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Treasures of Ornament

Discover fine jewelry inspired by The Met collection.

The Met is home to thousands of examples of jewelry from around the world. The earliest examples date back as far as 4,000 B.C., and the collection features works made throughout the centuries up to pieces produced just a few years ago.

Dating back to ancient Egypt, gold was a commodity controlled primarily by the king, but common Egyptians also owned gold jewelry featuring a range of wide range of prized stones as accents. The same goes for many cultures showcased within our collection—the finest and most ornate jewelry belonged to emperors, kings, and queens, but more simple versions were owned by individuals across the social strata, usually worn to symbolize marriage or wealth as well as for spiritual, magical, or religious purposes.  

A Goldsmith in his Shop by Petrus Christus (Netherlandish, Baarle-Hertog (Baerle-Duc), active by 1444–died 1475/76 Bruges), 1449. Oil on oak panel. Overall 39 3/8 x 33 3/4 in. (100.1 x 85.8 cm); painted surface 38 5/8 x 33 1/2 in. (98 x 85.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.

 

Similarly, jewelry holds a special place in the Museum’s collection of paintings, where portraits give evidence of the types of individuals who owned these exquisite objects. Others show us the individuals who made these objects, or who sold them. Through paintings, we can even uncover the complex mythologies behind jewelry through the ages. 

Coral beads or small coral branches, for example, have been prized by numerous cultures due to their purported mystical properties, such as the ability to cure madness, bestow wisdom, or even prolong life. The early Christians believed that wearing coral was a sure way to protect children from harm. 

Virgin and Child by Joos van Cleve (Netherlandish, Cleve ca. 1485–1540/41 Antwerp) and a collaborator ca 1525. Oil on wood. Overall 28 3/8 x 21 1/4 in. (72.1 x 54 cm); painted surface 27 3/4 x 20 3/4 in. (70.5 x 52.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982.

 

Continue reading to discover the stories behind a few of our newest fine-jewelry introductions. 

Jewelry as a status symbol: Bronzino Gold Ring

Benedikt von Hertenstein (born about 1495, died 1522) by Hans Holbein the Younger (German, Augsburg 1497/98–1543 London), 1517. Oil and gold on paper, laid down on wood. Overall 20 1/2 x 15 in. (52.4 x 38.1 cm); painted surface 20 3/8 x 14 5/8 in. (51.4 x 37.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, aided by subscribers, 1906.

 

During the Renaissance, it was stylish for both men and women to wear a number of rings on each finger, including the thumb. Simple gold settings held a range of stones, including rubies, emeralds, diamonds, garnets, and topaz. Historically, rings rose to popularity because metal could be easily carved with engravings, like a family crest or royal heraldry, that could be used as a seal when pressed into clay or wax to establish ownership or authenticate legal documents. Over time, engravings would be carved into stones which were set in gold bezels on rings or other jewelry.

Our Bronzino Gold Ring, by Donna Distefano, features a solid 18K gold setting and ruby stone. Created exclusively for The Met Store. Shop online, or call 212-650-2850 to purchase via telephone.

 

Our Bronzino Gold Ring was inspired by this 1530s Portrait of a Young Man. The subject of the painting is shown dressed in high fashion, and wearing one such pinky ring, which presumably features a ruby or garnet stone.

Jewelry for devotion: Virgin and Child Cameo Pendant Necklace

Portrait of a Young Woman by the Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger (German, Augsburg 1497/98–1543 London) ca. 1540-45. Oil and gold on oak. 11 1/8 x 9 1/8 in. (28.3 x 23.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jules Bach Collection, 1949.

 

Cameo carving began in ancient Greece around the 4th century B.C. At this time, cameos were popularly carved from sardoyx, sourced in India—a result of expanded trade with the East during the rule of Alexander the Great. Cameos served many purposes, and in some cases were used as gifts to the gods or worn to display devotion to a specific god or goddess. By the 1st century B.C., cameos and other carved-stone jewelry became fashionable in Rome, and were famously collected by Julius Caesar. Many of these ancient examples were preserved in collections of nobility, royalty, and the church. Despite their non-religious iconography, some were even incorporated into religious shrines and other devotional objects. 

In the medieval period, iconography depicted on cameos was almost exclusively religious. This example, thought to have been produced in a Burgundian court workshop, shows exceptional attention to detail and would have been part of a paternoster or rosary. 

Our Virgin and Child Cameo Pendant Necklace, by Donna Distefano, features a freshwater pearl and 18K gold setting. Created exclusively for The Met Store. Shop online, or call 212-650-2850 to purchase via telephone.

 

By the Renaissance, interest in ancient Greco-Roman art stimulated the interest of contemporary artists to create new cameo carvings, though antique designs were most highly prized by collectors. Renaissance designs so closely mirrored Greek and Roman designs that it is sometimes difficult, even for art historians, to distinguish them. 

Modern interpretations: Scarpelli Mosaici

Barberini Cabinet by Galleria dei Lavori, Florence, after woodcut illustrations by Francesco Del Tuppo (Italian, 1443/44–1501) , published in Naples in 1485, ca. 1606-23. Oak and poplar veneered with various exotic hardwoods, with ebony moldings and plaques of marble, slate (paragon); pietre dure work consisting of colored marbles, rock crystal, and various hardstones. 23 1/4 x 38 1/8 x 14 1/8 in. (59.1 x 96.8 x 35.9 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wrightsman Fund, 1988.

 

These pins, designed by Scarpelli Mosaici in Tuscany, draw inspiration from the Museum’s Barberini Cabinet. Designed between 1606–23, this ornate piece features the Barberini family coat of arms and scenes from Aesop’s Fables, in addition to papal and courtly symbols lavishly applied using the pietre dure technique, the inlay of colored stones to create images. The patron, named pope in 1623, hoped to be viewed as a patron of the arts and the cabinet reflects this; it features a revised family crest that reflects the time Barberini time spent in Paris as a young man. 

Pins by Scarpelli Mosaici, created exclusively for The Met Store. $1,298 each. Visit The Met Fifth Avenue to purchase, or call 212-650-2850 to purchase via telephone.

 

Our pins are handmade using the same pietre dure technique, passed down through generations of artisans since the Italian Renaissance, and they feature hand-carved stones and a 24k gold overlay bezel.

Continue scrolling to discover more fine jewelry, available now at The Met Fifth Avenue. 

The Arab Jeweler by Charles Sprague Pearce (1851-1914) ca 1882. Oil on canvas. 46 x 35 3/8 in. (116.8 x 89.9 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Edward D. Adams, 1922.

 

Mikala Djorup

Jewelry by Mikala Djorup. 18k gold with amethyst stones. Prices from $698 – $2,298. Visit The Met Fifth Avenue to purchase, or call 212-650-2850 to purchase via telephone.

 

Monies 

Amber jewelry by Monies. $6,098 – $6,898. Visit The Met Fifth Avenue to purchase, or call 212-650-2850 to purchase via telephone.

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