The Ceremony: Ancient Metals and Adornments

The Ceremony

Ancient Metals and Adornments

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This necklace of extraordinary craftsmanship and intricate design is composed of forty die-formed ibex heads, each with long ribbed horns, combined with die-formed double lozenges above, each with a diamond shaped spacer attached to one side.

On the reverse, each pendant bead is strung with a horizontal loop-in-loop articulated band. The terminals, both with ibex head and double lozenge above, constitute a hook and loop closure.

“it is thought that the spirals served to deflect the blow of a sword...”

The pure geometric motif is combined in this piece with high precision of modeling. The direct use of such work is not known; it was described as shoulder-guard, wrist-guard, or arm-guard. This arm-guard was designed for the left arm and, most probably, made a pair with the right one. Executed by repeated hammering with annealing, the thick bronze wire is square in cross-section. The concentric spiral forms a perfectly discoid shape which terminates in central plate (the latter was made separately and affixed at the back); it is thought that the spirals served to deflect the blow of a sword. The spiral finials of fibulae or wire-spirals as bracelets, made of bronze or gold, wire were popular designs in the jewelry of the European Bronze age. This arm-guard employs the same design on a monumental scale; the piece is considerably heavy but the spiral preserves a complete flexibility.

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A more reasonable hypothesis would be that such objects had a ceremonial and decorative purpose, as “parade weapons”, or that they were used exclusively in the funerary sphere. At a time when bronze was still rather rare and hard to work, owning a piece such as this one, with its massive weight and size, would have elevated the social status of its owner: only the noblemen, or the princes, would have been able to commission such extraordinary armbands.

This magnificent ceremonial weapon is made of solid gold, cast in a bivalve stone mold. The handle was inserted into the socket, whose inner wall incorporates a net pattern made up of thin gold strips arranged in a diagonal criss-cross pattern. The semi-ellipsoidal blade tapers gradually to the cutting edge, which is not completely sharp. There are two large openwork ovals adjoining the socket; looking like glasses or small windows, this type of tool is called a “fenestrated axe”. The outline is bordered with a thick lip, while a straight horizontal rib separates the blade into two halves.

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This is an extraordinary work of art, not only for its state of preservation and the use of gold, but also be-cause of its shape and the pure elegant proportions that harmoniously combine the linear elements (net pattern of the eye, central rib) with the rounded lines of the silhouette and central openings. This formal clarity is perfectly pleas-ing to modern aesthetics.

“This magnificent ceremonial treasure has a formal clarity that is perfectly pleasant to modern aesthetics... ”

“The use of enamels is attested by the rich bindings of liturgical books and by gold altarpieces such as the Pala d’Oro, the retable of Saint Mark’s Basilica, in Venice, utilizing the same mounting technique...”

This outstanding necklace is among the finest pieces of early Byzantine jewelry still preserved today. It is constructed of gold, beads, sapphires, emeralds, amethysts and glass paste.

The most important ornament of the necklace is a crossshaped pendant composed of oval sapphires. On each side are three other wheel-shaped and disk-shaped pendants. They are separated by small cylinders. The rest of the necklace includes rhomboid and cylindrical elements decorated with precious stones and connected by small gold links. The clasp consists of two other medallions, to which a hook and a loop are soldered. The entire setting is made of gold, including that of the pendants in the shape of shallow cups. The beads are combined with precious stones such as sapphires, emeralds and amethysts.

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The many precious stones and beads, as well as the splendor displayed by the very complex structure of the necklace, are absolutely unique. Only an extremely wealthy person would have been able to acquire such a treasure and only a very high-ranking woman could have worn it. It is almost incredible that such a valuable, fragile necklace escaped vandalism (breaking up to salvage prized materials)! Although the beads have suffered from dryness, they are almost all still in place. Six rhomboid cabochons (gemstones or glass paste) are lost. The four circular settings are also empty; they would have contained other precious stones, enamel or cameos (especially in the two elements placed on the décolleté). The necklace is perfectly structured (precious stones, beads, rock crystal, glass paste and enamel), with a flawless alternation of the materials and colors. The piece is very elaborate and shows highly technical skills. This trend for splendor was often criticized by the clergy, like the Christian author Tertullian, who exhorted the faithful to exercise greater modesty.

Examples of cameo necklaces are documented thanks to the Egyptian necklace belonging to the treasure of Antinopolis, now in the Antikenmuseum in Berlin (inv. 30219508b), and by a large medallion featuring an Annunciation, housed in a private collection (cf. J. Spier). The use of enamels is attested by the rich bindings of liturgical books and by gold altarpieces such as the Pala d’Oro, the retable of Saint Mark’s Basilica, in Venice, utilizing the same mounting technique.

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