Abundance, buoyancy, celebration, ceremonial set, parade, political message, precious stones, richness, royalty, triumph.
Colorful ceremonial silver & enamel jewellery set composed of a belt and matching brooches. The belt is the iconic piece of the set, quite impressive with abundant precious stones lavishly dispatched.
The belt is obviously commissioned by a wealthy patron, or intended as a diplomatic gift. Richly ornate, its unusual length implies that it may be a presentation belt shown on pompous occasions but also adjustable, with the central piece being removable. The belt is a presentation piece celebrating a victory or a coronation.
It is presumed to be a unique piece.
The belt bears regal symbols such as the eagle, the crown (incomplete) and the cross referring as a visual representation of imperial, royal or sovereign status. The cross refers to Christian royalty.
Celebration is conveyed by the use of laurel, horn, and vividness of colors illustrating bursting joy.
None is given about the maker.
The set was attributed to an unknown maker of the 15th century which we dispute.
The date prior the 15th century is not viable, due to the use of cherubs and the faceting of stones.
The craftsmanship reveals a unity of style and execution that implies a mastered hand, and hardly any discrepancies are visible except on the middle brooch which is probably of another hand.
A number of issues should be considered:
Indeed, jewelers began publishing detailed engravings of their designs in the mid-1500’s which were circulated throughout Europe and freely copied by other jewelers.
Although other examples of articulated belts of the 19th century are known, the presence of cherubs is quite remarkable on a belt and could suggest that the central part may have served another purpose.
The set displays a joyful and elated vision of colors.
The belt is composed of one stand out central piece, higher than the other pieces referred to - for reading conveniency - as sequences. The central piece is followed on each side by a coat of arms.
The central piece is guarded by two golden cherubs. The presence of the cherubs is meaningful although they appear only once:
they grant an architectural look to the central piece and they endorse the significant part in celebrating an event of major importance. Angelic entities are often used when royalty is assessed or needs to be. They assert that royalty is entrusted by divine right, as they symbolize the divine presence.
The belt overcomes its belt status and becomes a precious jeweled object. The eagles, together with the standing cherubs and the medallion portrait of a lone eagle make this piece a work of art which is jeweled with care. The central piece prevails as an ephemeral architecture (square metal frame) made of standing cherubs, pedestals, and a core wreath and medallion; the piece recalls a ceremonial parade. These colorful parades were meant to mesmerize the spectators who would remember the event.
The symbolic message is deciphered on the central piece whose global shape and structure echoes a shield or a throne, presented by cherubs. The following coats of arms complete the driven political message. The other articulated pieces of the belt seem merely to convey a merry floral design although a close exammination will reveal an intented symbolism based on nature’s renewal.
The left cherub is blowing loudly in a hollow horn; the horn recalls a horn of plenty, however it is empty. His cheeks are deformed whilst the right cherub is holding with his left arm a sword in its cover. The cover bears an engraved décor apparently void of any monogram.
The cherubs come with large and long blue silver and enamel wings. Their long wings are found in the biblical iconography; during the renaissance period and later on, they are traditionally represented with shorter wings in sculpture or paintings and their figures are no longer tall and elongated. The association of both long wings and plump (chubby) bodies is fortuitous.
Their bright blue color does not have a bearing with our subject. The color usage melts in the overall color scheme and is likely to express or express temperance and patience when referring to ordeals in Christian iconography.
The cherubs are standing on a square pedestal on display, and their affected pose is outlined by the curve and counter curve of their body. They are not secondary figures in a décor but are essential to declaim the triumphant status of the presumed yet unknown patron of the set. The cherubs celebrate the glory of a regal personage suggested by his coat of arms and the recurrence of laurels. We notice a golden laurel hold by the left angel. Another laurel responds to it and becomes a whirling green enamel circle that seems to have no end. The medieval helmets and the sword belong to the same league of symbols.
Whirling green enamel echoes laurels in every sequence of the belt. The whirling utters nature's endless rebirth and predicts a new era. The belt sequences could continue if the fastening buckle was not introduced to repress such abundant display of colors and pace. In ancient Greece laurel was sacred to Apollo and, as such, was used to form a crown or wreath of honor for heroes, scholars, and poets. The laurel became the symbol of triumph in Rome as well as in Greece.
