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.


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  2. I am glad you found it, John. You are welcome to check in any time.