Digging Up The Past: An Insight Into Archaeological Revival Jewellery
When the temperature rises within the summer months, our mind starts to dream of the arid climates of the Mediterranean and beyond. From the olive-grove hills of Tuscany to the sparkling turquoise waters of Greece and the golden sands of ancient Egypt, these tantalising countries spark our imagination with their hidden mysterious pasts, relaxed way of living, delicious food and beautiful nature.
And we are not alone, these cultures fascinated our ancestors, inspiring them to create gorgeous jewellery in homage to these countries and their ancient societies.
Pair of Gold Hellenistic Earrings, 3rd-2nd Century BCE, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Although we might not be able to travel to freely at the moment, we can certainly use our love of jewellery to spark the spirit and excitement of adventure!
“Archaeological revival” was a major trend within both the Georgian and Victorian eras. An umbrella term for a myriad of different periods and styles, Archeological revival jewellery is essentially jewellery that was recreated in the style of ancient jewellery, modelled on pieces that were unearthed in archaeological excavations.
Beautiful and quintessentially elegant, we take a closer look at the different styles and techniques that characterise Archaeological revival jewellery.
What is Archaeological Revival Jewellery? And Why Was it So Popular?
Although there are many different styles of archaeological revival jewellery, generally, they can be split into Etruscan Revival, Hellenistic revival (or neoclassical), and Egyptian revival.
Etruscan Revival Jewellery
Etruscan revival jewellery is jewellery that was modelled after the ancient Roman empire, specifically the Etruscan civilisation of ancient Italy in Tuscany, western Umbria and northern Lazio (700-300 BC).
The Etruscan civilization was largely influenced by both the Ancient Greeks and ancient Romans as the ancient Greeks were expanding their territories into southern regions of Italy. Archaeological evidence shows that they were acutely aware of Greek mythology, with many of their figurines present within their artworks.
Set of Etruscan Jewellery, Early 5th Century BCE, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The interest with Etruscan revival jewellery began during the 18th-century Georgian period when the ruins of Pompeii (1748) and Herculaneum (1738) were discovered. Yet, the actual Etruscan revival pieces were not created until a century later when jewellery making techniques had become sophisticated. Many Etruscan revival pieces date to the 1860s to 1880s, yet the architecture and ancient findings stimulated jewellery makers' minds around the world.
Gold Enamel Diamond Etruscan Revival Pendant, Eugene Fontenay, mid-late 19th Century, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
It is believed that the Etruscan revival style emerged with Italian jewellery Alessandro Castellani. Castellani was an esteemed and prestigious Italian jeweller who was given special permission from the Vatican to view these ancient ornaments first-hand and learn about their craftsmanship.
Specifically, the Vatican gave him permission in 1836 to view the un-opened Regolini-Galassi tomb. From this, he created his own stunning Italian jewellery collection using a myriad of the archaeological revival techniques illustrated below. It was believed that the Vatican chose Castelliani not just for his talents, but because they wanted to create a sense of national pride and jewellery that was synonymous with Italian craftsmanship.
Archaeological Revival Necklace, Castellani, c.1880, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The stylistic hallmarks of Etruscan revival pieces include cannetille, shell elements, micro-mosaic, mounted gemstones, ornate Gold work, filigree Gold scaffolds and the Greek key design.
Victorian 15ct Gold Split Pearl Greek Key Enamel Bracelet, c.1850s, Source - Skinner Inc Auctions
Hellenistic jewellery overlaps greatly with Etruscan jewellery as they were largely created during the same time periods. The Hellenistic period covers Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire in 31BC.
Hellenistic can be used to describe much of the Ancient Greek style that emerged in the form of classical sculpture, columns, temples, worshipping of multiple deities and more. Hellenistic art created at the time was a change from the composed and idealised figures of classical antiquity to a more realistic and emotional approach to art. In addition, the presence of the female nude became more apparent within artworks.
Greek Gold Disk Earrings with Pendant Erotes, 3rd - 2nd Century BCE, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hellenistic revival jewellery can also be seen as neoclassical jewellery, where there was a return to the idealised symmetrical and harmonious composition of pieces, coinciding with the enlightenment period (1715-1789) in Britain and emphasis on the rationale. Hellenistic revival pieces occurred in both the Georgian and Victorian period, as the Georgian period coincided with the enlightenment.
