One of the most mysterious and celebrated treasures from Anglo-Saxon England, the Alfred Jewel is believed to be more than 1,000 years old. It was discovered in 1693 in a field at North Petherton, Somerset.
Made of enamel and quartz, this remarkable jewel was made in the reign of Alfred the Great with an inscription “AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN” which means “Alfred ordered me made.” It is an unusual example of Anglo-Saxon jewelry because it begs all kinds of questions about where the materials came from.
The two-and-a-half-inch long jewel made of filigreed gold has an image of a man, which many historians believe is a picture of Christ. Shaped like a teardrop, it was once believed that this jewel was a pendant worn around the neck. However, this would mean that the image of Christ would be permanently hung upside-down.
Another theory is that it might have been the centerpiece of a royal crown but the setting seemed inappropriate for that purpose. According to Webster, the back of the jewel is a flat gold plate which is engraved with either a plant motif or an image of the Tree of Life.
Over the years, many suggestions have been made about the function of this jewel. The most common is that it was a pointer to use for reading manuscripts. It is assumed that it may have been Alfred’s gift to the abbey, which he founded at Athelney in 878 after his defeat of the Vikings.
A description of the jewel was first published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1698. Colonel Nathaniel Palmer bequeathed the jewel to Oxford University and it was on display in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In 2015, after 297 years away, the Alfred jewel was put on display for one month at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton Castle.
Vintage News had a feature article on a major historic find.
The Middleham Jewel is a late 15th-cenutry diamond-shaped gold pendant made by the finest medieval goldsmiths in London. It was found in 1985 near the Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire which was the childhood home of Richard III.
It is a remarkable piece of jewelry because of the engraving of the two scenes of the Trinity and Nativity.
There is a blue sapphire stone set on the front face which is connected with the Virgin Mary and it was believed that the jewel was made to assist childbirth. Another belief is that the jewel was providing protection against illness curing headaches and poor eyesight. Also, the sapphire may represent heaven or have acted as aid to prayer.
The circle of the sun surrounding the sapphire is in the shape of the letter “o” and it’s connected with the Greek word ”omega” which symbolizes the end, the completion. There are holes on the side of the jewel which indicate that there was a frame around it, possibly once decorated with pearls.
On the front side, there is a scene of the Trinity, including the Crucifixion of Jesus and there is a Latin inscription which was a common recitation by the priest in mass. There is one particular word ‘ananizapta’ for which it was believed that it is a magic word, intended to protect people from drunkenness or epilepsy.
On the back side of the jewel, there is an engraving of the Nativity, with fifteen saints around the Lamb of God. Only a few of the saints can be identified as St George, Catherine of Alexandria, St Peter, St Barbara, St Anne, Dorothea of Caesarea and St Margaret of Antioch.
There is evidence from the late 15-th century that this kind of jewel was worn by noble ladies. It may have been owned by Richard III’s wife, Anne Neville, his mother or his mother-in-law because they all spent time at Middleham.
When it was first found, the jewel was declared lost and was sold at Sotheby’s in 1986. In 1992, with support from many fundraisers, it was acquired by the Yorkshire Museum. There is a replica of the Middleham Jewel at Middleham and the original can be seen in the Yorkshire Museum.
Brooch with Heracles knot and butterfly pendant, 300-100 B.C. Gold, Almandine, Emerald, Glass. Greece. Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Cologne. (Photo: Martin Kilmas.)
The marriage-knot or knot of Hercules, a strong knot created by two intertwined ropes, originated as a healing charm in ancient Egypt, but is best known for its use in ancient Greece and Rome as a protective amulet, most notably as a wedding symbol, incorporated into the protective girdles worn by brides, which were ceremonially untied by the new groom. This custom is the likely origin of the phrase “tying the knot.”
According to Roman lore, the knot symbolized the legendary fertility of the God Herakles; it probably relates to the legendary Girdle of Artemis captured from the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. In this, the marriage-knot was probably a representation of the virginity of the bride.
