Greek Jewelry: Skills of the Greek Goldsmiths

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The jewelry of ancient Greece, which requires more detailed consideration, is that worn from the close of the fifth century onward. The jewelry of the Greeks at this epoch was, like all their other works of art, of surpassing excellence.

Gold was wrought with a skill which showed how well the artist appreciated the beauty of its color and its distinctive qualities of ductility and malleability. The Greek craftsman was ever careful to keep the material in strict subordination to the workmanship, and not to allow its intrinsic worth so to dominate his productions as to obscure his artistic intention.

The Greek goldsmiths excelled in the processes of repouss, chasing, engraving, and of intaglio cutting on metal, and brought to great perfection the art of soldering small objects on to thin surfaces and joining together the thinnest metal plates.

Granulated work, in which they were rivaled by the Etruscans alone, the Greeks practiced with success, but preferred filigree ornamentation, that is the use of fine threads of gold twisted upon the surface with very delicate effect.

Precious stones were very rarely used in the finest work, though on many of the post-Alexandrine jewels, stones such as garnets were frequently employed. Color was obtained by a sparing use of enamel.

The value of Greek jewelry lies in the use of gold and the artistic development of this single material. The minuteness of jewelry did not lead the Greeks to despise it as a field of labor. Whatever designs they borrowed from others the Greeks made their own and reproduced in a form peculiar to themselves.

In other respects they went straight to nature, choosing simple motives of fruit, flowers, and foliage, united with a careful imitation of animal forms and of the human body. The objects we have to consider fall into two classes, according as they are either substantial articles for use or ornament in daily life, or mere flimsy imitations of them made only to be buried with the dead.

As in the case of other nations of antiquity, the demands of Greek piety were satisfied if the dead were adorned with jewels made cheaply of leaves of stamped or bracteate gold. This course was followed mainly for the purpose of lessening expense; but it served also to obviate the chance of tombs being rifled by tomb-robbers or tymborychoi, who practiced a profession which was common in ancient times and offered large and certain profits.

Jewels simply and entirely funereal occupy a prominent position in every public and private collection of Greek jewelry. The rarity of jewels for actual use may be further explained by the fact that articles of that kind would only be associated with the grave of a person of wealth and distinction, and that the more important graves were the first prey of robbers.

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Author: fairydew1

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