The Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Egg

House of Fabergé, Saint-Petersburg, Workmaster: Mikhail Perkhin, Miniaturist: Johannes Zeingraph, Icon painter: Mikhail Dikarev
The Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Egg, 1898, Gold, Ruby, Rose-cut diamonds, Pearls, Ivory, Glass, Technics Casting, Embossing, Engraving, Guilloche enamel, Watercolor, Gilding, Height: 15,1 cm (opened: 19,9 cm), Fabergé Museum, Shuvalov Palace of Saint-Petersburg, Russia https://fabergemuseum.ru/en/collections/collection-highlights/lilies-of-the-valley-easter-egg

In the realm of art and beauty, William Blake, with his evocative poetry, reminds us on the one hand that… The modest Rose puts forth a thorn, / The humble sheep a threat’ning horn: / While the Lily white shall in love delight, / Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright. Echoing this celebration of beauty and purity, on the other hand, Peter Carl Fabergé brings to life the unparalleled elegance of the lily in one of his most celebrated creations: The Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Easter Egg. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lilly_(poem)

Peter Carl Fabergé was a master jeweller and goldsmith of the Russian Empire, renowned for his exquisite and intricate craftsmanship, particularly in the creation of the famed Fabergé eggs. Born in Saint Petersburg in 1846 into a family of French Huguenot descent, Fabergé inherited his father’s jewelry business and elevated it to extraordinary heights of artistic and commercial success. He became most famous for the series of elaborately decorated Easter eggs he created for the Russian imperial family from 1885 to 1917. These eggs, crafted from precious metals and gemstones, were feats of engineering and artistry, containing surprises such as miniatures, clockwork birds, or ships. Fabergé’s work extended beyond these eggs to include a vast range of jewelry and luxury objects, admired for their beauty and precision. Despite the turmoil of the Russian Revolution, which eventually led him into exile, Fabergé’s legacy endures, symbolizing the pinnacle of craftsmanship and the opulence of pre-revolutionary Russia.

The Imperial Easter Eggs by Fabergé represent a highpoint in the world of art and craftsmanship, a series of 50 opulent, jewelled Eggs created for the Russian imperial family from 1885 to 1917. Commissioned initially by Tsar Alexander III as an Easter gift for his wife, Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, the tradition continued under his son, Nicholas II, who gifted them to his mother and wife. Each Egg, meticulously crafted from gold, enamel, and precious gems, concealed a unique surprise, ranging from miniature replicas of the imperial regalia to intricate mechanical objects, showcasing the unparalleled skill of Fabergé and his craftsmen. Beyond their artistic merit, these eggs held personal significance for the imperial family, commemorating events and anniversaries, and have become symbols of the extravagance of the Romanov dynasty and the lost opulence of Imperial Russia. Today, the surviving eggs are treasured as masterpieces of decorative art, housed in museums and private collections around the world, embodying the legacy of Fabergé’s genius and the enduring fascination with the Romanovs.

House of Fabergé Easter Eggs in the Fabergé Museum, Shuvalov Palace of Saint-Petersburg, Russia https://russiable.com/faberge-museum-st-petersburg/

The Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Easter Egg, crafted in 1898, is the opulent gift given to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna by Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas II. This exquisite piece, designed by the renowned jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé, is adorned with translucent pink guilloché enamel on a gold base, vertical strips of rose-cut diamonds and pearl lilies of the valley elegantly accented with diamonds among green enamelled leaves. The Easter Egg is topped with a diamond and ruby-set Imperial crown, that hides a surprise, three miniature watercolour portraits, framed in diamonds, of Nicholas II and the two daughters of the royal family, Olga and Tatiana, in the form of a trefoil that opens when a pearl button is pushed. The Easter Egg is supported by cabriolet legs of graceful gold leaves adorned with pearls and sinuous lines of rose-cut diamonds.

House of Fabergé, Saint-Petersburg, Workmaster: Mikhail Perkhin, Miniaturist: Johannes Zeingraph, Icon painter: Mikhail Dikarev
The Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Egg (detail), 1898, Gold, Ruby, Rose-cut diamonds, Pearls, Ivory, Glass, Technics Casting, Embossing, Engraving, Guilloche enamel, Watercolor, Gilding, Height: 15,1 cm (opened: 19,9 cm), Fabergé Museum, Shuvalov Palace of Saint-Petersburg, Russia https://fabergemuseum.ru/en/collections/collection-highlights/lilies-of-the-valley-easter-egg

Lilies of the valley, symbols of purity, youth, and innocence, were the favourite flowers of Alexandra Feodorovna, who avoided “any kind of pomp” and dedicated almost all her time to her husband and children. They were also a favourite ‘motif’ of the Art Nouveau style, a movement that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, characterized by its focus on organic forms, intricate designs, and a harmonious integration of art with everyday objects. This Easter Egg exhibits several key characteristics of Art Nouveau, such as its graceful and asymmetrical form, which mimics the natural curves of the lilies of the valley. The use of enamel, a hallmark of Art Nouveau craftsmanship, adds vibrant colour and depth to the piece, while the incorporation of pearls and diamonds accentuates its luxurious appeal. Furthermore, the attention to detail, from the delicate placement of each gemstone to the subtle nuances in the design, reflects the meticulous craftsmanship synonymous with the Art Nouveau movement.

Renowned for its elegance and the intricacy of its design, the Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Easter Egg, encapsulates not just the unmatched skill of its creators but also the rich historical and emotional depth of the era it represents, making it a timeless testament to both the artistic innovations of its time and the enduring legacy of the Romanov dynasty. It epitomizes the Art Nouveau movement through its embodiment of organic beauty, exquisite craftsmanship, and the seamless fusion of art with functionality, while simultaneously serving as a symbol of imperial opulence, intricate artistry, and the poignant narrative of a bygone era.

