Jewellery in Texts: Texts in Jewellery
Saturday 2 July 2022, Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BE
Jewellery in Texts: Texts in Jewellery was the first event organised by SJH since the Covid lockdown, and was made available on a hybrid basis, live and online, as is now the case with regular SJH
Videos of the papers from the Texts conference are available
'Texts' symposium lectures
Sébastien Aubry (University of Liège, Cantonal Museum of Archaeology and History, Lausanne)
Greek and Latin Inscriptions on Antique Engraved Gems and Rings (Greek, Etruscan, Roman): An overview.
This talk was not delivered at the conference due to insurmountable travel problems. Dr Aubry will be giving an expanded version to SJH on
26 September 2023.
Inscriptions first appeared on Archaic Greek seals in the middle of the 6th century BC, and later found echo on Etruscan scarabs. Classical and Hellenistic Greek gems, as well as Italic and especially Roman intaglios, inherited from this double epigraphical lineage but diversified the forms and types. On Graeco-Roman engraved gems and rings, there is indeed a rather wide variety of Greek and Latin inscriptions, which present different configurations (formula, term, abbreviation, inital letter) and epigraphical particularities (crasis, monogram, abbreviation by contraction or suspension, nexus, letters switched, reversed – boustrophedon – or written into each other as so-called ligature). Even more noteworthy, these inscriptions can be classified between very many types of different natures : name of the bearer (duo or tria nomina, diacritic name or ὄνομα, designation referring to some slave or freedman, partial indication of the cursus honorum), dedication, acclamation, commemorative inscription, eulogy, invocation, prayer, addition to the engraved iconographic theme (didascalie), salutation, wish of good omen, prophylactic or apotropaic formula, confirmation of votive gift (ex-voto), loving or friendly motto, marriage and religious symbolism, numeral, trade mark or signature of the engraver, intrinsic function of the gem (seal, gift), legal norm and, finally, combination of ideographic and linguistic elements. Presenting an overview as exhaustive as possible, the lecture shall bear witness to the wealth of inscriptions on Graeco-Roman gems and rings.
Hans Albert Gilg (Technical University of Munich)
Gemstones in Royal Inventories and Crowns in the 14th Century.
In Late Medieval Europe, the knowledge of and interest in gemstones increased significantly. This is well documented by numerous lapidary poems and the 13th-century scientific encyclopaedias. However, both types of text are strongly based on ancient sources, often dealing with magical lore, and the connection to present-day mineralogical terminology is often unclear. Other useful gemmological literary sources are ducal and royal jewellery inventories that started to be compiled in the 14th century in France and England. In these inventories, slightly different technical terms for gemstones and their shaping as well as for forgeries are used. Only a few of the thousands of meticulously described bejewelled objects of that time survived. In order to elucidate the medieval terminologies, results of a gemmological study using microscopy, X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy of two richly adorned crowns dated to the late 14th century are presented. An English crown that belonged to Richard II, was later part of the dowry of Blanche of Lancaster, and is now preserved in the Treasury of the Munich Residence, and the crown of St. Wenceslaus hosted in the Metropolitan cathedral in Prague. The investigations yielded valuable insights into the use of gemstones, imitations and decorative practices of the Late Middle Ages.
Hugo Miguel Crespo (University of Lisbon)
Claude Munier – Gem Merchant and Lapidary in Late Renaissance Lisbon.
Recent archival research in the Lisbon archives has yielded a rare, important document which sheds much light on the fairly secretive and often elusive world of the 16th-century gemstone trade in Europe. Claude Munier (or Monier) lived in downtown Lisbon with his wife Elena della Porta and their two children, Claude and Barthélemy. A French gem merchant and lapidary, Munier had been living for several decades in Lisbon, a city which was at that time a major destination and distribution centre for luxury objects and precious commodities, namely gemstones, from all parts of the globe. When he died in 1591, a thorough and detailed inventory was drafted of all his belongings (clothes, furniture, etc), including his extensive stock of gemstones and items of jewellery. These, all valued and sometimes stating their geographic origin, included pearls, emeralds, rubies, spinels, diamonds, sapphires, etc; and even his lapidary mill and polishing wheels are carefully listed and described. His eldest son Claude was at the time doing business in his father’s name in Nantes, where he left a great number of the gemstones to sell. A detailed list of these gems is also provided. Unusually thorough, Munier’s posthumous inventory not only provides new information on gemstone trade (type, quality, market value, and knowledge of gems), but also helps us to better contextualise his social standing, business activities and network.
Juliet Claxton (Independent scholar)
Precious Secrets – Pearls and Coral in Early Modern Medical Recipes
‘Take the rags of pearle or seed pearle, of red Corrall, of Crabs Eyes, of Hawthorne, of white Amber, being all severally beaten into fine pouder, and searced through a fine searce’ - Natura Exenterata (London, 1655)
Mr Gaskin’s ‘Cordial powder’ first published in 1655 purported to prevent small-pox, cure consumption, mitigate against fits and even claimed to cure plague and all other burning fevers. Pearls and coral have long adorned the body for both decorative and protective purposes, but they also have an extensive history in medicine, particularly in traditional Chinese and Far Eastern treatments, where they remain in use to this day. In the medieval period European doctors too praised them as an effective prophylaxis against disease, and they were taken either in the form of ground powder or dissolved in acid solutions.
