History of Jewelry Part 4: Renaissance|
Despite the changing of fads, it was not the desire to display one’s wealth that seems to have influenced early Renaissance jewelry; the gems and metals that were used were not always the most actually valuable. Rather, the desire for harmony and perfection of execution influenced styles. Every piece of jewelry was finished on its back and front. Many pieces involve realistic depictions of subjects carved into their gold settings, including human figures, real and imaginary animals, stories from classical mythology and occasionally sacred allegories. This is true of ensigns, which originated as identificatory badges worn on the hat, but which became entirely articles of adornment, bearing representations first of religious scenes and then of secular and even humorous subjects as well.
Ensigns replaced the brooch during the late Middle Ages. Brooches with clusters of gems around one central larger gems faded from fashion and were replaced by brooches that functioned like plaques: carved depictions framed by gemstones. Some brooches were shaped into hearts, and stones themselves began to be cut into heart shapes. These were likely given between lovers, as jewels became frequent wedding gifts. As the Middle Ages waned, the mode of wearing garments changed, and the cotehardi – a tight fitting bodice – was replaced by the mantle, which displaced the brooch and the brooch form began to be worn on the hat as an ensign.
Brides began to receive betrothal rings in the Renaissance and men seem at times to have worn engagement rings on cords around their necks. Rings were worn in great abundance; sometimes women wore up to three rings on one finger, even over the knuckles or through slits in gloves. Most rings were set with only one stone, which was frequently a ruby. Rings were also sometimes given by religious leaders to pilgrims. Such rings were not usually valuable, and were made of copper or bronze set with semiprecious stones, but they were carved with symbols relevant to their function and were sometimes rather large.
Renaissance goldsmiths practiced all known techniques: hammering, chasing, casting and enameling. They practiced them all exquisitely, taking lessons from Gothic and ancient traditions, taking advantage of the wealth and capriciousness of noble clients to make pieces with astonishing variety. Color was a major part of Renaissance jewelry. Bright colored gems were placed side by side in delicately worked gold often enriched with many colored enamels. Sapphires, rubies and emeralds were popular choices for their hues, and diamonds were used only as contrast. A typical process of setting stones was to rub the upper edges of a box-shaped collet over the setting edge of the stone, a method that set the color of the stone off of the gold nicely and which is somewhat replicated in modern times by flush or bezel settings. The frame of a Renaissance setting was irregular, however, because of the particular manner in which the goldsmith beat the gold up around the gem.
The Renaissance evolved from the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries, and styles changed dramatically during these three hundred years. From Piero della Francesca’s paintings we glean many examples of one of the most popular styles of the fifteenth century: a head ornament that emphasizes the forehead by placing a single jewel at the top of the brow set into a ribbon or galloon. These head ornaments were known as ferronnieres. By the sixteenth century, these head ornaments disappeared and instead coiffures were adorned with ropes of pearls and sprinklings of jewels. Neck adornments evolved similarly: in the fifteenth century, we see single gems or small clusters hanging on a thread, but by the sixteenth century, the thread became a solid chain, and the light necklace became quite heavy.