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Ferrebeekeeper often writes about serpents and we write nearly as much about crowns, but the only snake crowns we have written about are the various color crowns of ancient Egypt (which center around Wadjet the cobra goddess). What gives? Well, unfortunately, monarchs of the last thousand years or so have not been so into snakes (which are taboo in Judeo-Christian mythology). The crowns of the Minoans, Aztecs, and ancient Cambodians are largely lost in the mists of time.
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Fortunately there are plenty of fantasy crowns featuring snakes available for Halloween, costume dramas, and general fashion. I have gathered a little gallery of them here for your enjoyment. Which costume crown tickles your fantasy most with its forked tongues?

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And don’t even get me started about crowned snakes!

Floral bracelets with mix of sapphires, rubies and turquoise (Courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics)

Floral bracelets with mix of sapphires, rubies and turquoise (Courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics)

I was a bit hard on China in yesterday’s post about toxic sludge left over from refining rare earth elements (I was actually angry at myself for not being a natural businessman, not at the Chinese for ruining the Earth with industrial poisons). Today, therefore, let’s cleanse our palettes by looking at some exquisite treasures which were found in a medieval Chinese tomb! The grave was discovered by construction workers in Nanjing in 2008, but is just now being showcased to the world. It belonged to “Lady Mei” a noblewoman who died in 1474—just 18 years before Columbus discovered the new world. Lady Mei was 45 when she died. Her epitaph reveals that she was a concubine who was married off to the Duke of Yunnan when she was an “unwashed and unkempt” maiden of 15. Lady Mei outshone the Duke’s two senior wives by bearing a son, but her biography also indicates she had a lively mind and no small share of strategic and political genius. Reading between the lines, it seems like she ran the Duke’s vast household (and possibly Yunnan) for twenty years (during the strife and court turmoil of the feuding Zhengtong and Jingtai Emperors and the mad incompetence of the Chenghua Emperor no less).

The excavated tomb of Lady Wei (late 15th century AD)

The excavated tomb of Lady Wei (late 15th century AD)

You can read what is known about Lady Mei’s fascinating life here, but for today’s purposes let’s look at some of the otherworldly jewelry found in the tomb.

Gold hairpiece with a mix of sapphires and rubies

Gold hairpiece with a mix of sapphires and rubies

Ming dynasty art is my favorite Chinese art! The artists of the Song dynasty were more inventive (and perhaps had greater raw talent). The artists of the Ching dynasty had a more eye-popping palette and crafted designs with more ornate flourishes. The artists of the Tang dynasty were more cosmopolitan and outward looking. The artists of today certainly know how to make ugly wretched junk which celebrates the dark magic of marketing. But the artists and artisans of the Ming era were unsurpassed at finding perfect proportions and color combinations. They blended the diverse regional and international elements from around all of China into a perfect lavish synthesis of styles which is instantly and indelibly Chinese.

A fragrance box with gold chain from the tomb of Lady Mei (

A fragrance box with gold chain from the tomb of Lady Mei (“lotus petal” decorations and Sanskrit in gold with sapphires, rubies, and one turquoise. (Courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics)

Look at how Central Asian decorative motifs mix with Southern Asian religious designs all within a rubric of ancient patterns from the Yangzi heartland! The bold yellow of the jewels is perfectly matched by the equally rich colors of carved rubies, sapphires, cats’ eyes, and turquoises.

Gold flame hairpin from Lady Wei's Tomb (gold with rubies and sapphires)

Gold flame hairpin from Lady Wei’s Tomb (gold with rubies and sapphires)

Each of the pieces of jewelry looks like something the queen of heaven could be wearing in a Chinese myth. These pieces are hairpins, bracelets, and a perfume box, but they have the splendor and unrivaled workmanship of crowns. Indeed, Lady Mei might as well have been a sovereign. Contemporary Yunnan has approximately the same population as contemporary Spain. The Yunnan of Lady Mei’s day was likewise probably about the same size as Spain just before it unified and took over the Americas.

Two gold hairpins with branches and tendril patterns.

Two gold hairpins with branches and tendril patterns.

It is astonishing that these treasures have been lying in the earth, waiting for some developer to build a supermarket or condominium. Lady Wei’s opulent grave goods are exquisite—the undying glory of Ming craftsmanship still dazzles like nothing else.

