Monday, 21 October 2013

A serpentine slither of priceless jewels

From The Telegraph:
...the Cheapside Hoard glistens, spilling over with torrents of loose gemstones, some faceted, some rough, most polished into the glossy cabochons favoured in late-Renaissance jewellery. There are precious emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts, wine-coloured garnets, legions of agates, and curious, brown-mottled 'toadstones’, which are, it turns out, fossilised fish teeth, once believed to be an antidote to poison.

What is so extraordinary and engaging about the jewels is that they are not the haughty, grandiose masterpieces usually associated with Renaissance jewellery, but charming and refined ornaments made for the upwardly mobile, wealthy merchant classes, presumably the jet set of the day.

The jewels are delicate, intricate, light, and light-hearted in spirit, with a stylistic simplicity that gives them modern appeal. There are lacy sautoirs enamelled in white and lightly scattered with gems, which would have been worn lavishly looped, gold wire-work pendants, chandelier earrings hung with clusters of tiny amethyst or emerald grapes, aigrettes (hair ornaments), crosses, pendants, little shepherd’s-crook-shaped pins, and plenty of rings, many designed as rosette-shaped clusters.

Wit and allegory, so important to Elizabethan culture, add depth to design. The salamander, believed to withstand fire, was the emblem of François I of France and a favourite Renaissance symbol across Europe. One of the highlights of the Hoard is a salamander brooch consisting of a perfectly formed serpentine slither of cabochon emeralds accented with table-cut diamonds and enamels, with the creature’s teeth detailed in black.

This is a beautiful and fascinating collection indeed, encapsulated by the BBC programme to accompany the exhibition, Secret Knowledge: The Hidden Jewels of the Cheapside Hoard:

Part 1:

Part 2:

The Cheapside Hoard: London's Lost Jewels is on at the Museum of London until 27th April 2014.

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