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History of Jewelry (Shahnameh)
History of Jewelry through stories and miniatures of Shahnameh*
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA) has a collection of 55 miniatures painted from different manuscripts of “The Book of Kings;” the earliest one dates around 1317 AD, while the latest dates around the 16th century.
The majority of the MFA paintings are from the Denman Waldo Ross Collection (36), as well as the Francis Barlett Donation (9). The rest are from other donors.
Studying miniature paintings at the museum was an unforgettable experience. I chose a few to work with, observing with a magnifying glass, drawing, reading some short descriptions,enjoying the colors and strokes of calligraphers and artists of diverse historical periods from the 14th to 17th centuries. I looked through about 15 miniature paintings. My goal was to compare descriptions of jewelry from the text of “Shahnameh” with images from the painting.
For the first part I used anew Persian to English translation of Shahmaneh by Dick Davis, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, in prose, (some of the poems contained a 900 page volume, while the original included 9 volumes). (N.Y.2004, the book is illustrated with lithographs from Gottingen, Germany for a popular 19th century edition of the poem.) It gave me an opportunity to search for information about the art of jewelers not only in Persia;
the text clearly demonstrates that for A. Ferdowsi—at least in the translation—shapes, techniques and other aspects of the jewelry were least important.
He was telling us the stories of the history and lives of Kings, which briefly describes types of royal jewelry and their ornamentation or decor. So, all the artists were free to interpret his descriptions in their own way, to follow only for the right kinds of stones, types and forms of jewelry.
According to the “Book of Kings,” A. Ferdowsi was writing about the history of Iran from ancient times to the Arabs invasion (he lived during the 11th century when the Arabs had already been around the country for a while).
The History of Persia/Iran “has been intertwined of a larger historical region. Greater Iran, which consists of the area from Danube River in the west to the Indus River and Jaxartes in the east and from Caucasus, Caspian Sea and Aral Sea in the north to the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and Egypt in south ….The Persian Empire proper, begins in the Iron Age.
The Medes (old Persian-Greeks) unified Iran as a nation and empire in 625 BC, then it was powerful Achaemenid Empire (established by Cyrus the Great) (550-330BC), Seleucid Empire (312-63 BC), Parthian and finally Sassanid, which governed Iran for almost 1000 years.
“The Book of Kings” was written in the 11th century and published 300 years later. It’s a monument of poetry and historiography. Fifty thousand poems written in Modern Persian contained information of Persian history from mythical times to the 7th century. Six thousand years of the history of Iran.
The artistic freedom given by A. Ferdowsi to the painters of all historical periods helped them to create their own fashions of different types, shapes, and forms of jewelry from the 14th century forward. Therefore, crowns, diadems, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, hand bands, rings and belts were connected to their eras. The coins, evidently, have some proof of certain fashion or types of crowns and diadems. Other articles of jewelry that connected with the miniatures we can find through wall-paintings, relieves, the sculpture from and in Iran and neighboring countries.
Just as Ari Usni Joselyn described in her research and reproduction of Persian crown “This statue depicting a woman wearing a taj-kulah from 1200CE is Seljuk Iranian in origin. The subject of the statue is unknown but the conical shape of the cap and the ornate leaf shaped pieces of the crown are clearly visible. The Statue is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Remnants of paint on the statue point to the cap being red**”.
The title of Ferdowsi‘s book clearly illustrated that the main types of jewelry described there will be those of Kings: crowns, diadems, headbands and so.
