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16_chos rje de bzhin gshegs paThe Karmapa is a very important Lama/guru of Tibetan Buddhism and acts as the head of the Karma Kagyu (the black hat school), the largest sub-school of Himalayan Buddhism.  According to tradition, the first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (1110–1193 AD) was such a gifted and sedulous scholar (and so very, very holy) that he attained enlightenment at the age of fifty while practicing dream yoga. To his adherents, the Karmapa is seen as a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas (not to me though, I prefer to think of Avalokiteśvara as the luminous Kwan Yin, not as some sad middle-aged Chinese puppet).

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Ahem, anyway, due to religious and political controversy so convoluted and schismatic that it would make an antipope blush, the identity of the 17th (current) Karmapa is disputed.  This matters little to us though, for our purposes today, which, as you maybe guessed from the title, involve the Karmapa’s remarkable headress, the black crown.  As implied by its heavy metal name, the black crown’s roots are said to lie beyond this world. According to folklore, the black crown was woven by the dahinis (sacred female spirits of Vajrayana Buddhism) from their own gorgeous black hair. They gave this gift to the Karmapa in recognition of his spiritual attainment.  The 5th Karmapa was a tutor to the Yongle Emperor (arguably China’s greatest emperor) and the wily emperor claimed that he could see the immaterial black crown above the Karmapa’s head.  The Yongle Emperor was sad that lesser mortals could not perceive this ineffable headdress and so he had a worldly facsimile made for the Karmapa, not out of the hair of dahinis, but instead from coarser materials such as rubies, gold, and precious stones. That’s it, up there at the top of this paragraph (adorning the head of the 16th Karmapa).

I wish I could show you a better picture of the jeweled hat which the Yongle Emperor commissioned for all Karmapas, past, present, and future (fake and real?), but unfortunately, some of the political strife of Tibet, China, and India is reflected in the provenance of the sacred item.   The 16th Karmapa brought the black crown to a monastery in (Indian) Sikkim during the tumult of the 1960s when China’s relationship with ancient cultural traditions grew rather fraught.  When the 16th Karmapa transcended this mortal world in 1993, the crown went missing. It has not been seen since, but one hopes it might reappear at some point when the true 17th Karmapa is revealed (or when all contenders are gone and we move on to the 18th Karmapa).  Alternately, perhaps a careful inventory of Rumtek monastery will cause it to turn up.

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My apologies for all of the visual posts this week!  I got caught up in the Christmas crush, and had less time than I wanted to write a ringing denunciation of Russian sleeper agents and dupes in the executive and legislative branches of government, but, speaking of Russia, I decided to look for images of crowned swans (in vague memory of a disturbing folktale from the Volga).   I never found the crowned swan I was looking for, but instead I found…this thing pictured here…the king of all pool floaties.   I guess if you and your 7 friends want to enjoy some swim beverages and a foot bath while cavorting inside a 17 foot monster plastic folktale about the ephemeral nature of beauty, well, now you know how to do that!  We will return to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow. In the mean time here are some more photos of the majestic pool toy. Good grief, it is incredible!  I wonder if it would fit on my parents’ goose pond…

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Young King Otto (1832, Joseph Stieler) oil on canvas

In the 1820s, Greece fought a desperate war for independence from the Ottoman Empire.  Russia, France, and the United Kingdom helped the fledgling nation prevail against the Sultan, and in 1830 the great powers helped Greece map its new borders. Unfortunately though, there are always growing pains, and in 1831, Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first head of state, was assassinated, hurling the peninsula into chaos.  Russia, France, and the United Kingdom reconvened in teh London Conference of 1832 and together they chose a new king, Otto I for the “free” people of Greece. Otto was the second son of Ludwig I of Bavaria (and the uncle of Ludwig II, the fairy tale prince, whose doom-laden, swan-heavy exploits have been described on Ferrebeekeeper before).

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In 1832 Otto ordered a crown from Fossin et Fils Goldsmiths in Paris to mark his coronation.  The gilded silver crown arrived in 1835, but it was used for a coronation, since Otto was never crowned.  Also, there were no precious stones to mount on the new crown so paste placeholders were used.  Speaking of paste placeholders, Otto was overthrown in a coup in 1862 and returned to Bavaria, taking the crown with him.  Some things just don’t work out very well.  But, stupidly, the crown just set around in Bavaria, until 1959 when it was “returned” to Paul I of Greece.  I guess it is still the crown of Greece, even though it looks like they got it out of bubble gum machine in a pizza parlour.  History has a lot of cul de sacs.

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A photo of Otto, in exile in Bavaria in 1865

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Here is one of those peculiar stories about a crown which exemplifies why crowns are interesting in the first place.  Back in 1998, Sirak Asfaw, a Dutch civil servant (who was born in Ethiopia but fled to the Netherlands in the 1970s) was hosting a houseguest from Ethiopia.  The mysterious guest had an even more mysterious case which seemed to contain a shimmering gold object.  In accordance with fairy tale rules, Asfaw opened up the case and discovered a glittering golden crown inside.

