Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fertility Symbols on Middle Eastern, South Asian Jewelry

Throughout the Middle East and South Asia the symbols of ancestors, living family members and hoped-for descendants influence the jewelry artisan's work.  For example, this very simple piece from that region has components that we could find almost anywhere in that enormous space on the planet.

Ethiopian Silver Pendant with Fertility Symbols of Male and Female Anatomy

This old Ethiopian silver metal plaque is fabricated in one of the traditional hand crafted methods. It is called in the West *repousse.* Working in this technique, the silversmith uses a mallet or pounce and pounds or pushes the metal sheet into the indented figures on a wood board or hard thick metal plate. Usually the designs carved into the wood or metal template are fairly simple such as circles, thick lines, stars or flowers. This particular piece shows the softer edges on the florets, lines and circles that are more common on plaques that have been pounced on a wood board. In fact, this plaque very likely was held tightly across a carved piece of wood that had raised designs and this silver or silver alloy sheet was pounced until the raised designs on the wood template shaped their metal twins on this piece of silver. Then the sides and backing were soldered to this repousse face and the bails attached in the same way.

The naturalistic male and female fertility symbols were made separately. No piece of the jewelry item is without a backing of the same material. The spherical male symbols and the hemispherical female symbols are hollow. The connecting rings do not appear to be made of the same grade of silver as the rest of the piece. I suspect that none of the silver is more than 60 percent silver. Nevertheless, the patina enhances the appearance of this old piece. It gives the impression of having once had enameling applied to the spaces between the designs on the plaque. Within the culture in which it was created, it was no doubt worn by a female, married or approaching marriage. It more than likely served as a temple ornament worn attached by a cord to the veil or braids of hair just above the top of the ear.

This piece was included in a purchase of Yemeni collectible jewelry. Many Ethiopian and Yemeni jewelry styles are cross-cultural.

The chain is a modern antiqued silver plated chain and clasp.

Chain: 21.5 inches (54 cm) long. Plaque and symbolic pendants: 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) long. 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) wide at widest point.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Expansion of Turkoman Khanates in Medieval Times

During the late Middle Ages, just about the same time that the Renaissance had begun in Europe, the Khans began to extend their power into Russia, Persia and India.  They ruled areas within the borders of those countries as we see the named countries on the map today.  The borders were not the same in that era, of course.

The point of this blog is not about power but about cultural influence.  We have written recently about the major sport of the Mongol people which naturally takes place on horseback. We know it in the West as polo.  Among the Turkmen in Afghanistan it is called buz kashi.

As the khanates expanded the sport went with them.  The Mongols who settled in Persia influenced the people they found there.  I will point to just one great example of that in this blog.

Antique Persian Miniature Handpainted on Mother of Pearl from Iran

This antique fine art is painted with a very fine brush on mother of pearl. The scene is a classic scene showing the Mongol Persian invention of the game of polo. Men on horseback engage in a mock combat to make goals with an object that they bat around with sticks while remaining on horseback. 

The horses must be swift and agile. The artists varied in their ability to paint the horses as they really were. After all, the artist is not usually the athlete who engages in contact sport. 

This piece of art is not only traditional in its content, but also in the technique of creating the Isfahan school of miniatures in the 1800s. 

The artist used the traditional technique of building up layers of lacquered pigment. The underlay is of thinly applied gold. Then the artist goes to work with a brush made of a single hair for much of the scene, especially the plants and outlines of the figures. 

The under layer of gold pigment gives the art a special glow that adds to the luminescence of the pearl base. 

The Isfahan school of Persian miniature art flourished from the 1400s to the 1700s when it was at its height. After that time, the masters began to explore more naturalistic themes and departed from the action narratives as their subject, usually a scene based on one of the cultural mythic subjects such as warfare, hunting, or court scenes. 

The mother of pearl became a desirable base for the masters of the 1800s; this piece fits into that later period of the Isfahan school of Persian miniatures. I collected it in Teheran, Iran in 1971. This particular piece was evidently chipped at the time of the painting or in the shaping of the original piece of shell. The chip is old and shares the same patina of the overall piece. The bottom outline of the painting ends above the tiny chip. 

Measurements: 4.4 cm (1.75 inches) x 6.6 cm (2.6 inches)   More information at this link:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Upcycling, Re-ordering and Downsizing Older Turkoman Jewelry

Upcycling, Re-ordering and Downsizing Older Turkoman Jewelry

The old traditional jewelry has often been re-purposed or has had parts removed from it, or in other cases, the original order of the beads or pendants has been changed.  This piece was originally a belt buckle.

Read the account of how it has been changed:
This Turkoman silver brooch was originally a belt buckle. It is made of a thick silver plaque with overall floral patterns. The raised center is inscribed with Arabic calligraphy. The inset jewels are red glass, highly prized in Turkoman jewelry. The crafter of this piece was inventive in that when this piece was no longer being used by a male to fasten his belt, the maker cut the silver belt loops from the back of the piece, filed and sanded the stumps smooth and attached a clasp to the back top of the piece. It makes a rustic but very charming and novel brooch for a casual jacket. 

My husband picked up this piece on a trip to Moscow in 1999. The bazaars in Moscow have a lot of Turkoman pieces that come in from the tribes in the various countries around Russia that were once satellites of Soviet Russia. There are many: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrghizstan and Dagestan. Then there are the countries that were not part of USSR: Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The traditional cultures of these countries are influenced greatly by the Turkoman peoples who make up part of the population. Ethnic jewelry and textiles are derived from the traditional adornment of person and home by the Turkoman tribes. 

Like all other pieces on this web site, this piece is returnable with full refund if not satisfied with your purchase. 

Measurements: 3 inches (7.5 cm) x 2.4 inches (6.2 cm) 62 gm (2.2 ozs.)