Fragment of a floor mosaic with a personification of Ktisis (detail). Byzantine. Marble and glass, 59 1/2 x 78 5/8 x 1 in., 500–550, with modern restoration. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and Fletcher Fund, 1998; Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Dodge Fund, and Rogers Fund, 1999 (1998.69; 1999.99)
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The Dazzle of Byzantium

In the Byzantine Empire, jewelry expressed both wealth and faith

The Byzantine Bead and Circle Collection

 

In the centuries after Constantine, the first Christian ruler of the Roman empire, moved the imperial capital to Byzantium in 330 A.D., what historians call the Byzantine Empire flourished. The empire’s great wealth and huge breadth created a high demand for luxurious artworks, and provided rich sources of both raw materials and artistic influences to draw on.

Left: Jeweled bracelet (one of pair). Byzantine, made in probably Constantinople. Gold, silver, pearls, amethyst, sapphire, glass, quartz; 1 1/2 x 3 1/4 in. overall; 500–700. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1671). RightGold earrings with pearls and sapphires. Byzantine. Gold, sapphire, pearls; 2 3/8 x 15/16 x 1/2 in. overall; 6th–7th century. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.145)

 

Jewelry was especially coveted throughout the empire. In 526 A.D., the emperor Justinian addressed the subject of jewelry and rank in his famous Justinian Code of laws—a measure of the importance of such adornments in this society. Gemstones were reserved for the highest echelon, with sapphires, called hyakinthoi (hyacinths), an especial sign of luxury.

Left: Gold necklace with pendant cross. Byzantine. Gold, 18 3/8 x 11/16 x 3/16 in. overall, 6th–7th century. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1659). Right: Necklace with pendant cross (detail). Byzantine. Gold, 17 5/16 x 1/2 x 3/16 in. overall, 6th century. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1650)

 
The iconography of Christianity—and in particular, the cross—is inseparable from Byzantine jewelry making from the 5th century onward. Wearing an elaborately made pectoral cross became a way for Byzantines of means to showcase piety—and perhaps ward off evil spirits, too.
 

Gold necklace with pendants. Byzantine. Gold, 21 5/8 x 1 15/16 x 3/8 in. overall, ca. 7th century. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1656)

 

Byzantine jewelry makers built on the techniques of ancient Greek and Roman artisans as they created ever more dazzling pieces. With the opus interrasile technique, goldsmiths pierced thin, elaborately patterned sheets of gold, creating mesmerizing interplays of light and shadow. Delicate, finely wrought chains connected pendants and drops, for a truly dramatic effect.

Necklace with pendant crosses (with detail, right). Byzantine. Gold, pearl sapphire, smokey quartz, quartz; 17 13/16 in. overall; 6th–7th century. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1667)

 

Multicolored, or polychrome, jewelry was very popular in the Byzantine world, attested to by representations of aristocratic patrons and the gorgeous pieces that survive from the era. The luminous small crosses worked in pearls and gems that hang from an exquisite necklace in The Met collection display both the faith and wealth of the owner.

Left: Byzantine Gems Pendant Necklaces in pearl ($110), garnet ($135), and lapis ($135). Right: Byzantine Gems 7-Drop Necklace in lapis and pearl ($385)

 

This fall, The Met Store has looked to the extraordinary achievements of Byzantium for much its new jewelry. Our Byzantine Bead and Circle Collection pays tribute to the innovative designs of ancient artisans. Using gold, semiprecious stones, and cutting-edge production, our Byzantine Gems Collection reinterprets the luxurious aesthetic of this intriguing world.

TopNecklace with pendant cross (detail). Byzantine. Gold, 17 5/16 x 1/2 x 3/16 in. overall, 6th century. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1650). Bottom: Byzantine Bead Bracelet ($110)

 

Discover jewelry and more gifts inspired by 5,000 years of art at store.metmuseum.org.

 

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