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Monday, July 18, 2011

Jewelry Exhibit at Boston MFA to Span History of Adornment

Marjorie Merriweather Post’s platinum brooch from the 1920s, featuring a spectacular 60-ct. carved Mughal emerald surrounded by diamonds.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts will open a new gallery Tuesday dedicated to jewelry with the exhibit, “Jewels, Gem, and Treasures: Ancient to Modern.” The exhibition, which will run till November 1, 2012, will cover jewelry ornamentation spanning from the 24th century B.C. to the 20th Century.

Marsh-bird brooch, 1901–02, Charles Robert Ashbee

The MFA’s new Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery, one of the few galleries at U.S. museums dedicated to jewelry, will feature works from the museum’s permanent collection of approximately 11,000 ornaments along with pieces on loan.

The 75 objects on display will include antique ornaments made of ivory, shell, and rock crystal along with modern jewelry made of diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and pearls became fashionable in later years. It’s designed to shed light on how various cultures throughout history have defined the concept of “treasure.” Pictured left: Hathor-headed crystal pendant,Napatan Period, reign of King Piye, 743-712 BC, from el-Kurru, tomb Ku 55 (Sudan). 

In addition, the exhibition explains the significance of jewelry, which can be functional (pins, clasps, buckles, combs, and barrettes); protective (talismans endowed with healing or magical properties); and ornamental, making the wearer feel beautiful, loved, and remembered. Beyond functionality and adornment, jewelry can also establish one’s status and role in society. Rare gems and precious metals, made into fabulous designs by renowned craftsmen, have often served as symbols of wealth and power.

The significance of precious materials in jewelry in the 20th century is explored in the exhibition, where several modern adornments from the MFA’s Daphne Farago Collection (which comprises 650 pieces of contemporary craft jewelry made by leading American and European artists from about 1940 to the present) examine jewelry’s traditional roles in society.

Mary Todd Lincoln brooch, about 1860

“Jewelry is a powerful cultural signifier, and the materials used in its fabrication vary considerably. This exhibition examines both traditional and unusual substances used to create some of the world’s most extraordinary adornments,” said Yvonne Markowitz, the MFA’s Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry, whose position is the first endowed curatorship dedicated to the study of jewelry in a U.S. museum.

Some of the most opulent works from the museum’s jewelry collection, including an 1856 diamond wedding necklace and earrings suite given by arms merchant Samuel Colt to his wife (the 41.73-carat suite, purchased for $8,000, is now valued at $190,000) and Mary Todd Lincoln’s gold, enamel, and diamond brooch with matching earrings, which she acquired around 1864. Also on view is Marjorie Merriweather Post’s lavish platinum brooch from the 1920s, featuring a spectacular 60-ct. carved Mughal emerald surrounded by diamonds, which she purchased in anticipation of her presentation at the British court in 1929 (top image).