Hellenistic Polychrome Gold Jewellery Set
Culture: Greek-World, Greek-Hellenistic
Period: 1st century B.C.
Material: Gold, emerald, garnet, glass and agate
Dimensions: Length: 26.5 cm (necklace)
This group is an incredibly fine testament to the level of skill the goldsmith’s craft had achieved by the second century. Granulation, delicate wire work, polychromy, and even three dimensional molding and inlay – some of the most difficult and most beautiful techniques in goldwork – were lavished upon these pieces, making this particular group of pieces among the most luxurious and valuable examples of Hellenistic jewelry known.
The set consists of a necklace, a pair of earrings, and a ring, all of which match each other beautifully. The finger ring is of the large, oval type with a finely polished cornelian cabochon set into the large, heavy gold bezel. It was a popular design during the Hellenistic Era, often seen with intaglio designs or relief decoration (see fig. 1), but this particular ring is elegant in its simplicity. The smooth surface of the gem highlights its fine polish and brilliant color. The earrings and necklace are more elaborate, and instead of drawing attention away from their complexity, which a detailed intaglio ring might have done, the plain cornelian serves to highlight and add to the pleasing assemblage.
The identical pendant earrings are richly executed in gold, emerald, agate, and garnet. Below the ear wire, the beds for two missing pieces of inlay are rimmed in miniature gold beads. Two emerald beads and a granulated lozenge connect the inlays with a large gold rosette, the rays of which are also represented by granulation. A large emerald cabochon sits in the center of the rays. Two sets of precious multi-colored beads hand from tiny, loop-in-loop gold chains and dangle from either side of the rosette. A miniature agate amphora, complete with a molded base and tiny handles made out of twisted gold wire, hangs down from the center, completing the earrings.
The necklace is the final component of this remarkable set. Not only was it designed to perfectly complement the colors and forms of both the earrings and the ring, it is in excellent condition. The necklace consists of eighteen hollow gold beads, covered in a decorative pattern of granulated diamonds, and eight polished, round, emerald and agate beads. A tiny granulated wreath cushion separates each of the beads. At the center of the necklace, two longer agate beads terminate in lynx-head finials. These finials are wonderfully modeled in the round, and the expressiveness and fine proportions of the feline faces place this piece among the finest examples of Hellenistic goldwork. Although animal-headed finials are commonly seen from about the 4th century onward, these two lynxes display the artist’s superior technical skill and sensitivity towards the musculature of the faces. The heads are well-rounded and covered in very fine lines to indicate fur. The ears are large and wide at the base, set well-back on the head. Even the pads for the whiskers have been rendered convincingly. A single inlaid glass eye remains, giving the lynx an arresting stare.
The artist’s thoughtfulness and attention to detail are such that the lynxes hold the links connecting the three cabochons at the center to the rest of the necklace in their mouths as if they are carrying the stones.
The jewelry set itself is not necessarily unique in design. Close parallels exist at the Dallas Museum (fig. 2-4), the Getty (fig.1,5), and elsewhere. Similar designs were common throughout the Hellenistic Era. What sets this particular group apart from the rest is the consummate skill and care with which the goldsmith executed his commission. His obvious mastery of the most beautiful and delicate goldworking techniques of the time – paired with an extraordinary eye for detail – raises this group to a level above most other existing examples of this type. Its remarkable state of preservation, still together as a group and almost completely intact, is truly a fantastic stroke of fate.
Deppert-Lippitz, B. Ancient Gold Jewelry at the Dallas Museum of Art. Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas: 1996.
Hoffman, H. and Patricia Davidson. Greek Gold: Jewelry from the Age of Alexander. West Germany: 1966
Pfrommer, M. and E. T. Markus. Greek Gold from Hellenistic Egypt. Getty Museum Studies on Art, Los Angeles: 2001.