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    The birth of goldsmith's art

    • The History Of Jewellery Design

      The possibility of tracing jewelry’s historic itinerary derives primarily from the custom, beginning with the most remote civilizations, of burying the dead with their richest garments and ornaments. Plastic and pictorial iconography painting, sculpture, mosaic also offer abundant testimony to the jewelry worn in various eras. It is probable that prehistoric humans thought of decorating the body before they thought of making use of anything that could suggest clothing. Before precious metals were discovered, people who lived along the seashore decorated themselves with a great variety of shells, fishbones, fish teeth, and coloured pebbles. People who lived inland used as ornaments materials from the animals they had killed for food: reindeer antlers, mammoth tusks, and all kinds of animal bones. After they had been transformed from their natural state into various elaborate forms, these materials, together with animal skins and bird feathers, provided sufficient decoration.

      This era was followed by one that saw a transition from a nomadic life to a settled social order and the subsequent birth of the most ancient civilizations. Most peoples settled along the banks of large rivers, which facilitated the development of agriculture and animal husbandry. Indirectly, this also led to the discovery of virginal alluvial deposits of minerals, first among which were gold and precious stones. Over the years the limited jewelry forms of prehistoric times multiplied until they included ornaments for every part of the body. For the head there were crowns, diadems, tiaras, hairpins, combs, earrings, nose rings, lip rings, and earplugs. For the neck and torso there were necklaces, fibulae (the ancient safety pin), brooches, pectorals (breastplates), stomachers, belts, and watchfobs. For the arms and hands armlets, bracelets, and rings were fashioned. For the thighs, legs, and feet craftsmen designed thigh bracelets, ankle bracelets, toe rings, and shoe buckles.

      Egyptian

      The sensational discovery of the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamen (18th dynasty; 1539–1292 BCE) revealed the fabulous treasures that accompanied an Egyptian sovereign, both during his lifetime and after his death, as well as the high degree of mastery attained by Egyptian goldsmiths. This treasure is now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and represents the biggest collection of gold and jewelry in the world. The pharaoh’s innermost coffin was made entirely of gold, and the mummywas covered with a huge quantity of jewels. More jewels were found in cases and boxes in the other rooms of the tomb. The diadems, necklaces, pectorals, amulets, pendants, bracelets, earrings, and rings are of superb quality and of a high degree of refinement that has rarely been surpassed or even equaled in the history of jewelry.

       

      Necklace from Meroe, composed of beads, with hieroglyphs

       

      The ornaments in Tutankhamen’s tomb are typical of all Egyptian jewelry. The perpetuation of iconographic and chromatic principles gave the jewelry of ancient Egypt which long remained uncontaminated in spite of contact with other civilizations a magnificent, solid homogeneity, infused and enriched by magical religious beliefs. Ornamentation is composed largely of symbols that have a precise name and meaning, with a form of expression that is closely linked to the symbology of hieroglyphic writing. The scarab, lotus flower, Isis knot, Horus eye, falcon, serpent, vulture, and sphinx are all motif symbols tied up with such religious cults as the cult of the pharaohs and the gods and the cult of the dead. In Egyptian jewelry the use of gold is predominant, and it is generally complemented by the use of the three colours of carnelian, turquoise, and lapis lazuli or of vitreous pastes imitating them. Although there was a set, fairly limited repertoire of decorative motifs in all Egyptian jewelry, the artist-craftsmen created a wide variety of compositions, based mainly on strict symmetry or, in the jewelry made of beads, on the rhythmic repetition of shapes and colours.

      The concept of symmetry was utilized on the small pectoral or pendant (3.3 × 2.4 inches ) that belonged to Sesostris III in the 12th dynasty (1938–1756 BCE). The superbly rhythmic composition is framed by an architectonic design obtained by leaving open all of the nonfigurative part. The jewel is coloured with carnelian, turquoise, and lapis lazuli inlays, while the function of the gold separating these materials is limited to creating the design.The victorious pharaoh is represented by two lions with the plumed heads of falcons in a symmetric position in the act of trampling conquered Nubians and Libyans. Over the scene is the protective vulture of Upper Egypt with wings outspread (Egyptian Museum). These memorial or dedicatory pendants, as well as other small jewels such as earrings, bracelets, and rings, consist exclusively of symbols.

       

      Egyptian Collar Necklace

      Necklace beads generally made of gold, stones, or glazed ceramic are cylindrical, spherical, or in the shape of spindles or disks and are nearly always used in alternating colours and forms in many rows. The necklaces have two distinct main forms. One, called menat, was the exclusive attribute of divinity and was therefore worn only by the pharaohs. Tutankhamen’s menat is a long necklace composed of many rows of beads in different shapes and colours, with a pendant and with a decorated fastening that hung down behind the shoulders. The other, much more widely used throughout the whole period, was the usekh, which, like the vulture-shaped necklace from the tomb of Tutankhamen, also has many rows and a semicircular form.

      Of the many diadems made by Egyptian artist-craftsmen, one of the earliest was discovered in a tomb dating from the 4th dynasty (c. 2575–c. 2465 BCE). It consists of a gold band supported by another band made of copper, to which three decorative designs are applied. In the centre is a disk worked with embossing in the form of four lotus buds arranged radially. On the sides are two papyrus flowers linked horizontally at the base by a disk with a carnelian, while the upper line of the flowers comes together to create a kind of nest in which two long-beaked ibis crouch. The floral and animal symbology is carried out with a style that interprets and characterizes the theme. Among the treasures discovered in the tomb of Queen Ashhotep (18th dynasty) is a typical Egyptian bracelet. It is rigid and can be opened by means of a hinge. The front part is decorated with a vulture, whose outspread wings cover the front half of the bracelet. The whole figure of the bird is inlaid with lapis lazuli, carnelian, and vitreous paste.

      Ancient egyptian turquoise earrings
      A first sign of outside influence occurs in the 18th dynasty and consists of earrings, which are imported jewels, unknown in classical Egyptian production. Another evidence of the influence of foreign styles in some of the jewelry of the 18th dynasty is a headdress that covered nearly all of the hair, made of a network of rosette-shaped gold disks forming a real fabric (New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art). Foreign influence increased to an ever greater extent during the last dynasties and with the arrival of the Greeks. Like all other forms of artistic expression, in spite of three centuries of Ptolemaic dynasty (up through 30 BCE), the great artistic tradition of Egyptian jewelry slowly died out, and the introduction first of Hellenism and then of the Romans led to the definitive decline of the most monumental cultural and artistic structure known throughout all history.

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