Etruscan Jewelry: Their Use of Gold

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The Etruscans appear to have had a peculiar passion for jewelry. Even in early times, when the excessive use of personal ornament was considered a mark of effeminacy, they were famed for their jewels.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, speaking of the Sabines, says that “they wore bracelets on their left arms, and rings, for they were a gold-wearing nation, and not less effeminate than the Etruscans.” Like most other nations of antiquity, the Etruscans dedicated to the service of the dead costly articles of adornment which they had worn when living; though the greater number of these jewels are flimsy objects made for mortuary purposes.

On Etruscan sarcophagi the men have torques about their necks, while the women have sometimes torques, sometimes necklaces, long earrings, and bracelets, and both sexes have many rings on their fingers.

Though systematically rifled in former times, Etruscan tombs have yet preserved to the present day a large number of jewels, sufficient to prove that the possibilities of gold were never more thoroughly grasped than by the Etruscans.

Their earlier jewelry—for the later is much coarser—shows extraordinary fineness and elaboration of workmanship. They possessed a peculiar art of fusing and joining metals by the use of solvents unknown to us, which rendered invisible the traces of solder. Surface decoration was produced by the interweaving of extremely delicate threads of gold, by a sparing use of enamel, and particularly by the soldering together of particles or globules of gold of such minuteness and equality as to be scarcely perceptible to the naked eye.

Animal or human forms were skilfully executed in relief by repousse, or produced in the round with the assistance of solder. But the chief characteristic of their jewelry, and that which mainly distinguishes it from the Greek, is its ornamentation with grains of gold of microscopic size.

The method of decorating the surface of gold with fine granules, which is usually termed granulation, is one which was in favor among all ancient gold workers in the countries bordering on the Mediterranean.

The ” pulvisculus aureus,” as it was called in Italy, came into common use towards the close of the Mycensean Age, at a time when the Phoenicians were making their influence felt in Cyprus, Sardinia, and Etruria, where examples of this method of gold working particularly abound.

We are probably right in assuming that this granulated work was indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean, and that, as it has been found upon jewels of undoubted Phoenician origin, the Phoenicians were not un-instrumental in disseminating it along their trade routes.

Cellini, in his description of the process of granulation in his Tvattato deir Oreficeria, speaks of each grain being made separately and soldered on, a technique probably practiced by the ancient jewelers. But in the case of the minutest Etruscan work, it is not improbable that the grains—at first natural, though subsequently artificial—were sprinkled like dust over the parts of the surface which had to be covered.

This fine granulation belongs only to the early and best Etruscan jewels. Larger grains were used for later work.

It is remarkable that the secrets of the old Etruscan goldsmiths have never been wholly recovered in Europe. That the art of granulation, though mentioned by-Cellini, was not generally practiced by the goldsmiths of the Renaissance is evident from the examples of their work that have survived. In recent years attempts have been made to revive the art; but as the well-known productions of Castellani the elder, with his sons Alessandro the connoisseur and Augusto, and of Carlo Giuliano, are connected with the later history of jewelry, further reference will be made to them subsequently.

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Author: fairydew1

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