“The first man to be king, and to establish the ceremonies with the crowns and throne, was Kayumars” (p.1 “The first Kings”)
“Today the throne and crown…are mine” (p.4 “The reign of Tahmures”)
“He sat on his father’s throne, wearing a golden crown according to royal custody” (p.5 “The reign of Jamshid”)
“The royal diadem, and belt, and throne” (p.15 “Zahhak Sees Feraydun in a Dream”)
“The men’s crowns seen below from the 5th and 16th centuries point to both the use of blue (black - E.N.) silk but also to the aigrette being of varying size and use.” (By Ari Usni Jocelyn)**
That what we found in the text about the head adornments:
Royal “…this horse and crown the Royal jewels I wear”,(p.823), “.…feathers from the lammergeyer signifying royal glory depending from his crown... ( p.108),. “Royal mace and crown” (p.190);. Imperial (p.646); King’s crown ( p.36,38,40,850); Zahhak the Arab, had a turquoise crown (p.18) ; Princely crown (p.798); Zal’s (p.102) “A jewel –studded crown” Kayanid (p.49, 111,278,658); Kavus’s (p.176) Khosrow’s (p.307 “a jeweled crown”)
,Sassanian (p.782, p.841); Shangali’s crown (p.658); Harem crown (p.638)
Golden and Silver (p.756), With turquoise (p.18,47,140,418) and rubies (149,305), just rubies (p.51,70,89) inlaid with jewels, with emeralds (p.142 golden crown set)
Some descriptions of head adornments are very poetic and beautiful: “Heart delighting crown”(p.347)”Splendid crown”(p.394) “Precious crown”(p.720),”Crown of Imperial Splendor”(p.811)
Firdowsi also pointed out to the reader some jewelry techniques: “surmounted by rubies” (p.51), “rubies encrusted” (p.70), “a jewel-studded” (p.102), “studded with turquoise” (p.305), “inlaidwith jewels” (p.501).
We also read about the combination of some types of jewelry with others (“crown set with jewels, earrings, armbands and torque”p.93; “crown, seal ring p.144; “the crown and royal seat”p.166; “crown and earrings”p.256; “crowns armbands, torque, ivory thrones”p.100; royal gifts: “crown and belt” p.107) and some objects (“crown and the throne” p.95, “crowns and golden thrones”p.99)
The next popular type among the head adornments in “Shahnameh” according to the text were
It is known that diadems were a special sign of a god or royalty. Gold garlands were kept in temples as parts of gold funds and were given as rewards for special achievements. Fragments of diadems were found among the finds of Oxus (see Treasure of Oxus, Dalton, London, 1964), and Tillya-tepe (Bactrian gold, Leningrad, 1985).
Diadems had a strictly social-magic function, the king gave gifts of special head adornments to his retainers, as a sign of merit or noble status.
Characters crowned by similar head jewelry can be found on coins, intaglios, pottery, paintings, frescos and relieves, which allow us to recognize them as royalty or god-like creatures. Most of the diadems were gold. Sometimes they are made by the stamping method. Details and fragments of diadems are made in the shape of leaves, trefoils or rosettes.
In the texts we found different descriptions of diadems and their types: The Imperial (p.311) “eagle’s feathers to his diadem” The Royal (p.15,49)“Rudabe wore a splendid diadem” (p.102),The Warrior’s (p.51),The Musician’s ( p.101),The Maidservant’s –“60 maidservants with diadems and earrings” p.454,The Harem’s (p.638)
The miniatures from MFA demonstrate some head adornments which changed slowly from one century to another, for example in
The 14th century:
Diadems and crowns have a three visible “teeth”, with stones (#31.436 –red color “rubies” “ The Mubids Interrogate Zal”-Ilkhanid period, #31105 –Parthian king) or without stones (#30.105,#20.1841 –“Iskandar visits Queen Qaidafa of Andalucia, Inju period, #20.1840-Rudaba’s, #20.1840-Zal’s- ”Meeting of Zal and Rudaba Afghan princess”-parents of a hero Rustam-Inju period).
