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Head jewelry

Updated on September 2, 2015


Comparative Analysis of Head Jewelry of Europe and Central Asia

Late 19th - Early 20th Centuries


     19th century France played an important role as a center of high European culture, which was greatly influenced by other ethnic traditions.   The many influences in the art of French jewelers in the late 19th - early 20th centuries are discussed in the work of Peter Hinks (19th Century Jewelry, London, 1975), Gere Charlotte (American and European Jewelry, Crown, 1975), Burges Frederick (Antique Jewelry and Trinkets, London, N.Y., 1919), and many others.

Analyzing the art of jewelry of France of this period, many researchers point out the Eastern influences. Along with Indian and Japanese elements, we would like to highlight strong influence of Central Asia, proven by the comparative analysis of head jewelry of Europe and Central Asia.

The author was compelled to write this article after conducting an analysis of a tiara that belonged to Josephine, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. As a result of this analysis, it was established that this kind of head jewelry was popular in England, Vienna and St. Petersburg (The Belle Époque of French Jewelry, 1850 - 1910).

From the ancient times, frontal (forehead) adornments indicated the wearer’s social standing. This type of adornments was often used as part of a wedding ensemble. The use of diadems in the ancient period has been illustrated not only by the original findings, such as a plate depicting geese  from the Oxus treasure (2nd century A.D.) located in British museum in London and found  in the late 19th century on the territory of Central Asia (south of Tadzhikistan, Dalton O. , 1964), but also in the written sources.

The Tillya-tepe diadem, discovered in Tsar’s necropolis on the territory of modern Afghanistan, was fashioned out of finest gold (Sarianidi V., Bactrian Gold, L., 1985). In the ancient era, northern Afghanistanwas part of a common territory with southern regions of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

We suggest that Central Asian diadems called Tillya-kosh (Tilla-Kosh) represented one of the types of frontal adornments and were made in the traditional style of similar articles on Tillya tepe.

It is possible that this type of head adornment merged the features of frontal fillets and gold flower garlands favored by different peoples in the ancient period (FakhretdinovaD., Yuvelirnoe iskusstvo Uzbekistana, Tashkent, 1988, p. 97).

It seems appropriate to mention the images of gods and celestial musicians that appear in the Eastern paintings, ceramics, sculpture, and reliefs (reliefs of Ayrtama, ceramics of Dilberdzhin, etc.).

Each adornment reflected historical and cultural changes characteristic for each given era.

Scientists and ethnographers studying Central Asia -- Sukhareva O.,  Borozna N., Chvyr L. -- described the Tillya-kosh frontal adornment as an open-work diadem decorated with precious or semi-precious stones, and later with colored glass.

Made in the shape of “gold eyebrows” - tillya-kosh (Tadzhik., Uzb.), the diadem is typical for such regions as Samarkand, Tashkent, and Ura-Tyube. Earlier researcher A. Shishov  (Sarty, Sb. materialov dlya statistiki Syrdaryinskoj oblasti, tX1, Tashkent, 1904) offered the following description of the diadem: “The Tillya-kosh diadem consists of massive silver plates cut in the shape of curved eyebrows, heart-shaped pendants are attached below, a thinner plate is soldered along the upper edge, forming a beautiful complex pattern.”

In D. Fahretdinova’s monograph (1988), the author gives a detailed analysis of the imagery of the wedding diadem of Tillya-kosh, which symbolizes purity and virginity.

The design of the Tillya-kosh diadem was replicated by French jewelers of firms such as “Maison Cartier,”“Maison Choumet'” (Maison Choumet is a large clan of jewelers from Schwabisch Hall popular in Paris for more than two hundred fifty years), as well as early works of Bapst (founded in 1725, Bapst began to make crowns in1788).

Thanks to the detailed analysis of diadems, we know that French jewelers tended to preserve the upper part of Tillya-kosh; however, the familiar to us row of turquoise that symbolized both the celestial sphere and water element) was frequently substituted for diamonds popular in Europe in that time period. According to The Continuum Encyclopedia Of Symbols (Udo Becker, N.Y. 1994, p.83), diamonds symbolize cleanliness, spirituality and constancy. In India, for example, diamond is a symbol of  immortality -- Buddha's throne is made out of diamonds. Europeans believed that diamond had healing powers, could protect from poisoning, drive away wild animals, witches, and ghosts. Diamond could also make its wearer invisible and assist men in pursuing women. During Renaissance, diamonds symbolized courage and audacity.

Paying most of the attention to the decorative effects, French made considerable changes to the inner symbolism of the diadems of Central Asia that were based on Buddhism and traditional skills of Indian jewelers of this era. However, the connection between the two schools of jewelry making is evident.

In the French diadem, the center is an open torn circle, rather than a semi-circle.

Smooth transition and secure design characterize the Central-Asian diadem: its basic shape was made in advance and stored as a gold plate, a kind of skeleton design. This allowed for static design, as opposed to the tense and edgy, “flight-like,” rhythm and the rippling ornaments of the French crown.

