Italian jewelry 

Museum Of Art
Rhode Island School of Design
Gift of Mrs. Gustav Radeke
Photography by Erik Gould

Click on the above image for a larger detailed view

The early history of Italian jewelry begins approximately three thousand years ago with the Etruscan civilization. Populating the southern tip of Italy known today, these people, many feel, created jewelry that has never been equaled. There are considered to be three periods of noticeable differences in Etruscan jewelry and gold work: the first being a close association with Egyptian creations, the second was the influence of Greece, with the period of decline composing the third.

Museum of Art
Rhode Island School of Design
Gift of Ostby and Barton, 
in memory of Englehardt Cornelius Ostby
Photography by Erik Gould
Click on the above image 
for a larger detailed view

For the Etruscans, all jewelry was popular. Men and women wore rings on every joint of every finger, all the rings being carved with amazing realism. Head ornaments, diadems and wreaths of flowers elaborately dressed the heads of many women. All of these ornaments were crafted of fine gold, many accompanied by long gold hairpins topped with balls or acorns. Amber was the most favored stone, set in silver, gold or moonlight tinted gold called "electrum". Their granular gold work was as fine as the Phoenicians, but lost its popularity with the influx of Greek filigree.

The universal use of amulets was not ignored by the Etruscans. Their necklaces often held a hollow pendant in which was carried a magic token. These pendants, called bullas, were molded from gold to form tiny vases, heads of gods or small animals.

The most important offspring of Greek and Etruscan design appeared in Roman jewelry. Conquering roman armies brought back artists and craftsmen who continued in the same vein of jewelry developed in their homelands. Gold continued as the metal of ornamentation and wealth. Necklaces were composed of pearls and beads, but there were interspersed with Greek cameos and coins.

It was during the formation of roman ornamental customs that rings took on the onus of being a sign of rank, particularly under Tiberius. The Romans became so frivolous with regard to jewelry that Cato passed laws concerning the amount of ornamentation that could be worn. Menís rings fell under these regulations adjusting the kind of metal allowable under certain conditions. Gold, silver or iron could be used depending on the ownerís station. For example, the gold rings given to senators could not be worn in private life, but were to be used only when the senator was sent on an embassy as a badge of office. The only type of ring not under the censorís ban was the iron signet ring.

Rings were also popular among the roman ladies, but their jewelry consisted of much more. To complement the extravagant coiffure of the roman women, the jeweller designed hairpins. These were often of solid gold and eight inches long or longer. Gold was the most popular in the making of bracelets, too. Bracelets were not only worn at the wrist, but on every section of the arm. Gold coins were used to decorate all jewelry worn, with the wealthy woman wearing a profusion of coins on any part of her which ornamentation was warranted.

It was during these ancient and classical times that the basics of creating jewelry were founded. Alloying of metals, setting stones and enamels were all contributed by these premier jewelers. Because the fundamentals had already been evolved, future artists and craftsmen were allowed to focus their time and effort on work to further the beauty and design of jewelry.



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A Jewelry History
Table of contents|
 Introduction |Glossary| Ancients and Classical Jewelry| Jewelry of the Middle Ages|
  Jewelry of the Renaissance| Jewelry from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century| Rings| Necklaces|
Bracelets and Earrings| Brooches| Bibliography| Ancient Jewelry Photo Gallery




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