In the 15th century and later: we can clearly see two types of head adornments for man and a woman: “The taj would then be attached to a conical or flat cap, a ‘kulah,’ of 6 to 12 panels made of silk or clothe of gold. Universally, the cap is depicted as bearing a decorative precious metal aigrette in the central top of the cap. (Ref. Welch, Gunter & Jett, Samson) It is a feature of the crown that has existed for the span of its existence. This type of crown is also known to be worn by the queens and princesses of the Mughal (Islamic Indian) court, and is described as special type of cap worn up until the 16th century. Both royal men and women are depicted as wearing taj-kulah in artwork of the Persian and Mughal courts. The 16th century Mughal Emperor Humayun in his memoir speaks of visiting the Persian court of Tahmasp and being gifted a taj-kulah. His response was ‘that ‘a Taj (crown) is an emblem of greatness; I will with pleasure wear it.’ Tahmsap then with his own hands placed the cap on the king’s head.” He then goes on to explain that the cap was “a tiara of crimson silk, wrought with gold, and richly ornamented with jewels, worn by the kings of Persia.” (Ref. Jouher) The following are Persian and Mughal women’s taj-kulah” (Ari Usni Joselyn -Documentation, Taj-kulah (Crown in the Persian style)**
, most of them crowns, the first one were worn on the “hat” (#14.552) and the other on the scarf ( #60.634“Manizha (the Turkmen princess) Entertains Bizhan- the Iranian knight -, the first one with rubies- red, the other just gold-yellow-Timurid period),
Narrow diadems on the heads of maidservants (#15.12- Sudaba’s trick: two dead babies of Ahreman and the witch are shown to Kai Kaus, Sultanate style, Northern India),
The wide ones on the Rulers and(#17.1361-“Sam Kisses the Feet of King Minuchihr”-Sultanate style-Northern India #14.552-an enthroned ruler—Jamshid, who introduced many trades to Iran watches the process—completed weapons and armor lie in the center, a weaver at a loom and tailors, leather worker and a wood-worker, a smith, another metal worker finishes a curved Mongol-type sword- #14.567-Bahram Gur Killing 2 lions, Turkmen period, Iran )
Crowns with rubies-red and special “gold” aigrette on the “hat” (#15.18-“Emperor on Throne in
Garden surrounded by Ministers and Attendants”-Timurid, #17.1360- “Rudaba Charming her Father Minuchir”-Timurid,Sultanate period #15.13-courties address a king, India)
In the 16th century:
The kings shown in wide crowns with new additions like a tube with feathers (symbol of what is highest, bravest, strongest and holiest) sometime in two places on the top and in the front of the crown (#14.603- Dara Enthroned Receiving the Crown Brought by his Mother Humai- Safavid period) decorated with a smaller size of “rubies” on blue silk or black .
Diadems and crowns in that period for women are narrower but have the same tubes on the top and front with feathers (#06.131-Khusraw at the Gate of Shirin’s Palace brief version from Nizami “Khamsa”-Safavid, Shiraz?, Iran), with small rubies (#60.637-The Court if Bilqis (Queen of Sheba) Safavid
The 17th century: This time the top tube is “removed” from the head adornments and only the front tube remain with feathers, decorated with rubies and fabric, on the top aigrette (#28.127-“Bahram Gur Slays 2 lions and Gains the crown,Safavid, Iran),or big Ruby –(#17.1360)
Through the centuries, the shape and decoration of the crowns and diadems in miniatures changed from “pure gold “and massive “stones” to a combination of “gold” and silk (hat), smaller “stones“ (rubies) , 16th and 17th centuries add new fashions with tubes with feathers and aigrette
The last two centuries, the 16th and 17th(the miniature collection from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston) demonstrates the type of crowns called Taj-Kulah , it was special research by Ari Usni Joselyn -Documentation, Taj-kulah (Crown in the Persian style)** where she writes also about how she was working to make a replica of the one from Phoenix “Throughout history a crown has been the most predominant piece of jewelry used to display the status of its wearer. The phoenix crown was created to serve as Amirah’s county coronet. It is a taj-kulah in the Persian style. As a specific type of crown it has been recorded in Persian art from the 4th – 16th centuries, beginning with the “mural crowns” (a stepped crown of 4 plates attached to a hat with a large highly ornate aigrette on top) of the 2nd –6th century Iranian rulers, to the ornate and elegant taj-kulah of 13th – 16th century Persia. “Very splendid indeed was the taj-kulah, literally the ‘crown-hat’ worn by Persian princesses of the fifteenth century, consisting of a narrow crown worn over a flat cap.” (Ref. Wiebke & Nashat p.145) The crown portion, the “taj,” consisted of a precious metal diadem of silver, or more often gold, with 3 or more plates of stepped, rounded, or leaf shaped points.” (Read more on the internet “Taj –Kulah” by Ari Usni Joselyn- Dum Vivimus, Vivamus, Oct.5th)
It should be noted that constructive peculiarities in jewelry art relate it to architecture. Hence, it may not be mere chance that the bottom of the crown was treated as an element of architectural decoration, where décor was based on the rules of free composition with repetition of elements or group elements. Thus, head adornments not only served as elements of distinction and an indication of social strata, but also played a major role in the artistic completeness of an image; a man-like architectural form gained the significance of a closed aesthetic system.
were worn by men and women. They were also a symbol of protection. In Central Asia, as well as in most of the territories of India, men wore earrings decorated with precious stones. Boys had their ears pierced in childhood. Men ‘”kofirs,” after complicated ceremonies, could take privileged positions and receive the right to wear woman’s ceremonial earrings, which were worn at the top of the ear.