Well…actually the crown was made of some lesser metal covered with gilding.  Asfaw cast the houseguest out of his home and has been hiding the stolen crown there for the past 21 years.  Based on the crown’s shape and on the saints and religious figures which adorn it, the piece is a liturgical crown used in Orthodox Christian ceremonies. A Dutch investigator found a picture of the crown (below) being worn by a prelate back in 1993. Apparently the headress originated the village of Cheleqot, 75 miles from the border with Eritrea, but was stolen in the mid to late nineties.

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Now that the crown has resurfaced, it is heading back to Ethiopia, but it is unclear if it will go the national museum or to a private owner.

In lavish Hindu weddings, the bride and groom are (unofficial) royalty for a day. This beautiful Mughal crown from the late 18th century is probably a wedding crown for a groom. Manufactured from a solid piece of cast silver with gold leaf upon it, the piece features peacocks which, among other things, were sacred to Saraswati (wise goddess of patience kindness and compassion). The birds represent protection, good luck, and prosperity for the newlyweds. Of course 1780 was a long time ago, so it is also possible that this crown is actually a votive crown for a long lost statue of a veda (a Hindu deity). Each god in the Indian pantheon is associated with a “vahana” a special sacred emblematic animal which they ride. The peacock is the vahana of Kartikeya, god of war. So is this a wedding crown or a religious crown or something else entirely?  Objects come down through time stripped of their original purpose, but it hardly looks like a sacred war object to me.  Whatever purpose it serves, it is a lovely example of northern Indian silversmithing and a wonderful work of art.

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While summer lingers here with us I wanted to write a quick post about vinoks, the floral crowns of the Ukraine.  Floral crowns are nearly universal, but the vinoks descend from a long lineage of Greek and Byzantine flower crowns which were worn to denote purity (and eligibility) among maidens.

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(Instagram/Treti Pivni)

A group of floral artists and photographers calling themselves Treti Pivni (which means “Third Rooster”) are working to repopularize the vinok in the modern world (and to breathe fresh life into ancient Ukrainian cultural traditions.

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I can’t speak to the authenticity or meaning of these crowns, but the beauty speaks for itself.  I hope you enjoy them.  If so seek out the Third Rooster…er…Treti Pivni.  They are out there right now agonizingly inserting strands of wheat into wreathes for the delectation of the world.

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Behold!  Here is the Tiara of Saitaferne, a crown of gold acquired by the Louvre in 1896.  The crown is wrought from a gold sheet and features gorgeous Greek youths surrounded by vines and birds.  A Greek inscription on the headdress reads “The council and citizens of Olbia honour the great and invincible King Saitapharnes.” According to classical lore, Saitapharnes was a Scythian king who menaced the Greek colony of Olbia (on the northern tip of Sardinia).  The colonists had to bribe him to leave with precious tribute, including this crown.  The crown was a sensation in France (and greater Western Europe) when it was purchased for 200,000 gold francs and precipitated much admiration for the matchless craftsmanship of antiquity.

Except…the object is a complete forgery.  It was made in 1894 by Israel Rouchomovsky, a master goldsmith from Odessa, on commission from antiquities dealers Schapschelle & Leiba Hochmann.  They told Rouchomovsky that the object was for a friend who was a classical archaeologist and they provided Rouchomovsky with detailed instructions as to how to make the tiara.

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Israel Rouchomovsky

When Rouchomovsky learned about the deceptive sale to the Louvre, he was aghast and he traveled to France to explain what had happened.  Museum experts refused to believe that he had wrought the crown, until he incontrovertibly proved that he was the responsible goldsmith.  The revelation led to disgrace for the Louvre’s experts but it made Rouchomovsky a sensation and he became an esteemed art nouveau jeweler in Europe.

The crown itself is now held in the Louvre’s secret archives of shame and and disgrace, but it makes periodic reappearances at exhibitions of famous forgeries.  Like the Meidum Geese (which snookered Ferrebeekeeper), the Tiara of Saitaferne raises difficult questions about the meaning of artworks and how their value is contingent on when and by whom they are made.  Such questions are becoming more prominent in contemporary art (which has become deeply fixated on political questions of identity and diversity) but, as you can see, the underlying issues are ancient.

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The Crown of Princess Blanche

England had a great treasury of medieval crowns and ancient jewels…which did not survive the excesses of the English Civil War (it’s almost as though having 41% of your country utterly despise the other 53% is somehow dangerous).  Yet two English Medieval crowns have survived into the modern era because they were elsewhere at the time.  Ferrebeekeeper blogged about one–the Coronet of Margaret of York.  Here is the other, the Crown of Princess Blanche, AKA “The Palatine Crown” or “The Bohemian Crown.” This crown is the oldest surviving royal crown affiliated with England, and probably dates to 1370–80 AD.

