When the Romans withdrew from northern and western Europe under the impact of various warlike tribes, a single Roman style in the manufacture of gold jewelry has disappeared. But no less spectacular medieval jewelry styles of Saxons, Goths, Franks, Alans were born.
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Medieval Jewelry history
Ornament is the most characteristic element of the Celtic medieval jewelry. Click To Tweet Ornaments covered the surface of lots of things. For Celtic ornaments abstraction, enclosing in fantastic interweaving of its elements with a rare inclusion of images of real objects, was very important. Jewelers could not change elements of ornaments. Since they granted by the gods and possessed a magical power. The interlacing symbolized the spiritual and earthly Path of man. Each image was a magical sign. Thus, birds considered heavenly messengers and each of them had its own omen. Pigeon was a symbol of love and spirituality, partridge was cunning, heron meanes vigilance. The dove was a symbol of prosperity and abundance. Snakes possessed healing power, fish was the embodiment of the Highest Wisdom. And a horse is an emblem of fertility goddesses. Celtic crosses symbolized the union of terrestrial and celestial forces. Click To Tweet
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In addition to basic forms of personal jewelry such as rings, necklaces, bracelets, and brooches that remain in use today, medieval jewellery often includes a range of other forms less often found in modern jewelry. Such as fittings and fasteners for clothes including, buckles, “points” for the end of laces, and buttons by the end of the period, as well as hat badges, decorations for belts, weapons, purses and other accessories, and decorated pins, mostly for holding hairstyles and head-dresses in place. Neck chains carried a variety of pendants, from crosses (the most common) to lockets and elaborate pieces with gems. Jewelry was a very important marker of social status, and most prosperous women probably wore some conspicuous pieces all the time, or at least whenever outside the home. Men were often at least equally highly fashionable, and high-status children of both sexes often wore jewellery as formal wear.
The most popular Medieval Jewelry
Jewelry with a secret was quite common and popular in the Middle Ages. Click To Tweet Most often they appeared in the form of massive rings, under the “crown” of which was hidden a secret casket. The main purpose of these boxes was hiding powder with poison. So that, meeting a person who had on a finger the massive ring, people were often afraid to leave him alone with meals. And also they had to be particularly careful with their behavior. Brutal times – brutal manners.
The central place in the medieval jewelry business was occupied by brooches. Click To Tweet From the Bronze Age they were used by almost all the European nations. In the course of centuries, they underwent changes from a simple fastening pin intended for fastening clothing to a luxuriously finished accessory.
Immediate continuation of the gold disk, round and quadruple brooches were considered clasps for cloaks or capes. With their help a cloak fastened on the chest or, according to German custom, on the shoulder. If the paired clasps connected each other by a chain, they considered locks. Jewelers usually made them of thin sheet gold and decorated with precious stones like pearls, filigree and colored enamel.
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Many brooches set with antique cameos representing profile portraits. Fashionistas used brooches for affixing the rim of hats, and men’s headpieces also embellished with badges or pendants (enseigne) that had a decorative function only. Such hat decorations were enormously popular in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and often conveyed some message about their wearer: they had initials, short mottoes, coats of arms, mythological, allegorical or secular themes, etc. Fashionistas worn some hat badges as pilgrims’ badges, others imparted moral messages. (From ceu.hu)
Along with luxurious large clasps for rain coats, such medieval jewelry items appeared also for women. Like the first ones, they fasten the lapel of the cervical incision. This jewelry item has often reflected the personal attitude of the grantor to his lover. Sometimes Gothic brooches had even love inscriptions and mottos. Woven hands, pierced hearts, flowers, keys and similar motifs occurred in these objects again and again. In France, which played the leading role in the jewelry business of Europe. Such medieval jewelry appeared in the form of a delicate openwork wreath made of leaves.
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Rich people could wear long and curled hair. Also, not only women, but men could decorate their hairstyles with gold headbands. Also women began to wear two braids and curled them over the ears as a “snail.” An ornament in the form of a convex hemisphere or a flap was a special medieval jewelry item for a such hairdo. Such adornment was attached to the hoop on the head. Also medieval fashionistas used golden veils to complement such accessories.
Medieval Jewelry materials
Early medieval world felt a real lack gold for making jewelry. So that its demand remained very high. Therefore, gold ceased to be mined. It was mainly delivered from Byzantium. And that, in the conditions of devastation and chaos, was difficult and dangerous. For this reason, medieval jewelry was usually created as an alloy of gold with a significant amount of silver. By that time, Vikings began to transform the map of Europe. Gold jewelry became even more rare. And so that adornments were mainly made of silver or base metals – copper and iron.
So that, during the Middle Ages there was a whole cult of fake jewelry. Click To Tweet Even owners of expensive necklaces and other jewelry sometimes put on their exact copies, hiding the originals in a secret.
The main material for jewelry decoration of that times was enamel. Rivaling with gems, it gave the same effect to the precious multi-colored surface. The greatest distribution of enamel was in France (especially famous was Limoges enamel) and in Germany. The color of the enamel characterized by a colorful and fresh color scheme. Cold shades of blue, blue, white or greenemphasized with a gilded background, covered with a thin engraving. Products of medieval jewelry masters overloaded with brightly convex forms of stones (ruby, emerald, sapphire, pearls). But there appeared also such precious stones as rock crystal, topaz, amethyst and garnet. Both imported and local stones jewelers used manually without changes of its natural shape.
During the Middle Ages, precious stone became an almost animate thing. Click To Tweet With its character and destiny – stone was born, lived and died in the same way as people. The close connection between the precious stone and its owner was clear. So, during the illness, stone could lose its brilliance and brightness, and if it neglected, it could even offend!
History of medieval jewelry became the basis for writing lots of books, movies and even cartoons. Certainly, one of the reasons was the chanting of the beauty that jewelry masters created. These adornments were far from miniature products, usually of a laconic form. And they were usually complemented with rather large gems. Forms of jewelry became more intricate, which appeared due to the popularity of the Baroque style. And later, under the influence of the rococo style, gentle delicate forms began to appear. At the same time, medieval jewelry became smaller.
Christian iconography flourished in jewelry and spread further through monasteries which folks founded throughout Europe. It is these monasteries that acted as a hub for the art of goldsmithing. Here the techniques initially taught to secular jewelers who inhabited the newly cities of the 10th and 11th century (From Antique Jewelry University).
In medieval Europe, jewelry could be worn by monks, kings, nobles, and even sometimes by traders. Medieval jewelry was also a symbol of power. Click To Tweet This was evidenced, at least, by the fact that in the thirteenth century was a law, according to which commoners could not wear gold, silver, pearls and precious stones.
By the end of the period, the types of personal jewelry of wealthy women were not very different from modern ones.
With rings, necklaces, brooches, lockets and (less often) earrings all popular. But accessories such as belts and purses, as well as other personal possessions such as combs and book-covers jewelled in a way rarely found today. Poorer women wore smaller quantities of similar styles of personal jewellery in cheaper materials, as today. Wealthy men wore far more jewellery than today. Often including large chain collars, and a cap badge, which might be very extravagant.