In the text of “Shahnameh” we can find following descriptions:
Earrings (p.253 ,p.328, p.511, p.697, p.698, p.754, p.756, p.840) “crown and earrings” (p.256,p.849), ”diadem and earrings” (p.257), ”torque and earrings and golden diadem” (p.311 p.672),”earrings and belts” (p.436) earrings ,torque , bracelets (p.474) earrings and bracelets (p.476) 2 sets of earrings/2 bracelets, torque set with royal gems (p.707)
*Royal (p.49, p.142“royal torque and earrings,” p.839)*for Maidservant (p.454 “60 earrings” combined with diadem, royal torque, belts, crown, bracelets)
In the painting of 14th and 15th century miniatures we can see a simple type of earring, sometimes just a ring for a man (#30.105, #60.634 “Manizha Entartains Bizhan” #17.1360; “Rudaba charming her father Minuchihr”) ring with little golden “bead” (for man) in the center (#22.392-“Mihran Sitad” #28.392, # 60.634) or 3 little ones (#30.105).
Earrings are one of the most popular types of adornments of all times. The variety of form and design that exist in their representation are striking. On the relieves from Persepolis, among tributaries, a Bactiran is portrayed with a drop-shaped earring in one ear confirming the assumption that earrings were worn by men there (Schmidt E. Persepolis. Chicago, vol .1,1953, vol.2,1957, vol.3,1959) An analogous type of earring can be found among articles of the Oxus treasure .This type of earrings is widespread even in our time. In ancient Iran, annular earrings are depicted on the ears of guards from Suz (Morant H histoire des arts decorative, Paris,1970, p.129) relieves. Similar earrings were used in Central Asia during the 2nd century BC -- the 2nd century AD; this conclusion is supported by findings from burials. Thus it may be concluded that in contrast to women, men wore only one earring. The diversity of materials used to make earrings suggests that earrings were a popular adornment in all level of society, therefore archeologists are able to uncover not only gold and silver earrings, but also bronze and copper.
Neck adornments Among the neck adornments in the “Book of Kings” we find
Torques (p.49, p.69, p. 142, p.564, p.672, p.697, p.790) with armbands (p.100) and belts (p.99), 2 torques and necklace (p.253), crown and torque (p.256), necklace, gem encrusted torque (p.257), torque and earrings (p.328, p.840) and crown (p.849), jeweled torque (p.450), torque, armbands, a ring (p.580), torque set with royal gems, 2 bracelets, 2 sets of earrings*Royal torque (p.491, p.677) and earrings (p.142) *Rudabe necklace (p.78) *Slaves (p.95 -60 slaves with golden torques )*Golden with emeralds –torque set (p.70) *Necklace with gems* Girls with gold torques (p.305).
In a miniature it’s not a popular type of adornments we find only few #60.634-torque necklaces (“Manizha, Entertains Bizhan”)#06.131 (“Khusrav at the Gate of Shirin’s Palace”), #60.637.126 (“Court of Queen of Sheba”).
As we can see neck adornments often combined with crowns, earrings, armbands, rings, belts
This category includes necklaces, beads, torques, pectorals, etc. Some articles served as adornments, while others carried magical or utilitarian functions. For example, torques held cloaks and protected from arrows in battle. In Central Asia and Persia, the torque was a sign of army rank.
M.Gorelik states that a hammer notch can be seen on a torque from a Tolstaya burial; its common use is confirmed also by the restorations done in ancient times. (Kievskii muzei istoricheskih drevnostei,Kiev,1974,ill.37.38) The spiral-shaped bracelets from the Oxus treasure could have been torques, twisted into spirals (Zeimal E. Amudariinskii klad, 1979,#132,138). Having zoomorphic ends, the torques composed an ensemble with the bracelets. Lion-head ends are very common.