"Palo" Diadem (Hellenic artisans ca. 3rd century BC; gold, enamel, glass beads)

“Palo” Diadem (Hellenic artisans ca. 3rd century BC; gold, enamel, glass beads)

Here is the so-called “Palo diadem” a golden diadem manufactured by Greek goldsmiths who worked in Taranto in southern Italy (in Apulia–Italy’s “bootheel”) in the 3rd century BC.  The wreath was probably discovered in one of the Lacrasta tombs—noted burial sites from Hellenic Apulia.  The piece entered the Louvre collection when it was purchased by the second emperor of the French, Napoleon III, nephew and heir of Napoleon Bonaparte—so its modern history is every bit as interesting as its ancient creation.

This sort of diadem was worn in Hellenic society by women only, and served a purely decorative purpose.  Numerous examples have been found from across the Greek world during the time of Macedonian ascension, however this little crown is especially finely made and well-preserved.  The headdress is a masterpiece of the goldsmith’s art and consists of extremely fine gold filigree–wire twisted into the shape of intertwined vines, rosettes, and flowers like metal lace. The floral highlights are painted in blue enamel and there are little glass berries made from green, blue, and white pâte de verre.

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The goldsmiths of Taranto were the master jewelers of their time.  Their work was exported around the Hellenic world, but this diadem seems to have stayed close to home until Napoleon III purchased it.  The piece inspired a resurgence of gold filigree work among the 19th century jewelers of Italy and France.

From Charmworks.com

From Charmworks.com

Last week’s crazy catfish car was a big hit. Therefore I embarked on a search for an even crazier item…a catfish crown! Alas, I foolishly wasted my blog researching time seeking a mad object which does not seem to exist (or at least remains unknown to the internet). Although I never discovered a jeweled catfish headdress, I did succeed in finding a surprising number of endearing catfish pendants, charms, and medallions. Thus, here is the resultant small gallery of catfish jewelry.

An elegant catfish charm from JC Hunter

An elegant catfish charm from JC Hunter

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I think this is a catfish...

I think this is a catfish…

Wels Catfish charms from England

Wels Catfish charms from England

Handcrafted Corydoras earrings available on ETSY from omostudios

Amazing Handcrafted Corydoras earrings available on ETSY from omostudios

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Sterling Silver Catfish Charm

Sterling Silver Catfish Charm

African cat fish, "lost wax" brass pendant (Ghanatreasures)

African cat fish, “lost wax” brass pendant (Ghanatreasures)

Hmmm....

Hmmm…

I wish I had more to say about these lovely little objects. It seems like the catfish was sometimes a good luck symbol in ancient cultures (representing fertility, mutability,& plenty), and these little amulets and earrings make me think that the same continues to hold true even in our digital world. But, without knowing the jewelers’ intent, I can only present an interesting image gallery. It’s still pretty exciting though!

Alva Museum Replica Funky Cat Fish

Alva Museum Replica Funky Cat Fish

Crown and Etruscan gold jewelry discovered in the necropolis of Vulci Camposcola - Gregorian Etruscan Museum

Crown and Etruscan gold jewelry discovered in the necropolis of Vulci Camposcola – Gregorian Etruscan Museum

Thanks to metal mines which provided iron and copper to buyers all around the Mediterranean, the Etruscans were very wealthy. The murals from Etruscan tombs make it abundantly clear that they also liked to enjoy all the luxuries which wealth makes possible. This love of opulence combined with their mastery of art in an unrivaled tradition of goldsmithing. The Etruscans were master jewelers (and the unique beauty of their pieces regularly spawns modern Etruscan jewelry revivals).

Crown from the Chiusi Museum of Etruscan Archaeology

Crown from the Chiusi Museum of Etruscan Archaeology

Among the pieces frequently discovered are beautiful gold crowns and diadems in the shape of leaves, berries, acorns, waves, and geometric patterns. The Romans were well known for their love of crowns and golden wreaths–which marked various triumphs, victories, or successes. It seems likely that the Romans took this trait from the Etruscans (although the Etruscans may have copied these crowns from Greek or Middle Eastern antecedents). I found these photos of beautiful gold headdresses around the internet. Since the pieces are in such fine repair (and so numerous) I suspect they are from Etruscan tombs. Look at how subtle and elegant the goldsmithing is on some of these crowns. Etruscan craftsmen were famous for their mastery of various stamping, hammering, molding, and filigree techniques (which are very much in evidence here).