As we welcome the 1st of May and with the Greek Orthodox Easter upon our threshold, I extend heartfelt Wishes to all for Health, Happiness, and the Warmth of shared moments with loved ones. Let the Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Easter Egg, an exquisite artefact that captures the essence of beauty and tradition, stand as a poignant reminder of the enduring spirit of rejuvenation, hope, and rebirth that Easter brings to many around the world.

For suggested Student Activities, please, Check… HERE!

Puabi’s Tomb and Magnificent Jewels

Puabi’s Jewelry, 2600-2450 BC, Gold and semi-precious stones, Penn Museum, Philadelphia, PA, USA https://www.penn.museum/collections/object_images.php?irn=1138

Back on the 4th of January 1928, Sir Leonard Wooley wrote about Puabi’s Tomb and magnificent JewelsI found the intact tomb, stone built and vaulted over with bricks of Queen Shubad (Puabi) adorned with a dress in which gems, flowers, crowns and animal figures are woven. Tomb magnificent with jewels and golden cups…

Queen Puabi, a name that has endured over millennia, lived during the peak of Ur’s dominance around 2600 BC. This is the Early Dynastic Period of Mesopotamia, which is often referred to as the Early Bronze Age. During her era, the ancient city-state of Ur wielded considerable influence over the Sumer region, which was situated between the southern territories of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This period witnessed a flourishing trade environment in Ur, with trade routes extending from present-day India to Sudan.

Puabi was apparently one of Ur’s most powerful Ladies…  Her name and title are known from the short inscription on one of three cylinder seals found on her person. Although most women’s cylinder seals at the time would have read “wife of ___,” this seal made no mention of her husband. Instead, it gave her name and title as queen. The two cuneiform signs that compose her name were initially read as “Shub-ad” in Sumerian. Today, however, we think they should be read in Akkadian as “Pu-abi” (or, more correctly, “Pu-album,” meaning “word of the Father”). Her title “eresh” (sometimes mistakenly read as “nin”) means “queen.” https://www.penn.museum/collections/highlights/neareast/puabi.php

This amazing Lady was immortalized through the discovery of her undisturbed Tomb in the ancient city of Ur, in present-day Iraq. Designated as PG 800, Puabi’s Tomb was excavated by British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s as part of his extensive work at the Ur archaeological site. The tomb, located in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, is one of the most famous archaeological discoveries in Mesopotamia. In the years following the discovery of Puabi’s tomb, her legacy has continued to captivate researchers and the public alike, shedding light on the fascinating history of ancient Mesopotamia.

Inside Puabi’s tomb, archaeologists found a rich collection of artifacts, including jewelry, elaborate headdresses, musical instruments, and pottery that reflect the advanced craftsmanship and culture of ancient Sumer. She was buried with great ceremony and luxury, suggesting that she held a high status in Sumerian society, possibly as a queen or priestess.

I am particularly fascinated by her ‘formal’ attire… golden, carnelian red, and lapis-lazuli blue! I can imagine her, resplendent in her jewels attending official banquets, shining under the golden light of oil lamps. What a powerful impression she must have been!

Puabi’s Jewelry, 2600-2450 BC, Gold and semi-precious stones, Penn Museum, Philadelphia, PA, USA https://www.penn.museum/collections/object_images.php?irn=1138

According to the Penn Museum experts, where a significant part of her treasure is housed… Puabi’s ornate headdress and pair of earrings were found with her body in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The headdress is made up of 20 gold leaves, two strings of lapis and carnelian, and a large gold comb. In addition, the queen wore chokers, necklaces, and large lunate-shaped earrings. Her upper body was covered by strands of beads made of precious metals and semiprecious stones that stretched from her shoulders to her belt. Ten rings decorated her fingers. A diadem or fillet made up of thousands of small lapis lazuli beads with gold pendants depicting plants and animals was apparently on a table near her headhttps://www.penn.museum/collections/highlights/neareast/puabi.php

What an indelible and commanding presence she has left!

For a PowerPoint titled Puabi’s Tomb and Magnificent Jewels, please… Check HERE!

For the Penn Museum Video, titled Dressing Queen Puabi, please Check… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZngHY1nriA

Interesting articles on The Royal Tombs of Ur, Mesopotamia, New Investigations, New Results from the Examination of Metal Artifacts and other Archaeological Findshttps://www.bergbaumuseum.de/fileadmin/forschung/zeitschriften/metalla/22.1/metalla-22-1-royal-tombs-of-ur-mesopotamia-klein-hauptmann.pdf

Michael Attaleiates’s Ring at Dumbarton Oaks

Ring of Michael Attaleiates, before 1080, Enamel on Gold, 3 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info?query=Portfolios%20%3D%20%222620%22&sort=0&page=10

Michael Attaleiates’s Ring at Dumbarton Oaks has an inscription on its hoop that reads… Bearer of God, help thy servant Michael Attaleiates… while the bezel of the ring displays the bust of the Virgin flanked by the abbreviation ‘Mother of God.’ Byzantine rings with the owner’s name are scarce, and a ring associated with such a distinguished citizen is exceptionally rare. It stands as an extraordinary treasure! http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info?query=Portfolios%20%3D%20%222620%22&sort=0&page=10

In confronting this historical artifact, the initial question that arises relates to its owner, Michael Attaleiates. The key questions are: Who was he, and what attributes contributed to his recognition as a significant figure?

