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Gold jewellery from Tarento

Unknown-230/-210

Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The stunning gold find probably once formed the complete jewellery of a rich Tarentine woman, buried with her in the late 3rd century BCE. The combination of gold and precious stones in the eight-part set is at its most captivating in the unusually long chain with large ‘Herakles knots’ (length: 111 cm): 102 individual parts made of gold wire have been tied together in pairs, loop-in-loop, with 50 pieces of polished garnet. The conical carnelian pieces fixed in gold collars at the end close the chain with movable hinges on the looped knots. They are formed by gold sheet, embellished with beaded wire that encircle the long garnet arches. The pure gold strap necklace (length: 36 cm) displays loop-in-loop chainwork, three rows deep. Its fringe is formed from 114 short beaded wires with small beads. The tongue-shaped terminals are embellished with fine filigree work. The two cast snake arm bands (diameter: 6.5 cm) are embellished with scales chased into the curved outer rim. The reptiles’ head and tail are curved into figures of eight at each end. The finger ring formed from spiral wire (outer diameter: 1.9 cm) ends in two serpents’ heads, set with two garnet pearls. The earrings (height: 5.6 cm) feature pendents of Nike flying through the air that hang on rosettes adorned with garnets. Around the cast naked body, the goldsmith created her wind-swept mantle from gold sheet and attached the wings on the reverse. The intricate detail shows Nike wearing a sash over her arms and delicate slippers on her feet, while holding a bowl and small box in her hands. The most daring piece of craftsmanship here, however, is undoubtedly the hairnet (diameter: 9.4 cm, height 6.7 cm). Its centre has been fashioned from an older piece of jewellery: a medallion bearing a young Medusa head, beaten from the reverse into gold sheet. The hairnet is held together at the other end by two basis hoops of equal size with a central ‘Herakles knot’. Between them and the medallion a semispherical net is formed, seven rows deep, with each row containing 25 arches, made from gold wire. Garnet pearls cover the bonds in the arches and also lend sparkle to the centre of the rosettes on the basis hoops, alternately set in the gold sheet with larger diamond and tear-shaped stones, framed by pearl wires. The ‘Herakles knot’ appears similar to the one on the large chain, but is immovable and has only been worked on the front. Analyses conducted on the garnets and gold, and precise comparisons of the various wires and solders used have revealed that although the individual parts of this gold find were not crafted in a single workshop at the same time, they do all originate from Tarento and can be dated to between 230 and 210 BCE. This dating is supported by a silver stater coin from Tarento that was minted between 212 and 209 BCE. It was found stuck to a necklace also made of three double loop-in-loop chains as the one described above which also came from Tarento. The different forms of abrasion and signs of wear on the jewellery suggest that a rich Tarentine woman acquired the set piece-by-piece over a longer period of time. As a result, the find gives us a well-rounded picture of high Hellenistic gold craftsmanship at it most exquisite. Keeping abreast of the latest fashion, perhaps the wearer decided to have her diadem, then customarily worn, reworked into a solid gold hairnet for her high bun. From the few comparable pieces found in Thessaly and Egypt we can tell they belonged to a woman of immense social standing.

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Details

  • Title: Gold jewellery from Tarento
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: -230/-210
  • Location: Tarento
  • Type: Jewellery
  • Medium: Gold, garnet, carnelian
  • Inv.-No.: 1980. 17-22
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Verlag Philipp von Zabern / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Gertrud Platz-Horster || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz

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