On top of the central piece two eagles with wings deployed, fight over a fallen and defeated bird featured with a long neck, and golden beak, showing the full underside of the right wing; the heron captured, is still alive but his future seems bleak. Athena, the Greek goddess, employed a heron as one of her divine messengers. Early Christians, believing that herons shed tears of blood under stress, made this bird an emblem of Christ's agony in the garden and the sweat of blood He endured there.
The eagles are positioned at a higher and more eminent stand than level and than the defeated bird. The scene takes place in the air. The eagles seem to be carried on a golden whirl. The conquered bird on a lower level rests on two large green enamel and golden whirls; his helpless body is highly contrasting with the oval faceted emerald beneath him. His right wing slightly touches the bright emerald. The station between the birds is clearly marked by the whirls. The bearing of the two upper eagles could suggest the political rivalry between two powers although there is no obvious sign od allegiance.
The top eagles, their beaks open, echo in a vertical line to the below eagle with its wings down. The lively stand of the eagles is rather unconventional, constrasting with the well known heraldic representation of the double headed eagle. Eagles usher the representation of royalty. The double eagle gained its fame in the arms of the Byzantine, Holy Roman, Austrian and Russian empires. The eagle thus, is regarded as the king of birds.
Quite powering is the impact conceded to the eagles as well as the bird down below in a medallion portrait. The difference of posture between the top eagles and the frontal bird standing in its medallion is striking and unexpected at first. The bird stands still and stable with his wings down; deprived of belligerence, he breaks the rule of symmetry, as he stands utterly alone, in his servitude. His stern presence fades away the elated tone of the belt. The bird does not rejoice, nor does he contest the celebration. He simply witnesses the event, bridging the event to the previous generations.
As to the supposed link with the two upper eagles, a clue is provided by the presence of rubies. The bird stands on a ruby and he is headed by a ruby as well. Related by blood to the upper eagles, his station must be significant as he is granted a medallion which keeps him in custody.
The eagles on top are crowned by a contrasting and prominent oval ruby on its own.
The ruby standing solitary could be the symbol of bloodshed. Its shape suggests a drop of blood, possibly a regal drop. The drop is intentionally out of scale looming over the eagles’ heads. Royalty was transmitted by blood as well as by divine right. Transmission of power implied often antagonism between the pretenders to a throne. The ruby drop has therefore a dual significance as it refers to life legacy and bloodshed.
They are combined with vivid colors.
The two coats of arms mirror one another and are headed by a crowned medieval style helmet, presented sideways and topped with nine white enamel points of crown. The crown of the helmet differs from the one on the shield. The helmets answer one another on each side of the central piece. The subtle carving of the helmet contrasting with the golden crown is noticeable. The stag on the shield occurs often in heraldry, or his antlers, symbols of strength and fortitude. We observe the antlers are elongated and spring from the crown.
The buckle left and right is ornate with stones and reproduces the features of the middle brooch mainly set with emeralds together with an emphasis on a twinned pattern referred to as a recollection of the celtic knot (here, golden metal with white enamel border). The craftsmanship is not as clean (mastered) on the middle brooch which induces the assumption that it was duplicated by another hand. Indeed, we notice the middle brooch is not as finely made as the other two.
The three ornate brooches were worn on clothes, presumably on the chest or hat. They come in different sizes and their back is ornate with a pin. Whether the pin was done when the brooch was crafted or added later on is not determined.
The center piece is not articulated as opposed to the sequences of the belt. Although it is balanced and symmetrical, the center piece is bulky for a belt. Was it part of an ensemble which has disappeared and was replaced by the articulate sequences in order to convert it into a belt?
Although they do blend well, the belt reunites three key parts (the center piece, the sequences, and the buckle) that could be conceived to be presented in two. One would be the belt with the buckle. The second would be the stand alone center piece.
