History of Jewelry Part 2: Byzantine and Early Christian Period|
Again, the Eastern Roman Empire remained intact, at least in terms of its administrative center in Constantinople, until the period of the Crusades, and so it is possible to trace a distinct cultural strand continuing to develop in Byzantium that paralleled and interacted with the Anglo-Saxon situation in the west. Figures and forms were banished from Byzantine representation in jewelry in the eighth century, an iconoclastic decision that forced goldsmiths into Italy, Germany, and Gaul, carrying with them the processes and designs of their art. The ban on representative images was lifted in the ninth century, but the period had already spawned a process of cross-germination of styles. Furthermore, the German Emperor Otho married the Byzantine Princess Theophano, politically connecting the German court and Constantinople.
The vast majority of Byzantine ornaments seems to have consisted of gems sewn into garments, but the main difference between classical jewelry and Byzantine goldwork is that fine filigree and granulation were substituted for the coarse repousse and open-work found in classical late Roman jewelry. In general form, the new ornamentation retained the character of the old, but added to it fresh designs to suit religious shifts and ensuing trends in symbolism. Enamel and colored stones had previously been used with some reserve, but were now a chief artistic aspect of Byzantine jewelry. Precious stones predominated, but cloisonné enamel was also very popular. Wreaths were worn on the head, especially upon festive occasions such as weddings, when Christian brides and grooms wore crowns of gold, silver, green leaves, or flowers, which were afterwards returned to the church. Early Byzantine earrings resemble Roman patterns: some are formed like wire loops that hold a thimble-shaped cage of filigree, in the center of which is set a precious stone. From the sixth century onwards, the usual Byzantine earring is crescent-shaped gold repousse and open-worked in the form of a cross patee within a circle, supported on either side by peacocks.
The cross is naturally a favorite symbol among Christians, but it does not appear to have been commonly worn as jewelry anywhere until the fifth century. When it did begin to become popular, it was most often worn as a pendant, often as a pectoral – that species of pendant with which we are familiar from Egyptian times. Crosses were often ornamented with figures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, angels or military saints. Some were hinged so as to form reliquaries or set inside larger frames. Crosses were also figured into the designs of circular brooches and finger rings. Rings were often offered as presents and were engraved with expressions of goodwill towards the recipient, whose name is often mentioned in the inscription. Gilded bronze was a common material for rings and silver appears to have been hardly ever employed in Byzantine jewelry making.
By 800 Western Europe was ruled entirely by Christian kings, but missionary activity continued in Eastern Europe until the end of the tenth century. Over time, the Church became divided into a Western branch – what is known as Catholicism – and an Eastern branch – which has become known as the Orthodox Church. The schism between these two branches is conventionally dated to 1054, but it was a gradual process that began with cultural differences between Eastern and Western Roman Empires and would culminate in the sack of Constantinople.