Hellenistic Gold Butterfly Necklace
Culture: Greek, Greek-Hellenistic
Period: Hellenistic, 2nd century B.C.
Material: Gold, Garnet, and Emerald
Dimensions: L. 28cm
Ex-collection Feuardent, Paris; collected in the 19th century
Composed of settings with beaded edging and colored inlays, this necklace’s elaborate centerpiece is linked on both sides to two cordlike, loop-in-loop chains; these terminate in finely molded lynx-head finials that hold small loops in their open mouths. The broad, gold frames of the seven box settings contrast with their colored inlays. A large garnet occupies the center; this oval cabochon is flanked by two slightly smaller emerald ones, which are themselves framed by oval garnets, and finally by a circular setting at each end containing a garnet. All of these are joined by tiny hinges. Below, an elaborate arrangement in the shape of a butterfly is supported by short chains attached to the animal’s naturally rendered wings.
Necklaces such as this one reflect the taste for color and splendor prevalent in the late Hellenistic period. The use of hinges to connect even small elements illustrates period goldsmiths’ particular interest in arriving at technical solutions that were previously unknown.
The butterfly is by no means simply a decorative motif, but a symbol of eternal love. It represents Psyche, the personification of the soul, with whose beauty Eros himself fell in love. Psyche is usually represented as a young girl with small butterfly wings. This subject is known in late Hellenistic jewelry, and there are several necklaces that refer to it. The closest parallel is a butterfly necklace from the Olbia Treasure, now in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. There are also other butterfly necklaces, one in the Kofler-Truninger Collection, allegedly from southern Russia; another from Chersonesus, in southern Russia; and a third in the British Museum, London, reportedly from Italy. Similar in composition and style are a necklace from Palaiocastro, Thessaly, in the National Museum, Athens and another from the Artjukhov Barrow in southern Russia.
For the necklace in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, see A. Oliver, The Olbia Treasure, in A. Garside, ed., Jewelry, Ancient to Modern (1979), pp. 94ff., no. 281.
For that in the Kofler-Truninger Collection, see H. Hoffmann and P. Davidson, Greek Gold: Jewelry from the Age of Alexander (1965) p. 142, no. 51.
For the necklace from Chersonesus, see E. H. Minns, Scythians and Greeks (1971), p. 407, fig. 295.
For the necklace in the British Museum, London, see F. H. Marshall, Catalogue of the Jewellery, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman, in the Departments of Antiquities, British Museum (1911), no. 2746; and R. A. Higgins, Greek and Roman Jewellery, 2d ed. (1980), pl. 56.
For the necklace from the Palaiocastro Treasure, see B. Pfeiler-Lippitz, Späthellenistische Goldschmiedearbeiten, Antike Kunst 15, 2 (1972), p. 108, pl. 30,1. The necklace from the Artjukhov Barrow appears in Minns, fig. 321.