This paper examines these precious jewels worn by the nobility and gentry in early modern England as they appear in both medical and cosmetic texts, described as ‘Books of Secrets’ or household recipe collections, which circulated in both manuscript and printed volumes from the first half of the 17th century. It assesses how they were acquired, prepared and combined with other elements to produce a large array of curative mixtures, and considers whether some or indeed any of these remedies might have had any efficacy.
Suzanne van Leeuwen (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)
‘Live to die’: a 17th-Century Memento Mori Ring from the Netherlands.
In 2017 the Rijksmuseum acquired an extraordinary mid-17th-century gold and enamel ring with memento mori motifs. The bezel of the ring consists of an opened book with a verse from the New Testament: ‘t Leven is mijn Christi, Sterven is mijn Gewin PHI -1 V.21 (For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain). The page is ready to be turned. The ring shoulders are decorated with a winged figure and a skull with crossbones above an hourglass. On the inside of the hoop an inscription reads ‘ons leven is een schadú op aerde’ (our life on earth is but a shadow). Overall, the wearer of the ring was constantly reminded of the transience of earthly life. A highly personal and tangible object, a ring was also a perfect way to carry this message close to the heart.
Roberta Cruciata (University of Palermo)
Jewellery with Sentimental Inscriptions in Sicily, 1850-1900.
The aim of this paper is to investigate the presence of jewels that carry sentimental messages in the Sicilian jewellery of the second half of the 19th century.
There are two types, and exclusively on rings and earrings. The first category shows some engraved or enamelled initials: the letter A alluding to the words “amore” (love) or “amo” (I love), R to the word “ricordo” (memory), and S whose meaning has been much discussed. It could allude to the word “spero” (I hope), but also to “sospiro” (sigh), “souvenir” or “schiavo” (slave). In the second type there are jewels that have whole words of love, for example “caro” (dear) or the French “amour”.
These jewels were present throughout Italy, especially in the south-central area, and are to be contextualized in the European panorama of the so-called sentimental jewellery. But their interest lies mainly in the role played now by the written word rather than by the symbols (of colours, precious stones, objects or animals) to express the message of love. In some jewels the inscription has Gothic characters, in line with the eclecticism and revivalist fashions which spread in the 19th century to all fields of the arts.
Cristina Vignone (Tiffany & Co.)
References to Tiffany in 19th-Century Fictional Literature published in the United States.
not available online
This paper examined references to Tiffany & Co. jewelry that abound in 19th-century fictional literature published in the United States. It focused on stories in weekly and monthly periodicals that circulated around the country — Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s New Monthly, Lippincott's, McClure's, Graham's, and Life — as well as works appearing in women’s magazines like Godey’s and Peterson’s. It also referenced Tiffany jewelry mentioned in the novels and short stories of 19th-century American writers, including Horatio Alger, Jr. and O’Henry. In many cases, authors employ Tiffany jewelry to convey ideas about luxury, quality, and craftsmanship. In others Tiffany’s diamond jewelry — particularly engagement rings — is central to plots about romance, proposals, and weddings. Many explore what it was like to shop for jewelry at Tiffany’s flagship store in New York City in the 19th century, some even featuring fictional encounters with the company’s founder Charles Lewis Tiffany. Others describe in detail the fictional Tiffany jewelry purchased, worn, or desired by characters. The paper provided excerpts from these stories that showcase 19th-century American wit and humor to provide insights into the way in which notions about Tiffany jewelry circulated among the country’s public through the written word.
Sarah Rothwell (National Museums of Scotland)
Not so Hidden Messages.
not available online
The written word is a powerful and persuasive tool that can inspire and revolt us in equal measure. Equally, jewellery has the power to spread messages and has been used for generations to declare an individual’s position of allegiance or defiance. By incorporating a message, slogan or symbol, a jewel becomes a provocative statement on societal and political issues. Which in turn will provoke both the viewer and wearer to think beyond the decorative aestheticism of adornment. Such pieces question both our emotional and intellectual relationship with language and jewellery.
Many jewellery artists and designers whose jewels incorporate text, seek to highlight the power a word or statement has upon society, such as with Sera Park Choi’s Stay Home beaded body piece created during the 2020 Lockdown. Others call into question the value and idolatry today’s society places upon brand names for instance, as with Frank Tjepkema’s Bling Bling Necklace of 2005. Or, they can be combined in such a way to be a visual manifestation of documentation, as seen in Jonathan Matthew Boyd’s practice. Incorporating a message within a Jewel can also be a more provocative statement on exploitation than any text pinned to a gallery wall, as is evidenced by David Poston’s 1975 Slave Manacle.
Within this paper I aim to explore those artist jewellers who use text as a persuasive statement, carrying messages which draw out questions around how we perceive the world, for good or bad.