Sunday, April 17, 2016

Jewelry Design History Flash: Ancient Italian Jewelry and the Etruscan Civilization

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (,_tombe_des_l%C3%A9opards.jpg)

While researching jewelry styles of antiquity for the Pompeii April 2016 Challenge, I came across the wealth of knowledge that will forever impact my perspectives into jewelry design. Countless works of art, their ancient wearers by now returned to dust, sit still perfectly whole in museums around the world, reflecting the beauty and fashions of ages passed. Let’s return to the past for innovation and inspiration in the modern world. I promise this won’t bore you!

What makes ancient Italian jewelry so unique starts with the Etruscan Civilization and their ability to manipulate gold. The people of Etruria, who began their work around 800 B.C., had a particular intuition for beauty and proportion. Being at the center of the Mediterranean was ideal for sea trade as well as mining, and their economic success allowed the jewelry making domain to strive. We can recognize the success of jewelry makers at the time based on the pieces that were left or ornate the tombs of the dead. Etruscans of the 6th century had the means to both live and die luxuriously. 

The Etruscans had an advanced approach to metal working, using a technique called “granulation”. This time consuming process used small gold beads and soldered them on a surface which was later decorated with gemstones and pearls. Amber was especially popular; it was set in silver, or sometimes tinted with gold to become a special meterial named “electrum”. Later influenced by the Greek styles, fashions began to shift towards the use of cameos and coins, and the baule earring became quickly popular. 
A baule earring featuring the head of a bull, an important Etruscan symbol
Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons)

The 5th century was a bit difficult for Etruria and it is clear archeologically that less people could afford jewelry. The Roman civilization took interest in Etruscan jewelry, and captured artisans who would serve them in jewelry making instead. In Rome, hairstyles were at the top of the trend, and the introduction of hairpins and headdresses of Etruscan design spread quickly, inspiring of revival of Etruscan styles at the turn of the 4th century. People loved jewelry so much in ancient Rome that laws had to be passed to limit the amount of jewelry that could be worn while occupying official positions. While the centers of the Etruscan civilization held their own against other growing and aggressive civilizations, artisans developed new designs and innovated techniques that would inspire many styles that are still popular today. Sadly, this formidable civilization eventually lost it's main sources of influence, and was assimilated by Rome around 500 B.C. 
This Pendant was constructed with the unique “electrum” technique. 
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ( ... 2169-9.jpg)
Incarnating the designs of Etruscan goldsmiths in the modern era honors their ingenuity. Ancient jewelry makers created the pillars behind design techniques used to this day; recycling their concepts and drawing inspiration from their work immortalizes the unique Etruscan aesthetic, swallowed by the passing of time.

Enjoyed this history flash? What are your favorite eras in jewelry design history?
Comment or email me!

"Etruscan Art." Etruscan Art., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2016. ( ... ln/t11.htm)
Radeke, Mrs. Gustav. "Italian Jewelry." A Jewelry History. Ed. Museum Of Art Rhode Island School of Design. Guyot Brothers Company Inc., 2016. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. ( ... -page9.htm)
Gaultier, Françoise, Catherine Metzger, Katerina Chatziefremidou, and Florence Specque. "In-Depth Studies : Jewelry from the Campana Collection." (n.d.): n. pag. Louvre Museum, 2011. Web. 04 Apr. 2016. ( ... ampana.pdf)

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting reading...thanks for putting the info together! Jeanne Evans