Michael Attaleiates was a Byzantine historian and government official who lived in the 11th century. He was likely born in Attaleia and relocated to Constantinople between 1030 and 1040 for legal studies. Upon his ‘graduation’ he entered the empire’s administration serving in the judiciary sector. Recognized for his judicial prowess, he received prestigious honors from the Byzantine Emperors and amassed substantial wealth through services in the empire’s administration.

In 1072, he compiled the Ponema Nomikon, a legal synopsis for Emperor Michael VII, based on the 9th-century Basilika. Around 1079/80, he penned The History, chronicling the Byzantine Empire from 1034 to 1079, showcasing valuable insights into the events and characters of his time, as well as the political, military, and social developments. His writings contribute significantly to our understanding of the political and cultural context of the Byzantine Empire during a critical period of its history. https://alexandria-publ.gr/shop/vios-ke-politia-enos-vizantinou-mandarinou/

Ring of Michael Attaleiates, before 1080, Enamel on Gold, 3 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA https://twitter.com/Varangian_Tagma/status/1598350774496817152/photo/1
Ring of Michael Attaleiates, before 1080, Enamel on Gold, 3 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info?query=Portfolios%20%3D%20%222620%22&sort=0&page=10

Back to Attaleiates’s ring, and according to Stephen Zwirn, retired Assistant Curator in the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks as of 2012… the ring stands out for deviating from the typical cloisonné technique used in Byzantium, instead adopting the champlevé technique associated with medieval Western European production. This method involves carving a cavity into the background, filling it with enamel, and leaving raised lines to define the image, allowing for intricate details in the drapery folds and inscriptions. The ring is so well crafted, that there is no doubt that this technique had been fully mastered by a Byzantine artist. http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info?query=Portfolios%20%3D%20%222620%22&sort=0&page=10

The second inquiry that arises concerns the acquisition history of the ring. According to Dumbarton Oaks records, on the 15th of August – a day Christians commemorate the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, DC, acquired Michael Attaleiates’s Ring from the Art Dealer Joseph Brummer. This prompts a dual question: Who was Joseph Brummer, and what distinguishes him as a noteworthy figure in the realm of art dealers?

Henri Rousseau, 1844 – 1910
Portrait of Joseph Brummer, 1909, Oil on Canvas, 115.9 × 88.3 cm, The National Gallery, London, UK https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/henri-rousseau-portrait-of-joseph-brummer

Joseph Brummer was a prominent art dealer in the early to mid-20th century, known for his significant contributions to the art world. Born in 1883 in Hungary, Brummer, along with his brothers, Ernest and Imre, established the Brummer Gallery in Paris in 1905, later moving it to New York in 1914. The Brummer Gallery played a pivotal role in recognizing the artistic importance of Medieval Arts and unusually introducing them as if they were modernist artifacts. The Brummer Gallery was also famous for introducing European modern art to the United States, showcasing works by renowned artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, and Brancusi. Joseph Brummer was renowned for his discerning eye and deep knowledge of art, building a reputation as a tastemaker and a key figure in the art market during his time. His legacy lives on not only through the artworks he handled but also in the influence he had on shaping the appreciation of art in America. https://medievalartus.ace.fordham.edu/exhibits/show/josephbrummer/josephbrummer-essay

P4125 recto: Byzantine ring in heavy, massive gold, with Greek inscription all around and a seal on top, also in gold, with figure in champleve enamel; also inscription around ring, The MET: Thomas J. Watson Library Digital Collections – The Brummer Gallery Records, New York, USA https://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16028coll9/id/29918/rec/17
P4125 verso: Byzantine ring in heavy, massive gold, with Greek inscription all around and a seal on top, also in gold, with figure in champleve enamel; also inscription around ring, The MET: Thomas J. Watson Library Digital Collections – The Brummer Gallery Records, New York, USA https://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16028coll9/id/29917/rec/17

On the 15th of August 1947, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection purchased Attaleiates’s Gold Ring from Joseph Brummer. Searching MET’s Thomas J. Watson Library Digital Collections – The Brummer Gallery Records, I present you with both sides of the Ring’s Inventory Card, Numbered P4125!

For a Student Activity, titled Comparative Analysis of Champlevé and Cloisonné Enamel Techniques in Byzantine Art, please… Check HERE!

Pectoral with Coins and Pseudo-Medallion

Pectoral with Coins and Pseudo-Medallion, ca. 539–50, Gold, niello, 23.9 x 21.9 x 1.6 cm, the MET, NY, USA https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/464070

Neck rings, such as the imposing gold Pectoral with Coins and Pseudo-Medallion in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, are cited in early sources as playing a role both in the glorification of military heroes and in coronation ceremonies. They were popular during the Late Roman period and continued well into the Early Byzantine era. Also known as Byzantine Imperial Collars or Byzantine Imperial Torcs, ornate necklaces like the MET example, were worn by members of the Byzantine imperial family and high-ranking officials during the Byzantine Empire (330-1453 AD). These neck rings were made of gold and decorated with medallions, coins, and intricate designs, often featuring Christian symbols. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/464070

The Metropolitan Museum pectoral necklace is composed of a plain, hollow neck ring attached to a frame set with a large central medallion flanked by coins, and two small decorative disks. The central medallion, encased by beaded wire, presents an unidentified Emperor in military attire on the obverse, and the enthroned personification of Constantinople on the reverse. Fourteen coins of Byzantine Emperors reigning during the fifth to the sixth centuries, are placed symmetrically, left, and right of the central medallion. The coins are surrounded by beaded wire as well. Crosses in niello, an interesting reference to Christianity, decorate the two small disks on either side of the medallion. The space between the coins and the medallion is filled with small rosettes and larger trefoils. The two ribbed rings at the pectoral’s lower edge once held a large medallion of the emperor Theodosius I (in the Collection of the Freer Gallery of Art). https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/464070 and https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, page 318-319

