Thursday, 21 February 2013

Ancient Islamic Jewelry

This plaque, decorated against a niello background, depicts a lion walking.
The belief in one god and Muhammad as his prophet unites Muslims around the world. Born Mecca in approximately 570 C.E: Muhammad migrated to Medina in 622.This date now marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Muhammad did not see himself as a new prophet but rather as one in a continuum of previous prophets that included Adam, Noah Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Like them he believed in one god and was resolute in abolishing the idols that populated temples during the pre-Islamic period. 
Ring Iran, 12th to 13th century C.E. Gold
After Muhammad's death in 632 C.E, his Followers rapidly conquered Iran Mesopotamia the Levant Egypt and North Africa.

In the holy book of Islam the Qur’an jewelry is not directly cited but according. To some verses precious materials. Such as gold, pearls, coral and rubies are symbols of creation. However later followers of the Prophet whose saying are collectively called the hadith. were more restrictive about adornment. Out of respect for Muhammad, Muslims remove their jewelry during prayer. 'The hadith also condemned goldsmiths: as a result, most goldsmiths were Jews. With this accommodation jewelry could be bought and worn they Muslims, though they could not make it themselves
This necklace consists of fourteen hollow gold beads and fourteen glass beads, which are crumb-decorated. The contrast between the gold and glass beads is striking.
Few examples of early Islamic jewelry from the eighth century C.F. remain intact. Since the Muslims did not bury jewelry with their dead very little early Islamic jewelry has survived. Gold or silver was generally melted down and stones were often restrung. Surviving pieces from this early period express Byzantine, Roman and Persian motifs. It was not until the eleventh century C.E. that Islamic jewelry came into its own. The gold and glass bead necklace shown above is more reminiscent of early Byzantine jewelry than typical Islamic jewelry.

From the 11th to the 13th centuries, granulation and filigree were techniques frequently used in Islamic jewelry. Both techniques are displayed in exquisite armlet and roundel objects.
From the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries C.E granulation and filigree were the most important Islamic jewelry techniques. An excellent example of both techniques is the gold armlet on the opposite page, which dates to the first half of the eleventh century. In this armlet, there are four hemispheres surrounding the clasp. 

Roundel
The flat disks on the backs of these four hemispheres are decorated with imprints of coins a style reminiscent of early Byzantine jewelry which often incorporated coins. On the coins the Arabic inscription reads: "Justice! There is no god save Allah, and he has no associate. Al-Kadir billah" The bracelet's twisted shank evokes the spirit of Greek jewelry. This armlet is missing stones, but a virtually identical bracelet, adorned with four turquoise stones on each globe, resides at the Frier Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Filigree and granulation techniques are also used in the eleventh century gold roundel from Iran on the next page. At first glance, the roundel resembles Fatimid style
This beautifully designed pendant is composed of ribbons of gold. The name of the prophet is spelled out in Arabic.
. The Fatimid Dynasty prevailed from 909 C.F. to 1171 cr. It was founded by Said ibn Husayn of Syria and named after Fatimah, the daughter of the prophet Muhammad. Fatimid jewelry is more elaborate than filigree; if this piece was constructed in Fatimid id style, the strips on the back of the gold piece (not shown) would be thicker and vary in size. However, the strips in this piece are thinner and are arranged in a regular pattern, indicating that it is not, in fact, a Fatimid. The roundel, which is missing a stone in the middle, has tiny holes in the points of the design, so it was probably meant to be sewn onto clothing, similar to the Achaemenid lions.

This bracelet was created from tubular sheet construction with repousee deco-rations.
An example of a Fatimid piece can be seen here. his gold pendant dates to the eleventh century C.E. its filigree designs are composed of many sections of gold ribbon curled in the shape of figure eights, then soldered within a half moon shaped framework of twisted gold wire. Beads of granulation decorate the outer curve of the pendant. Within the central circular section framed by twisted wire, ribbons of gold have been arranged to spell out the name of the prophet Muhammad in Arabic.
The emphasis of this Islamic necklace is strictly on the importance of the geometric shape. Granulation is raised to new heights and, although the necklace is ten centuries old, the effect is timeless.
 The spaces between and within the letters are filled with looped ribbon, camouflaging the inscription within the overall design of the piece. The crescent shape is often used as a design element in Islamic art.

The gold bracelet on the next page, from twelfth century Iran, is constructed solely of sheet gold, worked in repousse (a technique for creating relief in gold). Granulation and bitumen highlight the decoration, with conical glazed quartz held in place by four prongs. The bracelet is now set with a pink sapphire and garnet, but it originally contained two different stones. There are others that exist that arc similar in spirit to the sheet gold bracelet. Impressively, silver granulation was used on some of these objects; this effect is harder to achieve with silver, because silver becomes less pliable and therefore more brittle with repeated heating.

