Hellenistic Gold Earrings Ornamented with Two Erotes
Period: Hellenistic, 3rd century B.C.
Material: Gold and Amethyst
Dimensions: H. 5.3cm
Ex collection Feuardent, Paris; collected in the 19th century
These two gems, which are nearly identical but symmetric, were certainly a pair. They were each made of three elements. The first is a long, gold wire, bent into a hook shape for insertion into the earlobe. Soldered to this hook is a disk that is fashioned into a seven-petal rosette with a central sphere and edges in twisted gold wire. The second part is an amethyst bead suspended from the disk by a ring made of gold wire. The third element is a figurine of a standing Eros, draped only in a chlamys (cloak) fastened by a belt worn across the shoulder. Above his head, the boy holds a seemingly smooth sphere, perhaps a ball; his other hand is open, as if he is preparing to receive something. The figure’s pose is slightly enigmatic: perhaps he is in the middle of juggling his ball, tossing it from one hand to another. His legs are crossed, as if he is lightly tracing a dance step. As is often the case in Greek art, these winged Erotes are represented as children with soft bodies and open, smiling expressions; their hair, descending just to the nape of the neck, covers the top of the head like a cap.
This type of jewel, with a rosette and/or a stone sandwiched between the hook and pendant, enjoyed remarkable success throughout the Greek world, especially during the early stages of the Hellenistic period. The two most popular pendant subjects for the female consumers who would have worn these earrings were undeniably figurines of Eros or Nike. While Eros’s ancient iconography is extremely rich and varied, this representation is nevertheless very interesting, because a representation of juggling or ball playing has never before been attested to among all the numerous figures of the young god used as earring pendants. Often, Eros is portrayed with a bow, a lyre, vessels, a theater mask, or bunches of grapes. On the other hand, images of Eros entertaining himself with a ball appear on many Greek red figure vases from the end of the fifth century B.C.
B. Deppert-Lippitz, Griechischer Goldschmuck (1985), p. 230, n. 166.
H. Hoffmann and P. Davidson, Greek Gold: Jewelry from the Age of Alexander (1966), pp. 86-87, no. 14, no. 18, p. 94;
F. H. Marshall, Catalogue of the Jewellery, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman, in the Departments of Antiquities, British Museum (1911), pls. 32-33.
For more on Eros, see Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 3 (1986), s.v. Eros, Amor/Cupido, pp. 850-1049; cf. pp. 914-15, nn. 755-58, 766, for Eros playing with a ball.