Pectoral with Coins and Pseudo-Medallion (detail), ca. 539–50, Gold, niello, 23.9 x 21.9 x 1.6 cm, the MET, NY, USA https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/464070
Medallion, consisting of a coin of Theodosius I (A.D. 379-395) set in an ornamental frame, 6th century, Gold, Diam: 0.5 cm, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA https://archive.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/online/luxuryarts/1d.htm   

This amazing necklace was part of a hoard of thirty-four pieces of gold jewelry said to have been found at the turn of the twentieth century, possibly at ancient Lycopolis (modern Assiut) or Antinoöpolis (modern Sheikh Ibada), both in central Egypt. The circumstances of the hoard’s discovery remain obscure as the treasure was illegally excavated. The high quality of each piece links the treasure jewels to the imperial workshops in Constantinople. The hoard is now divided among the Metropolitan Museum; the British Museum, London; the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Staatliche Museen-Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin. Whether the pieces were indeed discovered together or were assembled from different sites, they represent the standard of luxury among the elite in Egypt under Byzantine rule and attest to the close connection between the wealthy province and the capital Constantinople. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/The_Arts_of_Byzantium_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art_Bulletin_v_58_no_4_Spring_2001 “The Arts of Byzantium”: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 58, no. 4 (Spring, 2001), Page 19 and “Into the hands of a well-known antiquary of Cairo”: The Assiut Treasure and the Making of an Archaeological Hoard by Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Fall-Winter 2014), pp. 251-272 https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/679985?read-now=1#page_scan_tab_contents

The Byzantine Imperial Neck Rings were not just a fashion accessory, they were a symbol of power and authority. The imperial family, for example, wore them on important occasions, such as coronations, to demonstrate their wealth and status. Members of the Byzantine military elite, on the other hand, wore them as trophies of their military distinction. According to Procopius, soldiers were rewarded with money, and honoured with precious necklaces or bracelets. It is interesting to note that during the Early Byzantine period, men and women wore such necklaces alike. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century, edited by Kurt Weitzmann, 1979, page 318-319

For a PowerPoint on the so-called Assiut Treasure, please… Check HERE!

Pendant with the Bust of an Empress

Chain and Pendant with the Bust of an Empress, 379–395 AD, Gold, garnet, sapphire, glass, 6.4 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA http://colorsandstones.eu/2020/11/08/necklace-with-a-pendant-roman-overview/

St. Ambrose describes her, Aelia Flacilla, wife of emperor Theodosius I, as “a soul true to God” (Fidelis anima Deo. – “De obitu Theodosii”, n. 40, in P. L., XVI, 1462). In his panegyric, St. Gregory of Nyssa bestowed the highest praise on her virtuous life and pictured her as the helpmate of the emperor in all good works, an ornament of the empire, a leader of justice, an image of beneficence. He praises her as filled with zeal for the Faith, as a pillar of the Church, and as a mother of the indigent. Theodoret in particular exalts her charity and benevolence (Hist. Eccles., V, xix, ed. Valesius, III, 192 sq.). He tells us how she personally tended cripples and quotes a saying of hers: “To distribute money belongs to the imperial dignity, but I offer up for the imperial dignity itself personal service to the Giver.” Could the Pendant with the Bust of an Empress in the Getty Collection depict this extraordinary Early Christian Empress? https://www.ecatholic2000.com/cathopedia/vol6/volsix114.shtml

Let’s answer some questions.

When did the Getty Museum acquire the Pendant with the Bust of an Empress? Yes, we do… Barbara Deppert-Lippitz, a most reputable expert archaeologist in ancient gold, contributed an article, titled A Group o f Late Antique Jewelry in the Getty Museum (pages 107-140) in Studia Varia from the J. Paul Getty Museum: Volume 1 (OPA 8), 1993. Let me quote… The majority of Late Roman and Early Byzantine jewelry that we do have has no known provenance and is undated. Our knowledge of jewelry of the period is based mainly on a few larger hoards with recorded find spots but without any external evidence for dating. It is therefore fortunate that in 1983 the Getty Museum was able to acquire a group of fifteen pieces of jewelry buried around A.D . 400. https://www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary/0892362030.html page 107

Where were the Late Antique pieces of jewelry, including the Pendant with Empress, found? We do not exactly know… but according to Barbara Deppert-Lippitz… As all pieces had a similar patina, it need not be doubted that the group was, indeed, found together. They are all in very good condition, except for missing pearls on some items. Nothing is known about the previous history of this hoard, but no treasure corresponding to the present one is recorded as having been excavated anywhere during this century There are, however, certain indications that the hoard must have come from the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Further interesting observations point out that… The Getty hoard belongs among the well-known treasures from the Hill of Saint Louis in Carthage, Tunisia, and from Ténès in Algeria, both now generally agreed to belong to the period around A.D . 400, and the one from Thetford at Gallows Hill, near Thetfordin Norfolk, dated to the late fourth century A.D. All these hoards are dated on a purely stylistic basis, with no external evidence. https://www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary/0892362030.html page 107, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carthage_Treasure and https://www.persee.fr/doc/rbph_0035-0818_1960_num_38_1_2309_t1_0098_0000_2 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thetford_Hoard

How did the Getty Museum acquire the Late Antique pieces of Jewelry? In 1983, the J. Paul Getty Museum purchased the group of fifteen pieces of Late Antique pieces of jewelry from the Company of “Robin Symes, Limited,” founded in 1977 and dissolved in 2005. https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/object/103VE6#full-artwork-details