The center piece has inspired the articulated metal pieces that compose the belt. Since the message is repeated, it seems likely that the source of inspiration is the center piece. Its core presents the wreath of emeralds and pearls are the key feature for the sequences of the belt.
The technique of assembling provides a clue.
Frame & Voids
Handmade, the belt is articulated with over ten separate pieces of metal with apparent metal joints two of them bearing knobbed heads and rods.
The ten pieces are the frame (matrix) of the belt. Their purpose is to enhance the presence of the stones. The separate pieces ordained in sequences of metal, allow empty spaces on the front side.
Why is a breathing space allowed, and repeated in the sequences?
The light weight of the belt implies that it was meant to be worn. However the knobbed heads of the joints of the coat of arms are unexpectedly salient.
The thinness and lightweight of the belt is carefully preserved. The center piece presents voids between the cherubs and the metal frame. We find similar voids between the metal frame and the stones with Renaissance jewellery, and with celtic craftsmanship. When worn, the voids would reveal the clothing, adding further richness to the belt and brooches. Can the brooches be used as pendants on the belt? They do not seem to have been conceived for such usage, although it was common.
The observation of the pictures has allowed assessing whether the pieces sequences were removable from the belt or not. Only two joints bear a removable metal rod. The other metal pieces (sequences) are articulated but are not removable one by one. The metal joints appear only at the junction of the coat of arms with the following metal piece (sequence). The knobbed heads of the metal rods are easing the hand grasp.
If the metal pieces were removable, the belt could have been adjusted in terms of length which is not feasible with the existing buckle. The central piece together with the adjacent coat of arms is not meant to be dismantled: they are conceived as one piece and read as one story, both left and right.
The bold assumption of the removable joints stands viable. The removable metal rod exceeds the available space inside its cover and carries a finger push. Amidst the fine craftsmanship of the belt, the presence of the joints may seem awkward if we dismiss the fact they have a practical use which is to insulate when requested, the center piece from the sequences of the belt.
When isolated the center piece becomes an iconic stand alone work of art. It is meant to rest flat and was likely to have been presented to its patron in remembrance of the glorious event of his triumph. The conception of the belt might have been inspired by the wish to wear it like other regalia.
What remains unclear is the reason why the sequences are not adjustable.
The stones are closed set, no claws being used.
The depth of the closed setting is pronounced and carries out on the belt and the brooches revealing the same hand has graded the setting.
The closed setting highlights and enhances the stones. In the center piece, the below rubies are closed set and placed in a round lace indented, edge metal called box bezel setting, resulting in a double setting.
The double setting is not observed in other areas of the belt. However the closed back setting of stones being homogenous throughout the belt with a similar patina implies that apparently no stone has been replaced.
The free baroque (twisted form as opposed to round pearl) is fixed by a very thin metal rod inside the pearl.
The even patina on the cherubs is silver gilt or gold enamel.
The disparity of silver between the birds is not explained by the oxidation of the metal, unless the silver purity differs which would be uncanny. Therefore we assume that the original patina was not homogenous on all the birds.
The lying defeated bird was covered with blue enamel echoing the blue of the cherubs’ wings.
The bird within the medallion bears traces of orange (?) color enamel.
On the reverse of the belt, a second metal foil covers partially (thus sparing the empty spaces mentioned above) the one bearing the décor with stones on the front side of the belt.
The belt presents a clean back, however the reverse of the buckle is left uncovered.
The metal frame overall frame of the center piece is rectangular with ovoid and smaller circle shapes.
Baroque pearls, emeralds, and rubies are favored.
The inclusions within the emeralds confirm their genuineness.
The center piece of the belt introduces various carat weights.
The baroque pearls however bring up only two sizes
(diameter) throughout the set.
The pearls point out the precedence conceded to the middle one.
The diameters of the baroque pearls show a careful and measured
space display as calculated as the voids between each metal whirl.
No stone and no pearl is disposed at random.
The cut of the stones is square, rectangular for emeralds or oval for rubies.
The emeralds and other stones have their table faceted.
The metal is ornate with three color enamel.
The rose cut is not found. Medieval jewellery uses mainly cabochon type cut and round cuts.