Sardonyx Cameo Pendant Illustrating Nessus Abducting Dejanira, Guiseppe Girometti, c.1815-1825, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The stylistic hallmarks of Hellenistic revival is figures from Greek mythology, romantic nudes of women thinly veiled with muslin, banded Agates, spiralled arm cuffs and braided Gold details.
Pair of Greek Gold Armbands, c. 200 BCE, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Egyptian revival jewellery (1920s, 1960s/70s) was a renewed interest in ancient Egyptian jewellery styles. Featuring hieroglyphics, scarabs, reeds and lotus flowers, Egyptian revival jewellery was spurred by the discovery of ancient Egyptian tombs, notably the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
Egyptian Revival Brooch, Theodore B. Starr, c.1900, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Egyptian revival jewellery was created in both the Victorian and Art Deco period. Notably, the most famous pieces were made by Cartier during the 1930’s to the 1940’s. They often made use of brightly coloured gemstones such as Lapis lazuli, Carnelian and Emeralds, off-set with the distinctly Art Deco monochrome favourites: Onyx and Diamonds!
Victorian Egyptian Revival Scarab Bracelet, Source - Lillicoco Sold
Archeological Revival Jewellery Techniques
There are a myriad of beautiful and intricate techniques that are characteristic of archaeological revival jewellery. Most of these techniques are used together or interchangeably, with many techniques like granulation, cannetille, micro-mosaic and mythological subjects a stylistic signifier as to whether a piece is an archaeological revival.
Micro Mosaic Jewellery
Micro-mosaic jewellery is a hallmark of Etruscan revival and neoclassical jewellery. It was widely used by Castellani, the famous Italian jewellery maker who had exclusive access to the Etruscan ancient jewellery.
Micro-mosaic jewellery is increasingly sought after in the antique jewellery world, and is still made today. This is both the Florentine Pietra Dura and Venetian mosaic. The Venetian mosaic consists of tiny coloured glass pieces called tesserae that were made from a specialised Venetian glass and made in exclusive Venetian workshops under the authority of the Pope. Pietra Dura is only different in that it was largely made in Florence and was crafted from highly-polished coloured stones!
Micro-mosaic pieces were often made by the Vatican if they received a sizeable donation from them, meaning that micro-mosaic pieces were often owned by very wealthy patrons.
The imagery within these mosaics reflects the trend and interest in classical subjects, from pastoral scenes to mythological figures. For instance, Victorians on holiday in Italy would often commission and pick up these pieces as expensive souvenirs, especially those on the Grand Tour.
The Grand Tour was a coming of age must-have for aristocratic young gentlemen who would frequent through Europe chaperoned learning about its history, art, language and philosophy. Many young men bought or commissioned these pieces for themselves or their loved ones back and home, making archaeological revival pieces a sign of education and distinguished learning.
Interior of the Pantheon in Rome, Giovanni Paolo Panini, c.1734, Source - Wikimedia Commons
One look at a micro mosaic jewelled piece and you can see the amount of intricate work that has gone into the piece. Considered to be a piece of high art, you can just imagine the number of hours that went into creating these pieces.
Metal, marble or lead was commonly used to cement the tesserae pieces into their charming designs. Black marble was often used providing a striking contrast to the colourful pieces and creating animation.
The Italian jewellery brand Le Sibille honours this ancient art incorporating it into traditional and contemporary jewels today.
Granulation is a jewellery metalworking technique where the surface of the piece is covered with spheres or granules of precious metal.
It is believed that Granulation was first used by the Etruscans, as well as widely used by Greek craftsmen too. An ornate and striking way to decorate a piece of jewellery, there are three different styles of granulation, the outline style, the silhouette style and the reserved silhouette style. The differences between these styles are whereabouts the granulated details are placed.
The process of creating the granules and fixing them to the surface of the metal is incredibly meticulous and difficult, which is why it requires advanced technical skill. Many talented Victorian jewellers and goldsmiths undertook intensive training to perfect the Etruscan-favoured technique.
Although Granulation was primarily used in Etruscan jewellery, surviving relics of Indian and Korean jewellery also display this elaborate and sophisticated technique as evident in the picture of these gorgeous Korean Gold earrings above!
Not to be confused with Gold filigree work, cannetille jewellery is crafted from fine Gold wires or thinly hammered sheets that were soldered onto jewellery. Cannetille was designed to simulate fine embroidery onto jewellery, giving it a decadent and ornate look.