Chain and Pendant with the Bust of an Empress, 379–395 AD, Gold, garnet, sapphire, glass, 6.4 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA http://colorsandstones.eu/2020/11/08/necklace-with-a-pendant-roman-overview/

How can you describe the Pendant with the Bust of an Empress? This is actually a necklace consisting of a chain and a circular medallion. The gold ropelike multiple loop-in-loop chain shows remarkable workmanship. It ends with a hook-and-eye clasp, decorated with openwork circlets as well as filigree and granulation. The medallion-shaped pendant displays a frontal female bust flanked by two Victory Goddesses holding wreaths. A circular outer band, with inset garnets, and blue and green glass beads, serving as a frame to the repoussé medallion, was a rather primitive later addition to the original jewel. Three chain pendants and two strong rings attached to either side of the medallion were also added later. Today, only one pendant chain remains attached to the outer frame, holds an emerald, and terminates in a decorative scroll ornament. https://www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary/0892362030.html pages 109-111.

Chain and Pendant with the Bust of an Empress (Detail), 379–395 AD, Gold, garnet, sapphire, glass, 6.4 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA
http://colorsandstones.eu/2020/11/08/necklace-with-a-pendant-roman-overview/
 

Who is the depicted woman? It most probably is Aelia Flacilla, the first wife of Emperor Theodosius I. According to Barbara Deppert-Lippitz… a small but significant detail, the diadem, the Empress wears, offers valuable information. Based on numismatic evidence, similar diadems have been worn only by the empresses Aelia Flacilla, wife of Theodosius I, whose coinage commenced in A.D . 383 and who died in 386, and by her daughter-in-law Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius (A.D . 383-408). This narrows the chronological range of the medallion pendant to the last two decades of the fourth century A.D. The differences between the coin portraits of Flacilla and of Eudoxia are marginal. However, the oval face with a short straight nose, small mouth with thick lips, and energetic chin seem to be closer to the portrait on certain issues of Flacilla than to that of Eudoxia. https://www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary/0892362030.html page 110

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

The Bee Goddess of Eleutherna

Gold Pendant with the representation of a Bee Goddess, On the upper torso she is depicted as a female with a Daedalic wig and arms bent at the elbows. The rest of the body resembles an insect, its large wings decorated with stippled rosettes, 7th century BC, Archaeological Museum of Eleutherna, Crete, Greece
https://mae.uoc.gr/exhibits/

On the 20th of May… Let’s celebrate World Bee Day! Let’s observe the importance of the 25,000 to 30,000 species of bees as effective pollinators. According to the United Nations pollinators allow many plants, including many food crops, to reproduce. Indeed, the food that we eat, such as fruits and vegetables, directly relies on pollinators. A world without pollinators would equal a world without food diversity – no blueberries, coffee, chocolate, cucumbers and so much more. The ancient Greeks understood the importance of pollination and revered Bees as the “Divine Queens” of their ecosystem. The 7th century BC Gold Pendant with the representation of a Bee Goddess from Eleutherna in Crete is proof enough! https://www.un.org/en/observances/bee-day/background

The so-called Dark Ages of Greece, when the Eleutherna Gold Pendant with the representation of a Bee Goddess was created, were not dark at all! They were years of adjustment to a new reality, the aftermath years of the Homeric Epos, the years of the naissance of the great Greek art of antiquity. The small Bee Goddess of Eleutherna, a wonderful amalgam of old, and current Cretan traditions, is persuasive in its purpose and beautiful in its artistry. Whoever the pendant’s artist was, he was familiar with the Minoan past of female divine potency and the Homeric, rich literary tradition of metaphors relating the bee to human society. Let’s not forget how Homer (8th cent. BC) compares the Achaean warriors leaving the ships to attend an assembly to a swarm of bees leaving their hive in search of flowers:     From the camp the troops were turning / out now, thick as bees that issue from some / crevice in a rock face, endlessly pouring / forth, to make a cluster and swarm on / blooms of summer here and there, glinting / and droning, busy in bright air.     /     Like bees innumerable from ships and huts / down the deep foreshore streamed those / regiments toward the assembly ground. (Iliad II 86-93, trans. Robert Fitzgerald) https://www.apiservices.biz/documents/articles-en/beekeeping_in_mediterranean.pdf

The small Bee Goddess pendant was discovered in the necropolis of Orthi Petra in Crete and inspired Professor Νikolaos Stampolidis to use it as the logo of the Museum of ancient Eleutherna. This amazing ornament is a composite creation: it shows the bust of a woman, with arms folded over the chest, and the lower body of a bee, with large wings, adorned with dotted flowers. https://www.lamdadev.com/en/the-company/corporate-social-responsibility/culture/commemorative-volume-eleutherna.html?os_image_id-34

Gold Pendant with the representation of a Bee Goddess, 7th century BC, Archaeological Museum of Eleutherna, Crete, Greece
https://gr.pinterest.com/pin/343540277802257776/ and https://www.pinterest.de/pin/91409067412568201/

The city of Eleutherna, on the island of Crete, was of great importance in prehistoric times and continued to be so from the dawn of Hellenic Civilization to the Byzantine era. Systematic excavations organized by the University of Crete under the directorship of Professors Petros Themelis, Athanasios Kalpaxis, and Nikos Stampolidis since 2009, brought to light three sectors of the city and the necropolis at Orthi Petra, enhancing our knowledge of the political, economic, social, religious, and artistic history of the whole of Crete, particularly during the so-called “Dark Ages.” Eleutherna, close to Mount Ida, where the Νεφεληγερέτης (Cloud Gatherer) Zeus was safely born, raised with milk and honey, and protected by the Kourites warriors, is a city that eloquently bespeaks the continuity of the island’s prosperity and its seminal contribution to the genesis of Hellenic civilization. Discover its importance with the help of ELEUTHERA, by Nikolaos Chr. Stanmpolidis, LAMDA DEVELOPMENT, 2020. https://www.latsis-foundation.org/content/elib/book_29/eleytherna-english-l.pdf and https://www.latsis-foundation.org/content/elib/book_29/eleytherna-greek-f.pdf

For a Student Activity inspired by the 7th century BC Gold Pendant with the representation of a Bee Goddess from Eleutherna in Crete, please… Check HERE!