Also in medieval jewellery the base is cut flat in order to fit inside the setting (square or round); the depth of the setting observed, allows the stones to avoid a flat cut. By allowing more depth to the stone, light can come in deeper and reflect brighter hues.
The stones show therefore more brilliance. The setting of the stones does not permit to conclude whether the stones are foiled or not.
Foiling was often used to induce color or enrich it with a thin layer of polished metal placed under the stone.
The rubies are not pigeon blood quality; however their color is bright and homogeneous.
The transparency of the emeralds is good due to the weak presence of inclusions.
The surface of emeralds and rubies is even and smooth. No holes in color are detected with the naked eye.
The luster of the baroque pearls has remained.
Royal blue carries a hefty weight in the original map: the wings of the cherubs, the fallen bird, the coat of arms, the helmets, and the back of leaves.
Enamel is the medium used here. We notice the preeminence of royal blue in the center piece.
The center piece of the belt presents a metal frame covered with black enamel bearing a golden décor.
The contrasting mix of black and gold is not reproduced in the other articulated pieces of the belt, neither on the brooches.
The gold color noticeable in the setting of stones and on the cherubs enriches the dominant colors, blending the black enamel.
About eleven rubies are set in the center piece but they resume to two in other sequences of the belt.
Red enamel of the brooches is introduced in the color map of the set.
Emeralds are spread evenly, whilst turquoise enamel remains discreet to the eye.
The leading colors of the belt and brooches are red, green, white, royal blue and green enamel, matched to green and red precious stones.
The use of recurrent features is orchestrated with method in order for the naked eye to find its bearings. Features are repeated to convey abundance and richness of décor.
The prolific appearance of the spiral pattern can not be dismissed as it is reminiscent of the celtic pattern. The celts believed that all life moved in eternal cycles, regenerating at each juncture. Indeed, we notice that the spiral is noticeable on the central piece and the sequences. Quite uncanny is the number of spirals: each brooch reveals even numbers such as number eight, number four, number twelve.
Foliage welcomes the white baroque pearls as well as laurels and whirls made of enamel on metal.
Foliage can be distinctive such as the leaf standing on its own below the cherubs and emeralds, of the center piece, or comes with intricate patterns like scrolls, volutes, arabesque motifs (gold enamel curls on black enamel ground applied with a very thin brush), and laurels.
Intricate golden metal appears from helmets, overlapping on the green enamel whirls, themselves joined by supple golden laurels. The curved shape of the laurels is graceful and mildly affected.
The single leaf pattern occurs in different sizes both and the belt and the brooches. It is presented by a dominant shining color with a reserve (area) of silver.
Why do white baroque pearls come by three in the maple leaf?
The importance of the trinity (number three) should not be disregarded in relevance to celtic patterns and their symbolism.
A recurrent coterie of three baroque pearls is resting on silver with green enamel indented partially folded maple leaves. The folding is neat from one sequence to the next.
The pearls are grouped in order to suggest a bouquet of flowers with no apparent stem, delicately handled by a large leaf, showing a partially silver and blue back.
Their presence is regulated in four groups within each articulated metal piece (sequences) as well as the core of the brooches. A balanced rhythm is mastered from one piece to its sister ones, avoiding breaches in the reading in spite of the deliberate voids (the empty spaces mentioned above).
The harmony and balance is skillfully obtained by the recurrence of features combined to the repeated enamel hues and stones display throughout the belt and the brooches, with whirling metal enameled in green, square and rectangular emeralds, square emeralds bridging one piece to the next, white enamel used as a decorative border on each articulated piece.
The white enamel traces the limits of the border, identical from one articulated piece sequence to the other.
Fine work with no heavy restorations. One of the turquoises with red core (small flowers) is missing.
Worn spots of enamel on shields (restoration?).
Both helmets bear traces of blue enamel.
The silver helmets were originally covered with royal blue enamel.
Some leaves show partial loss of enamel. Oxidation on the birds of the central piece and silver loss is observed. Loss of blue enamel is noticeable on the wings of the cherubs as well as on the middle brooch.