The butterfly symbolizes the Greek princess Psyche, whose beauty was such as to provoke the envy and wrath of Aphrodite. The goddess’s revenge was foiled, however, when her son Eros fell in love with Psyche, and after various difficulties, persuaded the gods to make her immortal and thus his equal. Eros then married Psyche and the couple were bonded together eternally in passionate union.
This remarkable object was clearly made as a wedding present for a bride.
One of my European Facebook friends forwarded a photo of the above piece of jewelry, which I, at least, failed to recognize as Lalique.
My curiosity is strong, so I captured the picture and ran it through a search program (Tineye), thereby identifying its source as Odisea2008.com, a Spanish-language web-site regularly purveying images of art.
(I never actually studied Spanish, but for the convenience of my Anglophone readers, I have combined my own feeble efforts with Google translator to produce a readable (reasonably accurate, I hope) version of Odisea2008’s accompanying text.)
RENÉ LALIQUE, AN ARTISTIC GENIUS
René Lalique was born in 1860 and died in 1945, and lived two successive artistic lives, as he expressed different facets of his personality in two diametrically opposed styles: the Art Nouveau and the later Art Deco.
Basing his inspiration on nature and having had the audacity (for the time) to use the female body as an element of ornamentation, Lalique created some of the most representative jewelry of the Art Nouveau style. His earrings, brooches, tiaras, glasses, combs were original and imaginative works using the most elaborate techniques. He was not afraid to use previously little-used materials, such as horn, ivory, semi-precious stones, enamel and inlaid glass that was combined with gold and precious stones. His originality and talent caused him to be regarded by Emile Gallé as the inventor of modern jewelry.
At the height of his career as a jeweler, Lalique gradually changed direction and became a glazier. His earliest experiments dated back to the 1890s, but his encounter with the perfumer François Coty in 1908 played a decisive role, causing him not only to create produce bottles for the greatest perfumers, but gradually also to add to his productions, boxes, vases, lamps, and so on.
His reputation in the realm of glass was such that his factory at Combs-la-Ville, could not meet the demand, so after the World War, Lalique opened a second manufactury in Alsace at Wingen-sur-Moder, knowing that he could find in this region with a tradition of stained glass production the necessary skilled labor and that he would be able to obtain support from the government which at that time was seeking to establish the region of Alsace and Moselle as “the glass-center of France.”
Glazier of genius and eclectic creator, Lalique was not only interested in the arts of tableware and perfume bottles. He also produced, in the luxury years of the 1920s, equally emblematic designs for car radiator mascots, lighting for trains like the Orient-Express, for passenger ships like the Normandie, and for luxury stores. Lalique also took a special interest in religious architecture for which he produced some extraordinary designs.
After the death of Rene Lalique in 1945, his son Marc succeeded him in directing the company. Imbued with the same passion for the work, he used his technical skills to rebuild and modernize the factory largely destroyed during the war. Abandoning glass in favor of crystal, He exploited the contrast between the transparent and the satin-glazed to achieve the maximum expressivity from this pure material. It was this particular effect which became famous worldwide and was recognized as characterizing the brand “Lalique”. Under his guidance, the company quickly reached the highest position among the great French and foreign glassmakers.
Marie-Claude succeeded her father Marc in 1977, with the intention of combining tradition and renewal, along with the love of natural forms and the capability of reproducing and communicating their essence in objects, that for three generations has marked the creative sensibility of Lalique.
In 2008, the Lalique Company was merged into the Pochet Group of Art and Fragrance Companies and Saint-Germain Finance. The aim of its president and CEO, Silvio Denz is to strengthen the brand name in the world market and to increase its production capacity of glassware. Collections of jewelry and perfume bottles continue to be developed in parallel with traditional stained glass activity. Reissues of old works and contemporary creations are still produced in Wingen-sur-Moder by master glassmakers, where several of the best workers in France perpetuate the cult of excellence.