Shifting accents -- for example, moving a large, semantically significant inset into the center of the French crown – was done primarily for the sake of balance of the overall composition, without delving into the essence of the image. In our opinion, French masters cared mostly about the ornamental function of their objects, versus the jewelers of Central Asia, who emphasized the symbolic nature of each item, according to ancient traditions.

By the 18th century, the art of jewelers of Central Asia reflected the subtly veiled and easily recognizable images, especially with the arrival of Islam, the new religion that came to replace Buddhism.

It is known that in the early Middle Ages, Buddhist deity was worshipped in Central Asia along with local religions.  This has been proven by archaeological discoveries of Buddhist monuments – monasteries of Kara-tepe (Stavisky B., Kara-tepe), Ajina-tepe (Litvinsky B., Zeymal B., Ajina-tepe, 1971), Chevipol (Mullokandov, Raskopki v Katlonskoj oblasti) -- in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

 Other evidence in favor of Buddhist influence on the art of jewelry is related to the Indian jewelers’ work and residence in Central Asia.

 In the above-mentioned work of D. Fahretdinova, the author points to the zoomorphic astral motives in the upper part of diadems’ composition. “A single line indicates a supple body that retains flexibility of an animal; the tail is coiled, front and rear paws are visible” (99, 1988).

Preliminary studies show that the upper part of the diadem contains images of specific animals. The images form a composition, where the actual images are masked by colorful insets. The animal images are easily read from the underside of the plate.

Islam, the new religion, forced jewelers into searching for new implementations of old designs in order to erase the meaning of traditional plots. Esthetically revised symbols turned into non-readable, abstract, decorative format, which now appeared simply as a complicated ornament.

In our opinion, the upper part of the diadem is a heraldic composition depicting lions, monkeys and a turtle. Choosing these particular animals is not incidental:  the images follow a certain basic idea, namely, a lion, a monkey and a turtle in the Buddhist Pantheon (Mify narodov mira, M. 1980, volume 1, book 2, 1982). Here we see the three faces of Buddha: “Peacock, turtle, stallion, ox, elephant and lion serve as zoomorphic symbols, different Buddhas and boddhisatvas.”

In the Buddhist world, the legends of Buddha Shakyamuni’s past births in the shape of monkeys, birds, or deer are widely spread (Mify, p. 577).

Buddha’s many reincarnations in the image of a lion are well known. While lionesses were considered symbols of motherhood and known as companions of the Goddess Mother, lions, in turn, were closely linked with female deities. In folk medicine, for instance, lion is known as a symbol of witchcraft and health.

Another hypostasis of monkey is associated with the Divine Hanuman, the son of Vayu, the God of the Wind, or Maruti and Ajanta the Monkey.

Originated in India, the cult of Hanuman and monkeys spread throughout East Asia over to China. One of Hanuman’s special powers is being able to fly.

Thus, the diadem in question depicts not only Buddha’s hypostases, but two worlds -- heaven and earth. The underwater world is represented below by attaching temple pendants in the shape of fish or dolphin, as well as by the so-called lotus-shaped “brows.” The monkey’s feet are placed on the Buddha’s wheel. The trefoil-patterned crowns on the heads of monkeys and lions emphasize the divine affiliation of the animals.

The double-row pendants, short, decorated with pearls or white beads, symbolized water and may have represented astral symbols connected with fertility. Long seed-shaped pendants are also related to soil – we suggest barley, the first grain used as food by humans. The diadem in question was used in wedding ensembles as a symbol of fertility.

As has been mentioned earlier, the existence of Buddhist characters in art is not accidental. Fairly complex and conservative in its technical characteristics, the art of jewelry making retained the Buddhist images up until today. In the beginning of the 18th century many Indian jewelers lived and worked on the territory of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, thus incorporating the elements of their culture and religion into their craft. However, having to produce jewelry for the local population, forced the jewelers to carefully encrypt and conceal the traditional elements of Buddhist art passed on from generation to generation.

Thanks to the relatively open integration of the two cultures, unique examples of jewelry greatly benefitted people in both cultures. 

The Tillya-kosh diadem was worn over a scull-cap, covered with a headscarf. Hooked chains were positioned in the center of the diadem and attached to the headscarf. Braided cotton threads were tied on the back.

The jewelry masters did not deviate from the traditional canon even when the true meaning of the symbols was lost.

Detailed analysis shows that the French masters replaced the triple-line rhythm with a sort of stylized wings, as a symbol of the higher world, the highest authority. However, the composition is balanced by introducing a new element, a lotus flower.  In Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam, a crown decorated by a lotus flower usually symbolized the victory of spirit over flesh (Udo Becker, N.Y., 1994, p. 75)

Finally, a stylized flower completes the central part of the diadem - again, the Sun justifiably represents supreme authority in Josephine’s tiara. Note that in the Tillya-kosh diadem a hidden image of Buddha ends in a trefoil decoration, which itself is shaped as a separate tiara.


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