09 août 2017

Gold Coiled Wire Bracelet, Iran or Afghanistan, Seljuq, circa 10th Century

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Gold Coiled Wire Bracelet, Iran or Afghanistan, Seljuq, circa 10th Century, Gold, coiled wire, D: 6.7cm © David Aaron

This fabulous, zoomorphic piece dates from the Seljuq Empire. The Seljuqs were originally a nomadic Turkic people, who in the 10th century established a vast Islamic empire stretching from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean - encompassing much of the Ancient World. The lands they conquered often possessed long-established traditions of jewellery-making, and one can see in this bracelet a marvellous combination of ancient precedent and medieval Islamic style. In Seljuq culture, gold jewellery was worn by both men and women, and amongst the courtly elite, the giving and receiving of gifts in the form of jewellery was an important social and courtly ritual. This remarkable bracelet was very possibly one such ceremonial object.[1] 

The small size of the piece indicates that the piece was almost certainly a bracelet, intended to be worn on the wrist rather than the upper arm. The band is made up of a single, tightly-coiled gold wire and its gold-plated terminals take the form of zoomorphic protomes. Seemingly stylised rams, or even lambs, their horns or ears are rendered in beads of granulation. Gold wire decorates the tops of their heads, and their necks are ringed by twin bands of further gold granulation. Held between their mouths is a pin and hoop clasp. 

The gold, ram-headed bracelet had long been a popular jewellery piece amongst both Greek and Persian elites, well before the rule of the Seljuqs.[2] That it has been adopted here points to the rich artistic legacy inherited by the new Turkic empire. Yet the spiral shank of gold wire and the pin and hoop clasp are distinctively Seljuq features, the result of newly-developed techniques and an increasingly well-defined Islamic style.[3] 

[1] R. Canby, D. Beyazit, M. Rugiadi & A. Peacock (eds.); Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs, 2016, p. 101

[2] See for example a 1st millennium B.C. bracelet in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (‘Bracelet,’ 51.72.3)

[3] Bracelet, State Museum of the State Cultural Centre of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat). Seljuk, second half of the 11th century. Gold sheet; twisted wire, applied granulation. ÖWS-GZB 1613. 

David Aaron, 22 Berkeley Square, London UK-W1J 6EH, United Kingdom


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