This pendant is similar in design to the earrings on the opposite page. Nature continued to play an important role in jewelry design.
A fantastic Islamic necklace on the opposite page raises the art of granulation and geometry to a new level. Each of the twenty-three granulated balls is a perfect twelve sided polygon with a circle in the center of each side, transforming the necklace into a modern image. Many Islamic 4 necklaces are comprised of twenty-three beads, but according to experts there is no known significance to the number twenty three. However thirty three, sixty six, and particularly ninety nine are significant numbers in Islam because they are based on the ninety nine names of Allah or fractions thereof. Many tasbihs (prayer beads) possess this number of beads.

The Garden of Eden continues to play an important role in Islamic jewelry, with birds being a central theme. Here we see two delicate pairs of birds, touching at their beaks and chests as they stand on their tiny feet in the middle of the crescents.
Other themes concerning jewelry emerge from studying the Qur’an. Because of the prohibition on the representation of a, human form figurative jewelry does not exist. As a result, the basis of Islamic jewelry is a combination of mathematics (geometry. calligraphy and floral patterns. Calligraphy is especially prominent in men's signet rings.

The body of the goat was formed from two parts that were later joined together. The ears, horns, and tail were produced separately and attached to the body. The major decorative element is twisted wire, which is applied in small circles placed closely together on the body. This particular decorative style is characteristic of gold Seljuk jewelry from Iran.
Nature and the Garden of Eden also play important roles in Islam and the Qur’an. Birds, often peacocks, are central themes. The earrings and pendant shown above and on the previous page demonstrate this source of inspiration. The kissing birds of paradise arc created in exacting detail, with granulating and twisted wire filigree reminiscent of Sassanian designs. Each earring has a crescent shaped body created as a box construction on the top and bottom. Stripes of gold with granulation at the edges hold two openwork filigree bands on the sides, each containing a row of ten small decorative medal-lions. 

The two birds stand on tiny feet in the middle of each crescent. Their bodies, wings, and necks arc done in filigree, and their heads are formed from gold sheet with granulation on the surface. Seven prongs, formed by a short stem and a rather large cap decorated with granulation protrude from the lower strip at regular intervals; five additional identical prongs extend diagonally from the exterior openwork band, corresponding to the outer and more visible side of each earring.
This pair of feline-shaped earrings was formed from two parts that were soldered together. This pair is decorated similarly to the goat on the opposite page. Earrings in the form of animals were very popular in Iran during the Seljuk period.

The stems of the prongs are pierced, suggesting that strings of pearls were once used to decorate these objects.

Animal motifs are also evident in the goat figurine shown here and animal earrings. From the same period are two gold hair ornaments with a bronze core. They are fabricated from sheets of gold, decorated with twisted wire, granulation, and originally colored cloth. Each ornament was worn around a long lock of hair. Flair ornaments were typical of Mesopotamia, and have also been discovered at Ur dating from as early as 2500 B.C.E.

This earring is in the shape of a lion; its body was formed in two parts that were soldered together. The head, ears, feet, and tail were produced separately and joined to it. It is decorated with twisted wire fashioned into closely packed rings.
During the twelfth through fourteenth centuries C.E., the middle class, especially in Iran desired new and artistic metal objects to demonstrate their position and status. These objects were covered with niello. a metallic alloy used to fill in depressions that was originally developed by the Egyptians.

Although hair ornaments were discovered as early as 2500 B.C.E., here is a pair of Islamic hair ornaments with emphasis on the geometric core.
Above features an inkwell carved with faces, and the calligraphy inscription reads "Continuing glory, increasing prosperity, secure life, and good fortune." The top and bottom bands of the inkwell have twelve eight-lobed medallions containing the signs of the zodiac set in eight-pointed stars inside the cover are human faces, with five medallions in between; each containing one or two birds.

Like the inkwell, the casket above has a beautifully detailed surface reminiscent of Sassanian metal traditions. The shape of this metal box rectangular with slightly tapering walls and a cover was common during the thirteenth century C.E. The four sides are covered with scrolls. A frieze of animals rings the top and base of the casket. In the center is a seated figure, and on either side are two kneeling attendants: the same figure reappears on the roof of the casket and on both ends.

The excellent state of preservation makes this inkwell one of the best surviving examples of its kind. Between two bands of 4uadrupeds are the twelve signs of the Zodiac set in eight-pointed stars.
During this period, rings were worn by both men and women. Men's rings also served as seals and often had the name of the owner engraved in calligraphy on the back of the bezel. The silver ring on page 16 and the lapis lazuli ring Shown here are two examples of early Islamic finger rings. One in silver has a carnelian intaglio set in a fabricated pie-dish bezel with notched shoulders. There is a two line inscription, written in the negative, in Kufic Islam's oldest form of calligraphy. The other ring in gold is set with lapis lazuli in a conical box setting. The inscription reads. "God sufficed) me," a phrase from the Qur`an

The shape of this box, rectangular with slightly tapering walls and a chamfered cover, became common during the 13th century.
On flat gold finger ring with an engraved green jasper intaglio. A fantastic gold finger ring shown to the right, with a flat carnelian intaglio has the names of Muhammad and the twelve Shia imams engraved on it. The upper and lower sections of each prong are decorated with engraved hatching and fleur-delis designs. The spaces between the prongs arc also decorated with bands of engraved hatching and floral scrolls with Mello. The shoulders of the ring are engraved with floral designs and highlighted with niello.