An enormous diversity of torques is found on relieves from Airtam. These torques are massive when compared to earlier examples.
Torques, pectorals and girdles are characteristic adornments of the upper class, serving as distinguishing marks and carrying specific meanings.
Bracelets Bracelets are not that popular in the miniature paintings, but in the text of the “Book of Kings” we already marked combinations with other jewelry (look at Neck adornments, Head adornments).
*Rudabeh bracelet (p.78) ”Zal stared in wonder….at her bracelets”
Bracelets with torque, earrings (p.474 “Sekander Marries Roshanak” p. 790 –Bahram—“loaded them with portable wealth he had… his ivory throne, bracelets, gold torque and crowns”); crown (p.696); 2 costly bracelets with 2 sets of earrings ,torque, with royal gems (p.707 – “the rajah …gave him The Reign of Kesra”)
Armbands (p.93, p.100, p.450) with torque and ring (p.580)
Jeweled Clasp (p.442, p.448, p.448)
The bracelets were the most popular adornment in the ancient world. They were generally executed in semi-triangular, omega-like or coiled forms. The bracelets could be massive (cast) or delicate, sometimes having zoomorphic ends. The hoops were either smooth or ruffled and were usually cast separately from the ends that were added later. The masters, with the use of insertion and incrustations, conveyed mystical and decorative intents. It is known that bracelets were worn by members of both genders alone or in pairs, and were subdivided into closed-ended or open-ended bracelets. Women wore bracelets in marriage (India). The most popular form of bracelet in Rome was of coiled rings with snakehead ends, symbolic of the youthful forces of life (Solov’ev K. istoria hudpjestvennoi obrabotki metallov drevnego mira, Moscow, 1963, p.91)
It is possible that the female bracelets evolved from male warrior rings, which were related to the protection of the hand. The size and weight of the bracelets sometimes allow us to determine whether it belonged to a man or woman. Men could wear massive, cast bracelets (see Amu-Darya treasure or Treasure of Oxus omega-shaped with gryphon), while the delicate ones were probably worn by women.
In the miniature only once bracelets are visible (#17.1360)
In additionto diadems, gold rings also served to indicate the superior social status of their owners.
Rings and seals were frequently worn on the left hand on the forefinger or middle finger.
“Any adornments may be worn or not except for finger ring, which one should never appear without”
Fingerings not clearly visible in the miniature, only on a few we can see (#22.392) ring on the pinky finger (# 31.436), on thumb and fourth finger ((#60.634).
Firdowsi describes the following types of rings and seals (p.36, p.57, p.58, p.635, p.697, p.852) – Turk’s seal (p.57,58), Ruby seal (p.67), Royal (p.166, p.835),Golden (p.684), Arab (p.839), King’s, rings (p.83, p.84, p.112,p.580;
2 valuable p.832), they are most of the time a part of some ensembles with crowns (p.144 seal ring; royal seal p.166; p.852), diadems (p.84, ring set), armbands (torque p.580).
A large number of seal-rings, in a variety of shapes and configurations, can be found from ancient time, like in the Treasure of Oxus, for example. The images on seals in ancient times were two main types: anthropomorphic and zoomorphic, or sometimes even possibly to distinguish human figures.
While the shape of the rings remains relatively constant, the depictions change to portray the historic-cultural and political social processes.
Closing adornments can be classified into two categories: chest or waist adornments and sewn-on articles.
In the miniatures:
Kings, Knights, people in the royal court having belts, we assumed that some of them are made of leather and decorated with gold plaques of different shapes—circle-disk (#31.436, #60.634, #15.12, #15.18, #17.1360), diamonds (#14.552, #17.1361, #15.13), oval, rosettes (#14.603). Some look like they are made from fabric with golden threads (#28.127)
Red color on plagues on the belts represents rubies, because we read about them right inside the “Book” as well as Royal belts (p.15, p.25), Gold and Golden belts (p.61, p.67, p.69, p.83, p.99, p.305, p.436, p.626, p.784, p.821, p.839), Sword belts (p.394, p.551), Silver (p.331), Jeweled – studded belts (p.751) Belts (p.171, p.279, p.581 ,p.606, p.616, p.639, p.674, p.735)
Belts mentioned by A,Firdowsi in a combination together with other jewelry like crowns, armbands, torque (p.99) crown and belt (p.168) earrings and belt (p.436), crown, throne and belt (p.616), royal jewelry, helmet and belt (p.674).
