, animal, and plant - were made into necklaces and earrings.
The Heracles-knot, developed in Greece, remained a popular motif into Roman times.
Colorful jewelry was an important characteristic of the Migration period (4th to 8th centuries AD) which followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. Mediterranean goldsmiths continued to produce refined jewelry but the jewelry of the European tribes dominated the period. They produced abstract styles and worked in enamels and inlaid stones. This is also the period of the penannular, or nearly circular, brooches of Ireland and Scotland.
From the 9th to the 13th century, the technique of cloisonné - enameling on gold—became widespread in Europe and the Near East, with the best jewelry of this type emanating from Constantinople (present day Istanbul) the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
Gold Jewelry in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
In the year 962 AD, just after the creation of the Holy Roman Empire (located in Central Europe) there was a fusion of Mediterranean and European civilizations and this had an effect on the jewelry as well.
The Emperor and the Church became the patrons of the arts. Jewelers worked in courts and monasteries. During this era, jewelry design was based on the setting in gold of precious stones and pearls in colorful patterns. Precious stones, which were polished but used in natural forms, were credited with having magic powers. For example, Sapphire, symbolic of chastity and spiritual peace, was used for papal rings.
Antique cameo gems were prized and when set in early medieval jewelry and were given a Christian interpretation. Until this era, European jewelry was produced mainly in imperial and monastic workshops. However, by the 13th century a system of independent guilds of goldsmiths was established in European capitals.
Gothic jewelry reflects the chivalrous ethic of the aristocratic society of this time in its symbolism and frequent use of amatory inscriptions. Jewelry, which has always had close affinities with modes of dress, frequently took the form of brooches and other fastenings such as belt clasps.
The ring brooch, the most common form of jewelry in the 13th century, was probably given as a token of love or betrothal. A pendant would occasionally be used as a Reliquary. The use of earrings ceased entirely, because women wore elaborate jeweled headdresses that concealed the ears. About 1300, French jewelers began to use translucent enamels over engraved silver or gold.
In the next article of this series we will look at the history of gold jewelry during the past five hundred years.
Bo Carpenter of Lewis Jewelers is a jewelry expert and frequently writes about jewelry and related topics. Lewis Jewelers is proud to carry the full line of Pandora Bracelets, Pandora Beads and other Pandora Jewelry. For more information, contact Lewis Jewelers at 877-88-LEWIS or visit www.pandorabraceletsusa.com.
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