Cannetille techniques are found in plenty of European jewellery creations during the 1820s and 1830s and were chosen especially when creating Etruscan revival pieces. Yet cannetille, although labour-intensive to create, was a relatively affordable way to decorate and ornament jewellery which was why it was used so widely in Victorian jewellery creations.
Mythological Lore, Cameos and Intaglios
Of course, the Victorians and Georgians were enchanted by the past, and mythological emblems and subjects were heavily portrayed in revival pieces. For instance, portraits of Hermes were engraved into Quartz fobs and Gold hooped earrings were shaped into ram’s heads to honour the Gods.
Cameos were a popular way to depict allegorical and mythological Roman and Greek figures, with their alabaster look enhancing their classical appeal. Ancient and revival cameo pieces are crafted from both glass, hardstone and shells. In fact, some cameos were made from the lava of Vesuvius - how incredible and magical!
In addition to this, the Victorian period was a time where people started to have scientifically-grounded beliefs rather than religious beliefs which created a lot uncertainty and anxiety surrounding religion. Perhaps it could be speculated that some Victorians found comfort within the religious practises of former societies that were pantheistic (had multiple Gods, Goddesses and deities) rather than monotheistic religions (having one supreme creator).
Regardless of these religious anxieties, mythological deities became synonymous with elegance, refined thought and intelligence of another world.
Necklace with Satyr's Head Pendants, Carlo Guiliano, c.1870, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In our Jewellery Around the World blogging series, we explore the art of filigree within the context of traditional Portuguese and Iberian jewellery. Yet, filigree is heavily present in archaeological revival pieces. For instance, ancient Filigree jewellery has been found in the remains of Mesopotamia, ancient Egyptian pieces, and ancient Cyprus and Sardinia. In fact, jewellery historians believe that filigree pieces became incredibly refined during both the ancient Greek and Etruscan societies in 6th to 3rd centuries BCE.
Roman Filigree Openwork Pendant, c.4th Century AD, Source - Pinterest
In the Louvre and British Museum's current collections, there are a multiplicity of these pieces, mainly found within central Italy.
So, of course, revival pieces created within the 19th century certainly mimicked this ancient art.
High Carat Gold and Bright Gemstones
Perhaps one of the most alluring parts of Etruscan and archaeological revival jewellery is the combination of bright Gold and saturated gemstones. From the sultry tones of grape-hued Garnet cabochons to invigorating Turquoises, gemstones such as these, as well as Amethysts, Emeralds, Lapis Lazuli and of course, Diamonds frequented plenty amongst archaeological revival jewellery. Jewellery artists also incorporated colourful enamel inlays taking stylistic inspiration from plants, animals, Gods and Goddesses like Aphrodite, Eros, Nike and Zeus.
Etruscan Revival Gold Enamel Pearl Diamond Demi Parure, c.1860, Source - Sotheby's
The contrasting of tones, especially those created in higher carat Gold is infinitely pleasing to the eye.
Contemporary Archeological Jewellery Styles and Their Presence in Jewellery Today
Of course, there is nothing we love more than mixing and matching our antique finery with both contemporary jewels and our contemporary style.
Victorian Etruscan Revival Gold Locket with Diamond Centre -Lillicoco Sold Archive.
With this in mind, archaeological revival is in many ways the perfect fit. Nothing is truly more fascinating than the past, especially pieces that are from ancient societies that are thousands of years old, and Archeological revival pieces are a window into this world.
In fact, we have noticed that many high-street and luxury jewellery designers and jewellery brands take both literal and thematic inspiration from these ancient societies. Whether they are Italian, Greek or Egyptian brands themselves or just inspired by the mythological stories, the enchantment surrounding these styles and pieces never seems to cease.
Lillicoco Silver Scarab Beetle Pendant & Chain.- *Available £135.
In some ways, wearing some archaeological jewellery styles is seen as a feminist statement, especially pieces that revere the female form. Many jewellery designers and brands like Hermina Athens, use portraits of Greek Goddesses within their designs. In addition we have seen motifs of the female form that are akin to the famous Venus de Milo statue. This is substantiated with names like “Venus pendant” which not only celebrates the Goddess but it is also articulating that wearing a Goddess is a reclamation of the female body and a form of self-love.
No matter how you wear your archaeological revival piece, it is undeniable that these beautiful and vibrant treasures from the past are as alluring today as they once were.