The lapis lazuli intaglio is engraved with a two-line Kufic inscription, "Allah," and "God sufficeth me."
The late tenth century C.E. Fatimid gold finger ring above is fabricated from sheet gold. The top of the flat oval bezel is made separately of filigree wire and granulation soldered to the medallion. A more elaborate Fatimid ring from the mid-eleventh century is also shown here. It has a flat hexagonal bezel that is decorated within an applied wire border with a six-petal rosette of six applied wires. Surrounding the rosette is granulation of varying sizes.

This ring has a rectangular bezel set with a flat carnelian intaglio. It is engraved with a three-line Kufic inscription that gives the names of the twelve Shia imams.
A Seljuq dynasty gold finger ring in the shape of a stirrup is featured. The Seljuqs were a Sunni Muslim Dynasty that ruled the Middle East and Central Asia from the eleventh to the fourteenth century C.E. In this ring cabochon malachite is held in place by fourteen tip-pointed, wedge-shaped prongs soldered against the high bezel. The sides of the ring are finely engraved.

Fatimid designs were stylized and very ornate. These rings are fabricated from gold sheet, filigree, and granulation that were used to decorate them with scrolls and rosettes.
In post Islamic Persia, the Safavid dynasty ruled from 1501 until 172 C.E. and established Shia imams as their official religion. The gold ring on page 121 is from this era. It is unusual because of its massive bezel and shank. The raised round bezel is set with black jasper with a script engraving that reads, "He who guides towards the good is enough [reward] for the good." The underside is engraved with floral scrollwork filled with Kufic script that repeats the name of Ali four times.

The gilded silver and carnelian seal ring shown on the opposite page was worn by both sexes. Its carnelian stone was flat and had Mello decoration on the inside of the setting.

Coins were an important element in strings of beads, head ornaments,, rings, and bracelets. Inscribed coins were acquired as mementos and were considered to be charms capable of offering protection against the Evil Eye. The use of coins as a decorative element in jewelry attests to the affinity between the two: like money, jewelry was legal tender and a symbol of social status.
 There are four corner prongs that resemble human figures. A similar ring, below it was fashionable during the fifteenth century, when rings were worn on the little fingers. This signet ring is made of green nephrite, a less valuable kind of jade. On the seal is written "May you be free from all cares and anxieties in your possessions with (the help of) the most High! May the great wonders be manifest! God aid you in calamities! May your life be without death!" The shanks of this ring have zoomorphic forms, and on the bezel it is beautifully written. "0 my Lord! Instead of writing the name I say the following sentence. 0 my soul! In consequences of my love thy image is everywhere with me. 0 my soul! Be wise as wise in thy conversation as Solomon. My world and my heaven are in this ring." Inside the ring is written "Muhammad."

This amulet is engraved with the words "God is the trust of Muhammad." There is a crescent moon above the inscription and a star of three short crossed strokes below it.
Amulets, which were first worn in Uruk during the fourth millennium B.C.E., continued to be used by Muslims. Calligraphy plays a big part of the design. On the opposite page is an amulet on which is written "God is the trust of Muhammad" with a crescent moon above the inscription and a star below. A turquoise oval cabochon also on the opposite page is inscribed with, "And whosoever fear God," which is from the Qur’an. On a straight-sided oval on the amulet pictured on the opposite page there are two lines of gilded calligraphy that says "I have entrusted (my) cause to my maker." 

This amulet is engraved with the words, "And whosoever fears God" in cursive script.
Shown above is an extraordinary framed carnelian amulet with a pin on the back to make it usable as a brooch. The inscriptions are arranged inside a dome, on its flanking minarets, and around the border. While the amulets seen in this book are shown loose, they were often attached to a leather thong or worn on a gold chain for use in praying.

Islamic craftsmen placed a high value on colored stones such as rubies, emeralds, and pearls, and later in the fourteenth century C.E., turquoise and grey chalcedony.

The cursive inscriptions of this amulet are broken up to make compartments, some arranged inside a dome and its flanking minarets, others around it and in the two parts of the central oval area and in the four compartments surrounding it.
 While the neck-lace on this page is not complete, the medallions are reminiscent of enameled Mughal pieces created to resemble most gems at only a fraction of the cost. It wasn't until the early i800s that diamonds, emeralds, and rubies appear in Islamic jewelry when nature, especially flowers and birds, remain prominent. The adaptation of precious stones innovation of craftsmanship and the evolution of creativity in subsequent centuries owes a debt to the millenia of ancient tradition.

Writer – Judith Price
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