Byzantine-Style Mosaic Necklace with Christ and Twelve Apostles

Unidentified Artist from Murano, Venice? 
Byzantine-Style Mosaic Necklace with Christ and Twelve Apostles, the 1870s-1910s, gold with glass and shell inlay, Smithsonian American Art Museum, USA
https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/byzantine-style-mosaic-necklace-christ-and-twelve-apostles-30961

Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano(October 8, 2021 – May 8, 2022, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, USA) brings to life the Venetian glass revival of the late nineteenth century and the artistic experimentation the city inspired for visiting artists. It is the first comprehensive examination of American tourism, artmaking, and art collecting in Venice, revealing the glass furnaces and their new creative boom as a vibrant facet of the city’s allure… write the Smithsonian American Art Museum experts, and I was “hooked” to virtually explore this amazing Exhibition. I was particularly intrigued by the reference to the Magic of Murano, and the age-old Venetian industry of glassmaking. Exploring the artworks exhibited, I came upon a Byzantine-Style Mosaic Necklace with Christ and Twelve Apostles in the Smithsonian Collection, and I was determined to learn more about it! Well, I learned more… and less… https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/sargent-whistler-glass and https://s3.amazonaws.com/assets.saam.media/files/documents/2021-09/SWAVG%20checklist_FINAL.pdf

Exhibition Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano Installation Photography, Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2021, Photo Credit: Albert Ting https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/sargent-whistler-glass

Back in 1929, the Byzantine-Style Necklace was part of an impressive donation to the Smithsonian’s “National Gallery of Art” (now SAAM), by the art collector John Gellatly. Originally, it was thought to be a piece of 6th century Byzantine Jewelry, but contemporary conservators believe it’s more likely a nineteenth-century imitation or forgery.  

The necklace consists of 15 medallions presenting Christ in the middle (the biggest in size), the Twelve Apostles (receding, slightly, in size, six on either side of Christ), and medallions with Constantine’s Cross (the smallest two of the fifteen), at the two ends of the necklace. The necklace medallions are connected with gold chains of hollow wire! The rims of each medallion are decorated with hundreds of small gold balls, applied in a technique called granulation… a technique invented in the ancient world… declined in popularity after the first century BC, and was revived by the Castellani jewelry firm in the mid-19th century. Could the use of granulation make scholars begin to question the necklace’s Byzantine attribution?

Unidentified Artist from Murano, Venice? 
Byzantine-Style Mosaic Necklace with Christ and Twelve Apostles (detail), the 1870s-1910s, gold with glass and shell inlay, Smithsonian American Art Museum, USA
https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/byzantine-style-mosaic-necklace-christ-and-twelve-apostles-30961

Apparently, the conservator’s examination brought up more questions than answers, and as the Pietre Dure technique was popular in Florence, they jokingly question if the Smithsonian necklace was created by an itinerant nineteenth-century Florentine Pietre Dure stone craftsperson who moved to Venice to restore the San Marco mosaics and was commissioned by a wealthy patron to make a Byzantine-style necklace… One can only wonder!

Unidentified Artist from Murano, Venice? 
Byzantine-Style Mosaic Necklace with Christ and Twelve Apostles (Detail), the 1870s-1910s, gold with glass and shell inlay, Smithsonian American Art Museum, USA
https://americanart.si.edu/blog/byzantine-art-mystery

Information on my presentation of the Necklace comes from the December 8, 2021article The Mystery Around a Byzantine-style Necklace – When SAAM’s “Art Doctors” Become Art Detectives by Ariel O’Connor and Sarah Montonchaikul… https://americanart.si.edu/blog/byzantine-art-mystery

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

The Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant


The Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant, 1,000-800 BC, Gold, 3.6×4.7cm, British Museum, London, UK
Photo Credit: British Museum
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/mar/04/british-museum-acquires-3000-year-old-shropshire-sun-pendant

Towering above the Wiltshire countryside, Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most awe-inspiring ancient stone circle… write the British Museum experts introducing The World of Stonehenge an important Exhibition that will reveal the secrets of Stonehenge, shining a light on its purpose, cultural power, and the people that created it. The Exhibition (February 17 to July 17, 2022) follows, the British Museum experts continue, the story of Britain and Europe from 4000 to 1000 BC… a period of immense transformation and radical ideas that changed society forever. Visitors will be able to admire and learn from a variety of fascinating objects among them astonishing examples of early metalwork including the Nebra Sky Disc – the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars and the Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant, I find particularly “beautiful.” https://www.britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/world-stonehenge

The Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant is a breathtaking object! All we need do is imagine the impact this object would have had on the viewer worn in bright daylight, or in flickering firelight…  It definitely would have seemed as if it was constantly moving. https://archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/the-shropshire-bulla-bronze-age-beauty-and-a-mystery-from-manchester.htm

The Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant, 1,000-800 BC, Gold, 3.6×4.7cm, British Museum, London, UK
Photo Credit: British Museum
https://museumcrush.org/spectacular-bronze-age-sun-pendant-heads-to-shrewsbury-museum/