Belts were not just a military rank, they were “banks” – “cut a jeweled link from his belt, 5 gold bosses on each link, jewels on the link = 30.000 gold coins” (p.821).
The belt constitutes an integral element of the mostly male costume. The belt is a required detail and attribute of military clothing. In general belts may be divided into two sorts. On one hand, the belt as an attribute of social status; on the other hand, military rank was also emphasized by belts, and rank was depicted according to the materials applied in their making—gold, gilding silver or bronze only. In the middle ages, belts were considered a majestic sign. In Central Asia, dehkans (peasants) who wished to serve in the royal court appeared with gold belts to serve. Belts appear as elements of male clothing in the early medieval period. Although initially belts were made completely of metal, later belts combine leather with metal disks, as well as other materials (fabric). Both clasps and belts were special objects. Surrounding oneself with a belt implied the enclosure of oneself in a magical circle, and carried apostrophic meaning.
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Each jewelry item represents a certain information symbol. Drawn from everyday life, as well as from epos and myths, apostrophic emblems found in jewelry were believed to have a magical power. The popularity of every particular subject was associated with concepts of the epoch. The jewelers were involved in the events of their epoch; ideas and concepts of the time were not foreign to him and were frequently reflected in his art.
The images shown in the miniatures help us to track the architecture and sculpture, the utensils and clothes no longer in existence. Thanks to that, we can also have an idea of the hairstyles fashionable at that time. The function of the jewelry was not only meant to decorate the clothing; it was also connected to the life rites. They were primarily used for gala occasions—coronations, military rank awards, wedding and funerals. Jewelry had diverse social and ritual functions. So, apart from ornamentation, we can distinguish the following jewelry functions (1):
- religious-magic symbol
- sex and age group sign
- territory division sign
- wealth index
When used as amulets, jewels had two main functions—those of protection and “propagation,” the latter implying fertility.
The images created by the ancients were thought to have magic power. Applying an image to an ornament or to a piece of clothing meant, “To animate them with spirit,” It was a particular way to "sanctify" objects and associate them with the mystic powers of the other world.
All images were of a particular relevance, and were used by the ancients to influence the sun, the water, the earth, the animals, i.e. everything that was thought to be divine. (2)
According to us, all art symbols are grouped around several binary oppositions.(3) The binary opposition system underlay the art of the ancients and corresponded to the constructive principle of dualistic mythologies. Thus, the opposition between left and right was connected with the differentiation of colors: the left symbolized femininity, and the right masculinity. The color of the former was red and the latter was white. The sun symbolized femininity and the moon symbolized masculinity. The uniformity of religious outlooks associated with the heavenly bodies gave an outlet to the similarity of material embodiment of these beliefs, irrespective of ethnic differences. (4)
Everything associated with God, the heavens and non-existence was defined by odd numbers. In Central Asia, number seven was considered to be the most sacred number. Along with the number three, the “magic seven” was the most popular number in different mythological systems. Its overwhelming magic power was attributed to its interconnection with the Moon phases and cycles. (5) Special meaning and symbolism, holiness and perfection were attributed to it. Its indivisibility linked it, ipso facto, to God (6) and indicated the days of the week, Ursa Major the seven spheres, and seven colors. The numbers 3, 4, 5, 10, 12, 40, 70 and 100 were sacred as well to many ancient peoples.
Odd numbers were related to happiness and well-being, and symbolized perfection. Number three is the most significant in all mythological systems. It is an ideal model of any dynamic process implying creation, evolution and decay. This model is manifest in the vertical structure of the Universe (7). All the above symbols can be found in the ornaments of the period under study, both in shape and small details.
