Greek Jewelry: Rings, Bracelets and Necklaces

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The decorating of the head with wreaths was a very common practice among the ancients on festive occasions of every description.

The wreaths with which the dead were adorned for burial, made in imitation of natural leaves, form a large portion of funereal jewelry. One of the most famous of this species, found in 1813 at Armento (S. Italy), and purchased about 1826 by Ludwig I, King of Bavaria, from Countess Lipona (formerly Queen of Naples and wife of Joachim Murat) is now in the Antiquarium at Munich. Here the wreath, formed of roses, narcissus, myrtle and genii, while on the top is placed a statue with an inscription underneath it. This splendid specimen was probably employed for votive purposes.

Dating from the third century B.C., and also from Magna Graecia, is the gold crown in the British Museum which was acquired from the collection of Count Tyszkiewicz in 1898. Being of more solid construction, though excessively light and elegant, this, and similarly elaborate crowns in the Louvre, were probably worn by ladies of high rank.

In addition to these diadems composed of many minute parts, the simplest and probably the most usual form is that of a flat band increasing in breadth towards the middle, and ending there sometimes in a blunt point marked by a palmette.

Pins that served the purpose of fastening up and decorating the hair vary in style, their heads being formed sometimes of flowers, and sometimes of animals or human figures, resembling those employed as pendants to earrings.

Probably the most important is the handsome pin in the British Museum from Paphos in Cyprus. The head, surmounted with a bead of Egyptian porcelain with a pearl above, is in the form of a capital of a column. At the four corners are projecting heads of bulls, and between these are open cups or flowers, towards which four doves with outstretched wings bend down as if to drink.

Typical necklaces of the best period consist of a chain about three-eighths of an inch in width, of closely plaited gold wire. From this are suspended numerous smaller chains, masked at the top by small rosettes and hung below with vases, spindle-shaped pieces, or a rhythmical combination of other ornaments covered with fine filigree.

The British Museum possesses several superb necklaces. To the finest one, found in the island of Melos, colour is added by means of green and blue enamel.

Bracelets and armlets, which are rarer than necklaces, are of three forms : a fine plaited chain, like that of the necklaces, united by a clasp in the form of a knot; repouss(: plaques hinged together ; and a circlet of beaten gold of more solid construction.

The primary object of the finger ring was its use as a convenient method of carrying the engraved stone which was to serve as a signet. Hence in early times more attention was paid to the engraving of the gem set in the ring than to its mounting.

Many early rings are entirely of gold and made generally of one piece, with a large flat bezel engraved like a gem. A great number of them, though apparently solid, are hollow, and formed of gold leaf punched into shape and then filled up with mastic to preserve the form.

The ornamental rings of the later Greeks have been found chiefly in the luxurious colonies of Magna Graecia. One of the most charming designs is in the shape of a serpent which coils itself many times round the finger, with its head and tail lying along the finger. It is worthy of remark that though a number of Greek rings are in existence, never in Greek art, as in Etruscan and Roman, do we find any representation of the human figure with rings on the fingers.

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Author: fairydew1

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