Buried for centuries in the Shropshire Marches, the breathtaking pendant was discovered in May 2018, by an anonymous metal detector (detectorist). It is interesting how the Shropshire Finds Liaison Officer Peter Reavill who had worked with the detectorist in question for 15 years, regularly recording his finds, describes the initial telephone he received, and how he knew that something out of the ordinary had happened when the detectorist was almost too excited to speak. Soon after the discovery, photographs followed, and Peter Reavill found himself looking at a D-shaped gold pendant incised with delicate geometric decorations. Interestingly, and following the UK Treasure Act 1995, the discovered pendant was brought to the British Museum and the coroner (who adjudicates in Treasure cases) found the Shropshire Gold “Sun” Pendant to be Treasure and the independent Treasure Valuation Committee recommended the £250,000 price tag. In the words of the British Museum Neil Wilkin, curator of Early Europe and The World of Stonehenge Exhibitions… The elegant form and brilliantly executed decoration of the sun pendant was accomplished with an ingenious skill. It tells us how important the sun – and its path through the sky during the course of the day and the year – was to people’s beliefs during this period.”https://archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/the-shropshire-bulla-bronze-age-beauty-and-a-mystery-from-manchester.htm and https://www.antiquestradegazette.com/news/2020/british-museum-buys-3000-year-old-bronze-age-gold-pendant/

Before visiting The World of Stonehenge Exhibitions, and if interested in the Shropshire Pendant… read, if you please, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/H_2020-8005-1 and https://www.britishmuseum.org/sites/default/files/2021-07/sun_pendant_press_release_updated.pdf

A short PowerPoint presentation can be accessed… HERE!

Byzantine Girdle

Marriage Belt, 6th-7th century, Gold, 4.8×75.5 cm, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington DC, USA
https://www.doaks.org/resources/bliss-tyler-correspondence/art/bz/BZ.1937.33.jpg/view

That which her slender waist confin’d, / Shall now my joyful temples bind; / No monarch but would give his crown, / His arms might do what this has done.     /     It was my heaven’s extremest sphere, / The pale which held that lovely deer, / My joy, my grief, my hope, my love, / Did all within this circle move.     /     A narrow compass, and yet there / Dwelt all that’s good, and all that’s fair; / Give me but what this ribbon bound, / Take all the rest the sun goes round… wrote Edmund Waller, back in the 17th century… and I imagine another slender waist confin’d  by a Byzantine Girdle, masterfully created back in the 6th or the 7th century… https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45437/on-a-girdle

The Gold Byzantine Marriage Belt at Dumbarton Oaks is small, but lo and behold, it’s luxurious and precious, unique, and ever so beautiful! It combines Christian and pagan iconography… two large medallions depicting Jesus uniting a young couple as they clasp each other’s right hand, in a gesture, known as the dextrarum iunctio, that had been part of the Roman marriage rite, and twenty-one small medallions that contain busts of pagan figures: all men, some draped, several bearded, others with leaves in their hair, a few holding the thyrsos—a staff associated with Dionysos—and some a caduceus, the rod of the god Hermes/Mercury. Framing the central, Marriage scene, is the inscription, “From God, concord, grace, health.” http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info/27445

Marriage Belt (detail), 6th-7th century, Gold, 4.8×75.5 cm, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington DC, USA
http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info/27445

The fascinating aspect of the Dumbarton Oaks marriage belt is how the artist combined the “sacred with the profane…” Jesus blessing the young couple, with Dionysus and his male entourage. The combination of Pagan and Christian traditions in early Byzantine marriage art is captivating. The presence of Christ uniting the young couple in the larger, central two disks was apparently a popular practice in wedding belts and marriage rings. There is a similar second belt at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, and numerous variations on marriage rings to testify to the fact. What the Dumbarton Oaks experts find challenging is the integration of non-Christian figures with the Christian scenes. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010256506 and http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info/27445

Marriage Belt (detail), 6th-7th century, Gold, 4.8×75.5 cm, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington DC, USA
http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info/27445

It is also interesting to read the actual Epithalamic Poem by Dioscorus of Aphrodito dedicated to Count Callinicus… τον περίβλεπτον κόμετα Καλλίνικον… Bridegroom, may your wedding be filled with the dancing of the Graces; may it ever seek the help of Wisdom after Beauty. You are marrying a bride who is an enviable Ariadne, silver-sandaled Theophile wreathed in gold. (May your marriage) have the scent at once of love and of wisdom. Gold has embraced gold, and silver has found silver. You raise up the honey-sweet grape cluster, in its bloom of youth; Dionysus attends the summer of your wedding, bearing wine, love’s adornment, with plenty for all, and blonde Demeter brings the flower of the field. . . . They have woven holy wreaths round your rose-filled bedroom. Like splendid Menelaus, but more tawny colored, follow your Helen, a wife who will not leave you. And afterwards you shall see dear children on your lap, like both your excellence and your wife’s to look upon. I wish a famous painter would accurately depict your lifelike image, with his craft to work your beloved likeness, whose bright beams flash with joy like the moon. Your young body has surpassed prize-winning Bellerophon, and your beauty is that of measureless excellence. To judge impartially, you have outdone Achilles and Diomedes, and easily outstripped Ares and brave Herakles. Be gracious to me in my awe of you, so I may sing your song: I came sailing on my voyage, inspired by your measureless excellence. Not in a worldly sense . . . https://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft0m3nb0cs;chunk.id=d0e3949;doc.view=print -88-

If you are interested in discovering how the Dumbarton Oaks Marriage Belt ended in the renowned Washington DC Museum, please click HERE! and read the correspondence between Mildred and Robert Bliss and Royall Tyler between September 1937 and August 1938. It is a fascinating story… https://www.doaks.org/resources/bliss-tyler-correspondence/letters#b_start=0&c1=Marriage+Belt