Number three was also believed to symbolize birth, life and death; the beginning, the middle and the end of everything; childhood, maturity and old age. It is central in classical mythology: Kerberos is three headed; there are three Fates, three Furies and three Graces; there are three Harpies and three Gorgons. It is also associated with the human being: Man has the body, the soul and the spirit. The same applies to solid matter, which has three dimensions. (6)
Symbolic properties were attributed not only to metals (the Sun was associated with gold and the Moon with silver) but also to the precious stones used in jewelry. In the history of culture, stones had particular significance as durable substances resisting destruction. The worship of stones was connected with the belief in their healing properties. Stones were endowed with magic healing powers, which were evoked when they were touched or worn as amulets, or ground and swallowed as a medication. To reinforce the magic powers of the semiprecious stones, jewelers increased their dimensions on the ornaments and multiplied their number.
Among the stones popular were turquoise, rubies, garnet, lapis lazuli, pearls, emeralds, amber, diamonds, agates, topaz, crystals, and black and white Yemeni stones.
Turquoise symbolized purity and virginity, it indicated dignity and wealth. It was supposed to safeguard travelers on their way and reconcile spouses; it was believed to improve eyesight and to help in communication. (6)
Ruby (from Latin-rubenus-red) is a symbol of power, heart, and love. In India it’s called, “King of precious stones.” Another meaning of ruby—“stone of life.” It was used as a treatment for the heart. Eastern people would say, “Ruby gives its owner the power of a lion, the fearlessness of an eagle and the wisdom of a snake.”
Garnet (Granatus) in Persia was called “A Royal stone.” It’s a stone of friendship and relationship. In India it’s a symbol of love and devotion. In China it symbolized merriment.
Lapis Lazuli – Deep wisdom and intuition, opens the third eye and leads to enlightenment.
Pearl – the application in earring and necklaces evoked the sparkle of the Moon and were allegedly to bring wealth to those wearing the ornaments.
Emeralds – on Farsi – “Zaporrod” symbolized spring, fertility, Youth, freshness, life, happiness, hope, memories. It’s a heart protector, a source of inspiration for poets, artists and musicians.
Amber – transmutes negative energy into positive. Bridges conscious self to the Divine.
Diamonds – purifies. Amplifies thoughts and feelings – both positive and negative.
Agates – bring longevity and health, protect from evil and poison.
Topaz – brings wealth and wisdom, good healthy sleep time, help to improve the intuition, and make right decisions, and protects travelers.
Crystals –Attracts, amplifies, and sends energy. Easy and safe. Useful for all kind of healing.
The notion of the magic powers of the stones intermingles with the rational approach to their utilization in folk medicine. The peoples of Central Asia used pearls and corals to treat lung diseases. When powdered, they were used to stop bleeding and as astringents.
Corals were considered to bring prosperity and fertility. (8) This special attachment to corals and pearls may stem from astral cults.
The shape of each jewel and the ideas underlying it reveal the two basic reasons for wearing it - reason that, in their turn, determine the meaning codified in a particular item. The first reason, aesthetical, is based on the intention to emphasize female beauty in accordance with local ideals and to stress male power and masculinity.
The second reason, ritual, reflects ideological concepts handed down by the previous generations expressed in the belief in the protective powers of the ornaments used as talismans.
When performing religious rites, fine arts were essential in order to record the secret meaning of the ceremony in visual form. Characters depicted in jewelry, as well as their attributes and gestures, did not have any actual narrative meaning. Rather, they were signs to be deciphered and translated into the language of concepts.
* The idea to research the images of jewelry through the miniatures came back to me after a great celebration of a thousand year anniversary of ‘The Book of Kings”- ‘Shahnameh” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Curator of the Islamic Art Collection, Laura Weinstein, was very helpful with her support in my work and allowed me to acquaint myself with the paintings.
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8.Antonova E. ocherki kulturi perednei Azii, Moskva, 1984, pp.71-75
** Phoenix Crown of Amirah: a Taj-Kulah in the Persian style
Photo of Iranian jewelry from Patti Cadbi Birch collection” Ukrasheniya Vostoka”, 1999
1.Earring 1st.mill.BC #6
2.Necklace 7-6 c .BC #21
3.Bracelet 6-4 c. BC #28
4.Ring 10 c. #116
5.Belt (front part) 4-5 c. #83