History of Jewelry Part 4: Renaissance|
Venice was the wealthiest city and the principal port in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and Florence was the leading artistic center of the time. Out of these city-states poured painters, architects, and sculptors, many of who began their study of art with the study of the craft of goldsmithing. The design skills learned through technical artistry served as a kind of apprenticeship that led them on to other more celebrated pursuits. It is from their paintings that we learn about the styles that were popular at the time – and because they had sometimes made the jewelry they depicted, or were at least familiar with the way it was made, we have a very accurate record of what jewelry looked like in the Renaissance.
It is in the early Renaissance that we begin to have proper names to whom to attribute the jewelry we find: Ghiberti, Boticelli, Maso di Finiguerra, Antonio Pollaiuolo. Part of the reason for this is that ecclesiastical influence in the Renaissance was less strong than it had been in the Middle Ages. Though papal patronage and strong religious faith was still a strong influence on what was made, a revival of interest in classical sources and scientific discovery led artists to more faithfully copy objects from real life. Sculptures, paintings, and the shallow relief carved into jewelry and architecture were full of accurate renditions of animate forms portrayed in linear perspective. Artists were competitive about their skills in this regard, as well as increasingly engaged with the concept of humanism, and one consequence of these developments is that individuals began to be famous for their skills.
Classicism took great hold within jewelry, and the rational, orderly approach to many fields at the time became prevalent in goldsmithing. Jewelry was uncomplicated in design, though worn in abundance. Stones themselves were highlighted for their quality. In the Middle Ages, most stones were cabochon – rounded, polished, but not at all faceted. As a result of trade in the fourteenth century, new sources of stones appeared and new cuts as well. Jewels were faceted, table cut, rounded, and occasionally – for the first time – falsified! Indeed imitation gems and pearls made their first appearance in the Renaissance and laws began to be instituted to protect against fake jewels.
In the Middle Ages, much jewelry was actually a part of clothing: collars and mufflers were adorned with gems. One of the reasons that jewels became an art separate from that of clothing design was that the concept of the fad really took hold in the Renaissance. The Northern Italian economy depended on the importation and production of fine fabrics, and many of the noblemen who had made their fortune in this way gained social recognition by frequently changing their style of dress. Clothing went out of fashion faster than it would have worn out, and it would have been impractical to waste jewels in that kind of stylistic equation. So where a wealthy woman in Medieval Times would have worn her jewels embroidered high up on sumptuous fabrics around her neck, a woman in early Renaissance Italy would have worn a gown with a low neck, exposing her collarbones and creating the ground for the wearing of simple necklaces. Men wore neck-chains from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, most of which were made of pure gold and were worn to excess. These chains were made of plaited wire or rounded links of various design and sometimes were large enough to circle both neck and shoulders several times. Women favored strings of precious stones, ropes of pearls or smaller necklets worn around the throat. Pendants were occasionally scented, rendered so that they might actually bear a ball of musk or some other pleasant-smelling material within a charming cage.