Hellenistic Golden Hairnets

Gold Hairnet with a relief bust of  Athena from Thessaly (Detail), 2nd century BC, gold, Diam. 0.111 m, Benaki Museum, Athens Photo Credit: https://mobile.twitter.com/tzoumio/status/1413408320489144320

Amarantha sweet and fair / Ah braid no more that shining hair! / As my curious hand or eye / Hovering round thee let it fly.    /    Let it fly as unconfin’d / As its calm ravisher, the wind, / Who hath left his darling th’East, / To wanton o’er that spicy nest.    /    Ev’ry tress must be confest / But neatly tangled at the best; / Like a clue of golden thread, / Most excellently ravelled.    /    Do not then wind up that light / In ribands, and o’er-cloud in night; / Like the sun in’s early ray, / But shake your head and scatter day… wrote Richard Lovelace, back in the 17th century… no Hellenistic Golden Hairnets for… Amarantha sweet and fair! https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/richard-lovelace

Gold Hairnet with a relief bust of  Athena from Thessaly, 2nd century BC, gold, Diam. 0.111 m, Benaki Museum, Athens Greece
Photo Credit: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/642596 

The visitors of the Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom Exhibition in the Science Museum (London, 17 November 2021 – 05 June 2022) will be able to admire a rare, Hellenistic Golden Hairnet from the Benaki Museum in Athens and marvel at its amazing beauty and craftsmanship! This is a real treat as only a handful of such Golden Hairnets survive today scattered around major Museums around the world. https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/ancient-greeks-science-and-wisdom

The Exhibited Hairnet comes to London from Greece, and specifically, the Benaki Museum in Athens. Gold Hairnets were created by exceptional goldsmiths for aristocratic, well-to-do Greek ladies of the Hellenistic period (late 4th to early 1st cent. BC), to contain a simple hair chignon at the back of their head. The Benaki Hairnet consists of a central gold medallion with a bust of Athena in high relief, and an intricate, gold net. Goddess Athena is depicted wearing a helmet with three plumes, a laurel wreath, and an oblique aegis with a mermaid. The bust of Athena is framed by concentric bands adorned with ornaments applied in the jeweler’s fine technique of filigree and granulation. The lavish decoration is mostly floral consisting of a wreath of beautifully executed pointed leaves, an exquisite, and complex band of floral designs, and a strip of eggs and tiny rosettes. The central medallion was further embellished with enameling and minuscule beads of garnet. The gold net around the medallion consists of a lattice of chains with intersecting points articulated with tiny rosettes. What an amazing achievement of workmanship! https://www.benaki.org/index.php?option=com_buildings&view=building&id=11&Itemid=533&lang=en and https://www.benaki.org/index.php?option=com_collectionitems&view=collectionitem&id=140287&lang=en&lang=el and https://ellaniapili.blogspot.com/2015/11/blog-post_328.html

Gold Hairnet with repousse bust of  Athena from Thessaly, 2nd century BC, gold, Diam. 0.111 m, Benaki Museum, Athens Greece
Photo Credit: https://www.myfaveplaces.com/contemp-galleries/2016/7/6/gold-gold-gold-plus-some-bronze-and-silver

Describing the Benaki Museum Medallion Berta Segall writes… The artist of the Benaki medallion wanted to achieve unity. The elements of the ornamental frame are part of a continuous, flowing design, the bust, by taking up as much as possible of the background and touching the border, gives the impression of a full length figure cut off by a wreath. Its modeling is an example of the “impressionistic” technique in relief which uses a soft, almost imperceptible gradation of planes from the high to the very low, and from there to engraving. Thus, the folds of the garment are indicated in low relief, and even shallower, almost disappearing into the background, are the two plumes of the helmet right and left of the face. Berta Segall, Two Hellenistic Gold Medallions from Thessaly, Record of the Museum of Historic Art, Princeton University, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Autumn, 1945), pp. 2-11 https://www.jstor.org/stable/3774132?seq=3#metadata_info_tab_contents

The Benaki Museum Hairnet was part of an unbelievable “treasure” of 44 pieces of jewelry sold to private collectors in Athens, in 1929. The “treasure,” a product of illegal excavations, came from Thessaly, and the exact circumstances of their discovery are not well established. According to one testimony, they were discovered inside a copper vessel near Almyros in Magnesia, according to a source, the “treasure” came from the area of ​​Lamia-Lianokladi. It has also been claimed that the 44 pieces of exquisite jewelry were found in Domokos, while the antique dealer, who sold 35 pieces of jewelry to the collector Eleni Stathatou (today in the Stathatos Collection in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens) and 9 to the Benaki Museum, assured that they were discovered near Karpenisi. https://ellaniapili.blogspot.com/2015/11/blog-post_328.html

For a PowerPoint on Hellenistic Golden Hairnets, please… check HERE!

Gold Hairnet with repousse bust of  Athena from Thessaly, 2nd century BC, gold, Diam. 0.111 m, Benaki Museum, Athens Greece
Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/AngHellenLeague/status/1464252708806873091/photo/1

The Science Museum in London promises a unique experience to the visitors of their free exhibition Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom (17 November 2021 – 05 June 2022). The Museum experts believe that curiosity and investigation are central to furthering our understanding of the universe today… and suggest that we step back through millennia… and discover how the ancient Greek civilization questioned, contemplated, and debated the natural world. If your steps take you to London, the Science Museum Exhibition Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom, is worth visiting! https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/ancient-greeks-science-and-wisdom and https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/guides for a free guidebook.