Last Updated 19 Dec 2022

Jewelry: The Body Transformed 

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When putting together an outfit often times one thinks the actually pieces of clothing are the most important part of the outfit. However, the adornments and the accessories are often equally as important. They may even be more important than the outfit. The extra jewels are what bring the entire look together. With jewelry a fantasy is built. Jewels help bring any illusion to life. Time and time again jewels are used to either represent tradition, style, taste, and of course status. For many centuries jewelry has been used to embellish not only clothing but the human body.

Upon arriving to the Met the viewer is met by massive steps and wide halls filled with endless mystery. Of course the Met has many beautiful exhibits and amazing sculptures everywhere you turn. However, one of the most impressive exhibits thus far in the Met is the Jewelry exhibit. Which takes the viewer on a journey through time by not only showcasing the jewels of the past but also admiring and paying homage to the beautiful creations of current designer like McQueen.

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It is no surprise that the jewels that filled most of the museum were Egyptian jewels. In ancient Egypt jewelry has been used for centuries by both men and women of all social classes to adorn their clothing. Gold was a very popular item used to make many of the jewels that adorned the Egyptian body. Upon entering the Body Transformed exhibit the first thing you will see is a pair of gold sandals accompanied by toe stalls. These sandals “belonged to the Egyptian Queen of Thutmose III of Dynasty 18. According to the description at the Met similar sandals were found on the mummy of Tutankhuman, who was one of Thutmose descendants” (Lilyquist).

From this one can tell that gold jewelry like this was passed down within family of high status. Like many sometimes a statement necklace is all you need to bring an outfit to life. It can be said the Egyptians also believed this to be true. Many of the pieces featured in the exhibit were pieces that showcased every part of Egyptian life; from jewels that represented status, and even jewels that showcased religious beliefs. As one makes their way through the exhibit they are met by a large lit up display that showcases beautiful necklaces, truly works of art. The first necklace is a Broad Collar of Dynasty 18. This necklace is made of “small beads threaded together to look like a row of cornflowers. Each row is made up of a different color bead, this necklace was typically worn by banquet guest” (Hayes). The following necklace is the Broad Collar of Wah from the Middle Kingdom. This necklace was intricately designed and arranged with ranging sizes of beads in order to make the necklace naturally curve. “These types of necklaces were typically put together as funerary ornaments. Many variations of this pieces have been found in many tombs through this period” (Hayes).

Jewelry during this time was used to showcase religion. “Necklaces, like the Menat necklace from Malqata was a keyhole shaped manet with various turquoise strands of beads attached. This necklace was typically worn by women and was used in religious ceremonies this beautiful necklace also served as a great percussion instrument” (Winlock). According to the Met website this soothing noise that came from this instrument was said to please the gods and goddesses. Of course Jewelry during this time much like their clothing was used to represent status. “The Pectoral and Necklace of Sithathoryunet with the Name of Senwosret II was found in the tomb of Princess Sithathoryunet.

This necklace is a beaded necklace that is built around the throne of King Senwosret II. It also includes hieroglyphic signs. It is made up of 372 semi-precious stones” (Pectoral and Necklace). Each and every piece of this necklace is symbolic of something. “The Zigzag lines on the base bar represent the primordial waters out of which the primeval hill emerged. Each of the falcons, symbols of the sun god, clasps a circular hieroglyph meaning 'encircled,' thus declaring the solar deity's supreme power over the universe” (Hayes). As one can see jewelry not only brought an outfit together but it represented what kind of person was behind it.

Taking it even a further back the Mesopotamians also took pride in their jewelry. The iconic hoop earring could date back to the 2600 B.C The Sumerian Earring were said to come from the “Great Death Pit, which could be part of the Royal tomb. These simply beautiful earrings were made of two pieces if gold sheet, they were shaped into hollow crescent. [The most interesting part about this piece of jewelry is that it was said to maybe be] looped thorough the ear lobe or could have been hung near the ear attached to a headdress” (Dimand). The Babylonians from Mesopotamia not only exceled in garment making but also took pride in their fine craftsmanship of jewels the Necklace Pendants and beads, ca 18th -17th century B.C on displayed showcased their artistry. “Each gold pendant represents a deity. The female figures shown represent Lama, a protective goddess, the disk represent Shamash the sun god” (Pectoral These intricately carved pendants had to have taken forever to make with all of its beautiful details.

Last but not least, jewelry would probably not be what it is today if it weren’t for the contribution of the Greek. They truly took ornamentation to another level. A Pair of gold earrings with Ganymede and the eagle ca 330-300 B.C. put all other earrings to shame. These earrings consist of a “large honeysuckle palmetto below which hangs a finely worked three-dimensional figure of the Trojan prince Ganymede in the clutches of Zeus, who has assumed the guise of an eagle” (Richter). Aside, from traditional ornamentation the Greeks enjoyed adding a little extra to their attire. Displayed in the exhibit are a Pair of gold armbands, ca. 200 B.C These arm bands are made up of serpentines. They are said to “represent a male and a female each holding a small winged Eros” (Pair of gold armbands).

It’s clear that jewelry, although sometimes may seem like something so minimal when it comes to an entire outfit, it can play a big role in the overall look. Centuries ago jewelry was used to showcase status, sexuality, and even religion. It also clear that one must thank the Egyptians, the Greeks, and many more for their contributions to the world of jewelry. Today many take inspiration from all the Egyptian necklaces, and all the extra adornments of the Greeks to elevate their day to day looks.

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