As the name indicates, the crown was an accessory of Princess Blanche of England, (daughter of King Henry IV) which she brought from England for her marriage to Louis III, Elector of Palatine in 1402.  Manufactured of gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, enamel and pearls, the little crown measures 18 centimeters (7 inches) high by 18 centimeters deep. It has remained an heirloom of the House of Wittelsbach ever since Blanche’s marriage.  Maybe the beautiful coronet helps to make up for the exceedingly boring Wittelsbach coat of arms which looks like it came with a generic knight from a knock-off playset (all apologies to the Duke of Bavaria–if he ever commissions some flounder art, I will find something nice to say about his dull heraldry).

The Coat of Arms of House Wittelsbach…it’s a good thing these guys weren’t in the fictional “Game of Thrones” (although they were in some real things like that)

Wikipedia describes the crown’s surprising complexity as follows:

The crown is made up of 12 hexagonal rosettes on the base each supporting a gold stem topped by a lily. The stems and lilies alternate in size and height. They are heavily jewelled versions of the fleur de lys (lily flower) that was popular for medieval crowns.[3] In the middle of the hexagons, which have enamelled white flowers overlaid onto a translucent blue or red background, is a pale blue sapphire, 11 of which are oval and 1 is hexagonal. Each point is decorated with alternating rubies and clusters of four pearls that have a small diamond at the centre. In addition to diamonds, pearls, and sapphires, the lilies are also decorated with emeralds.

When I was writing about Margaret of York’s coronet, I said that it was the finer of the two English medieval crowns…and I still believe that, but only because it is such a lovely piece of jewelry, not because this crown is in any way inferior or unattractive.  Indeed, I think the English Medieval style of goldsmithing might be my favorite style of goldsmithing–the apogee of the jeweler’s art in terms of form and color (although the Tang Dynasty goldsmiths also have a claim on my heart).  Anyway, now you know what to get me if you happen to be a well-heeled time traveler who loves this blog.

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So…apparently I kind of dropped the ball last year and missed one of the big eye makeup trends of the spring of 2018—crown-themed eye makeup which is designed to make the wearer seem regal!  I guess the theory is that by gluing rhinestones in your eyes, you will resemble the monarchs of yore.   Apparently the trend was first popularized by beauty blogger Marissa Melhorn.  With the right stencil, airbrush, and costume jewelry, anyone can feel like a princess!  I guess princesses don’t wearily rub their eyes as much as I do.

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I feel like this might be one of the things people of the future point out as they sadly shake their heads and point out the undersea ruins of Sephora (assuming there are people of the future and they still utilize heads), but you never know; this is a pretty strange era we are in and I can also imagine this trend catching on (for example if America got pushed into imbecilic monarchy somehow).

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Anyway, enjoy the lustrous glittering royal eyes we have featured here, but if you decide to try this at home and it goes wrong, don’t come crying to me.  Or, if you do that, make sure to capture it on video. It will look like Vogue anime “Hamlet.”

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Figure of Ceres with a Polos on her head (2nd century A.D, Roman)bronze

Greco-Roman civilization featured many objects and icons which are instantly familiar to us today.  We know all about cornucopias, tridents, and the fasces (Hey! Why are those on the official seal of the U.S. Senate, anyway?).  Yet other common symbols from that world are perplexing to us today–like the lituus which represented augury in classical mythology.  Today’s post features a symbol which may or may not have made sense to the Greeks and Romans, but which was instantly understood in the context of their religion—the polos.  The polos was a cylindrical crown worn by goddesses of supreme importance: Rhea, Hera, Demeter, Aphrodite, and Artemis (though not Athena, apparently), however it was seemingly not worn by queens or high status women in the real world after the 5th century.   We know what it looked like, but we are perplexed as to what it was made of (insomuch as it was an object of the physical world at all).

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Archaeological finds from the Mycenaean era (1600BC-1200BC) indicate that living women of the ancient palace kingdoms of Greece and Crete once wore these headdresses. You can see a polos above on a Mycenaean figure—yet by the classical Greek era, these do not seem to be worn in the real world.

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Examples from statues of Cybele and Rhea make it seem almost as though it was woven or carved out of some organic material.  Perhaps the Polos was a symbol of fertility and abundance (which would expliain why the virginal Artemis of Ephesus wears such a thing yet the virginal Athena does not.

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Artemis of Ephesus. Statue from the Amphitheater of Lepcis Magna

It is possible that the polos was a cultural object which came into Greece from the near east (there are certainly equivalent crowns in Mesopotamian and Persian art) and existed in religion but not in common culture (Christianity is filled with such symbols, when you think about it).  However it seems more likely to me that the polos was important to the Greeks because it was ancient and mysterious.  It had the same place in their culture that their gods and symbols do in ours—a venerable symbol of otherworldly power

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Seated Aphrodite wearing a high polos (4th century B.C.) terracotta

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