After centuries of sluggish growth known as the Middle Ages, Europe finally emerged to the Renaissance in the 14th Century. The Renaissance bought with it rapid developments in art - but also in technology, knowledge, science and infrastructure.
Covered here is some of the history that begat this explosion of fashion, Renaissance jewelry trends, typical styles, and types of jewelry popular during the Renaissance, and a few of our designs. We hope you find it a useful companion to the Museum's Renaissance jewelry collection.
A New World
The Cantino planisphere completed in 1502, shows an expanding world which includes Central America, Newfoundland, India and Brazil
Renaissance connected civilizations with the help of new trade routes resulting in exchange of culture, religion, and technology which gave the entire world access to rare raw materials and gemstones. During this period, precious raw material travelled to Europe from different parts of the world. These pieces were handed over to the artists who carved the raw stones into beautiful pieces of jewelry.
Renaissance Techniques and Materials
A Goldsmith in his Shop. 1449 AD. Met Museum.
Lady Capulet Earrings demonstrate a gold forward detailed setting thats typical of period jewelry.
Goldsmiths of the Renaissance were innovative and skillful in their creation of gold and vermeil jewelry. They incorporated a variety of techniques to create perfect works which included casting, chasing, hammering, and cold–joining, soldering and welding. More advanced techniques included embossing, enameling, engraving and filigree decoration. Artisans mastered these techniques, leaning from ancient traditions, creating astounding pieces for rich and noble clients.
Lorenzo Ghiberti's Porta del Paradiso, Completed in 1452 demonstrates some of the masterful metalwork done by Renaissance goldsmiths.
Some well known goldsmiths of the period include Lorenzo Ghiberti, an accomplished goldsmith of the Renaissance who started off his career in the late 14th Century. He was followed by Sandro Botticelli, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Luca Della Robbia and Andrea Del Verrocchio all of whom were trained as fine goldsmiths.
The discovery and appropriation of new-world artifacts and later use of goldmines in Peru and Mexico made gold readily available for Renaissance jewelers.
Reliquary Pendant with Virgin and Child. Gold featuring amethyst, emeralds, rubies, pearls, semiprecious stones and niello. Walters Art Museum.
During trade in the Renaissance, a number of raw materials, jewels and stones travelled to Europe. Jewels and gemstones were faceted, rounded, table-cut and at times falsified. With the onset of trade, new types of stones with new cuts were seen. Most famous of all were the table cut (shown left in a box cut diamond ring from Walters Art Museum) and cameo cut (shown right).
Because of the popularity of simple rectangular cuts - stones were often set in gold frame by rubbing the upper edges of the box-shaped collet. Often times the frames seen in surviving period jewelry are uneven because of the way the artisans would beat the stone around the gold.
Gemstones used in period jewelry included diamonds and rubies from India, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, peridot from the Red Sea, emeralds from Columbia, iolite from Sri Lanka, turquoise (amazonite) and topaz from Brazil along with many others. Beads were highly popular during the Victorian period. In addition to real pearls we find Imitation pearls introduced for the first time in the Renaissance. In Italy, the lawmakers ensured protection against these and other fake jewels by sentencing to severe punishment.
Styles and Motifs
The dominant style of Renaissance jewelry consists of a single massive, colored set of gemstones inlaid on an intricate gold setting. These styles varied from more ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine works in their prominent use of faceting - and differed from later Georgian jewelry in its use of larger more ornate stones and less organic nature. The focus of the jewelry was on the gold while the gem was considered an accessory to the precious metal which was extensively decorated.
Hermes Trismegistos wrote:
The reason why gemstones have more magical power than anything else is because their luminescence and transparency resemble the appearance of heaven.
As Renaissance jewelry advanced from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century it exhibited a change in styles, becoming more ornate and regular. Biblical depictions, famous in the Middle Ages, were used in the beginning of the Renaissance era. Later artists were inspired with the idea of Humanism and real-life objects so jewelry sometimes includes use of pelicans, parrots and foliage in place of religious motifs. Even later the prevalence of explorers invoked themes like sea monsters, ships and mermaids.
Popular Jewelry of Renaissance
Pendants were regarded as the most eminent piece of jewelry of that time. Replacing the brooch, pendants were worn with long gold chains fixed to the dress or worn on the girdle. Carved to perfection, from the front and the back, pendants had miniature sculptures of biblical scenes and monograms. They were also designed for partners stating their initials with jewels.
Women would wear rings on all five fingers and sometimes one on each joint of the finger. The rings were lavishly ornamented and some even had hidden space for scented material to eliminate bad odor. Men would wear their engagement rings on their necks, while the brides received engagement rings with a single studded gem, often Ruby. They were also adorned as sundials, compasses and later on as actual clocks. Signet or seal rings were a common way to inscribe documents and might be worn by the bourgeoisie.
In the Middle Age, paintings depicted how women had their ears covered with hair until the Renaissance when earrings made a comeback. Ranging from simple pear shaped pearls earring to exquisite jewel drops; Renaissance earrings either hanged from the ear or were pierced through them.
The ferronnière (shown left) holds a single gem or stone. Its a subtle piece that was fashionable during the early renaissance and reborn in victorian times.
These head ornaments were replaced by coiffures that were embellished with strands of pearls and jewels (shown right). Likewise, single gems and small clusters hanging on a tin thread were taken over by solid chain, making for heavier necklaces.
Renaissance was a time in history when all European countries engaged in trading styles of fashion and jewelry. With time, the designs developed as they moved across continents and different styles amalgamated. Antique Renaissance jewelry pieces are classic, expensive and timeless with their collections present in different museums around the world. Collectable historic replicas such as those presented in our renaissance collection, preserve the history of the era while providing a modern take on this beautiful period.
Renaissance Jewelry for Sale:
Browse our collection of replica and period inspired renaissance jewelry
Sources and Further Reading: