Etruscan Jewelry: Necklaces, Bracelets, Brooches and Rings

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In examining the very primitive necklaces and other ornaments that have been discovered in various tombs in Italy, especially in Etruria and Latium, the extraordinary abundance of amber at once attracts attention. The amber of this ancient jewelry of Italy has accessories, sometimes of gold, and more frequently of silver, or else of an alloy of gold and silver termed electritm.

A noteworthy early necklace of these materials found at Praeneste, and now in the British Museum, is composed of amber cylinders, and pendent vases alternately of amber and electrum. Though the majority of Etruscan necklaces aim at largeness of display, some are as delicate and refined as the best Greek ornaments.

From a round plaited chain in the British Museum hangs a single ornament—the mask of a faun whose hair, eyebrows, and wavy beard are worked with fine granulation; another pendant is a Negro’s head on which the granules are disposed with exquisite skill to represent the short woolly hair.

Finer even than either of these—and a remarkable example of the combination of the two processes of filigree and granulation—is a neck pendant in the form of a mask of Dionysos (Bacchus) in the Campana Collection in the Louvre. On this the curls of hair over the forehead are represented by filigree spirals, while the beard is worked .entirely in the granulated method.

A large number of necklaces have evidently been produced simply for sepulchral purposes, for they are composed, like the majority of crowns, of the thinnest bracteate gold in the shape of rosettes and studs strung together. The chief characteristic of Etruscan necklaces is their ornamentation with pendent bullce. The bulla, from the Latin word meaning a bubble, was usually made of two concave plates of gold fastened together so as to form a globe—lentoid or vase-shaped which an amulet was contained.

In Etruscan art both men and women are represented wearing necklaces and even bracelets formed of bullae. Occasionally, instead of a bulla, is some such object as the tooth or claw of an animal, or a small primitive flint arrow-head, which served as an amulet.

Of bracelets of primitive work are a famous pair in the British Museum, which were discovered in a tomb at Cervetri (Caere). They are composed of thin plates of gold measuring 8 inches in length by 2 inches in width, divided into six sections, ornamented with scenes thoroughly Assyrian in character, indicated by lines of microscopic granulations.

Etruscan fibulae of gold are generally formed of a short arc-shaped bow and a long sheath for the pin decorated with minute granular work. Upon the upper surface are often rows of small models of animals.

Upon the sheath of a large early fibula found at Cervetri (Caere), and now in the British Museum, is a double row of twenty-four standing lions. The bow of the later fibulae is sometimes in the form of a single figure, as that of a crouching lion.

A considerable number of small fibulae of this type appear to have been worn in rows down the seam of the dress. Two series of these, the one numbering twenty-one and the other thirty-nine, both found in a tomb at Vulci, are in the Louvre.

The Etruscans appear to have had a special love for rings; every finger, including the thumb, was covered with them, and a considerable number have been discovered in the tombs. The majority are composed of scarabs mounted much in the same style as those of the Egyptians.

One of the finest Etruscan rings in the British Museum is formed by two lions, whose bodies make up the shank, their heads and fore-paws supporting a bezel in filigree which holds the signet stone—a small scarabasus charged with a lion regardant.

Another remarkable class of Etruscan rings has large oval bezels measuring upwards of an inch and a half across. These are set with an engraved gem, and have wide borders ornamented with various designs. An example in the British Museum shows a pattern formed of dolphins and waves.

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