Ancient Etruscan Gold Wreath and Ring circa 4th Century BC

Ancient Etruscan Gold Wreath and Ring circa 4th Century BC

Three Gold Wreathes  from the Gregorian Etruscan Museum at the Vatican ca. 4th century BC (http://irenebrination.typepad.com)

Three Gold Wreathes from the Gregorian Etruscan Museum at the Vatican ca. 4th century BC (http://irenebrination.typepad.com)

Gold crown in the shape of acorns and oak leaves (National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia)

Gold crown in the shape of acorns and oak leaves (National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia)

Golden crown of laurel leaves. Vulcan, Montalto di Castro ca. 350 BC

Golden crown of laurel leaves. Vulcan, Montalto di Castro ca. 350 BC

In the years after the Etruscan tribes developed into sophisticated states (but before they became crude republics) political power fell into the hands of various kings and tyrants. These strongmen may have marked their political ascendency with crowns and tiaras. It also seems likely that Etruscan nobles wore such adornments for sacred occasions…and to show off their wealth and status.

British Museum: Etruscan Gold Wreath

British Museum: Etruscan Gold Wreath

 

The Main Room of the Morgan Library in Manhattan

The Main Room of the Morgan Library in Manhattan

Today I visited the Morgan Library which was created to house the extensive collection of the finance titan J.P. Morgan. The building was extraordinary (it was originally created to house the one-of-a-kind J.P. Morgan) and the collection even more so. There were Mozart scores written by the hand of the master, a Gutenberg bible, and original copies (or manuscripts) of the most important books of the ages. Among these treasures of human thought the library also had a small collection of jewelry and valuables from the world of classical antiquity. I noticed these cicada brooches among the collection and thought to share them with you.

Four Cicada Brooches from the Eastern Germanic Goths (ca. 380 AD to 600 AD) silver, copper, and iron

Four Cicada Brooches from the Eastern Germanic Goths (ca. 380 AD to 600 AD) silver, copper, and iron

The brooches were made by Germanic Goths living along the Danube and on the shores of the Black Sea during the fifth and sixth centuries AD. The cicada shape may have been an allusion to the rebirth of the soul (for the Goths were early converts to Christianity—albeit Arian Christianity). The Goths of this time were pushed from their original homelands by the great hordes of Attila and they were everywhere on the borders of the Roman world. The Goths themselves seem to have even thought of themselves as Romans themselves, although the authorities in Constantinople sometimes saw it differently and periodically embarked on programs or reconquest.

The mighty lion is clearly the king of beasts…or is he?  For your holiday pleasure, here is a gallery of octopuses wearing crowns.  Octopuses have short lives and they do not grow to immense sizes, but they are extremely intelligent.  All of the regal tentacles below put me in mind of the Ordovician, a geological age when mollusks (in the form of giant cephalopods) truly were the kings of the animal world.

A Young Lady with an Octopus wearing a Crown

A Young Lady with an Octopus wearing a Crown

A tattoo of an octopus wearing a crown and bearing a trident

A tattoo of an octopus wearing a crown and bearing a trident

A poster of an octopus wearing a crown by Octopus Wearing Crown by Pop Ink - CSA Images

A poster of an octopus wearing a crown by Octopus Wearing Crown by Pop Ink – CSA Images

An tiny tattoo of an octopus wearing a crown

An tiny tattoo of an octopus wearing a crown (Sidney Collins)

A rhinestone octopus wearing a crown (jewelry pendant)

A rhinestone octopus wearing a crown (jewelry pendant)

An Octopus Crown Indicolite Crystal European Bead (whatever that is)

An Octopus Crown Indicolite Crystal European Bead (whatever that is)

A tattoo of a crowned octopus collecting shells (by Jason Stephan)

A tattoo of a crowned octopus collecting shells (by Jason Stephan)

A sweater necklace

A sweater necklace

Retro hand drawn graphics of an octopus wearing a royal crown (from vector graphics)

Retro hand drawn graphics of an octopus wearing a royal crown (from vector graphics)

Decorative art Mixed Media Digital Illustration of an Octopus with golden crown (by Cocodeparis on Etsy)

Decorative art Mixed Media Digital Illustration of an Octopus with golden crown (by Cocodeparis on Etsy)

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Famous in love stories and movies, the Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish band with elements that go back to Roman times.  The ring consists of two hands holding a crowned heart and dates back to the 17th century where the design originated in the village of Claddagh by Galway.

According to tradition, each element of the ring is symbolic.  The hands stand for friendship, the heart stands for love, and the crown stands for loyalty.  The position of the ring on the hands is also important:  when the ring is on the right ring finger with the heart out, it means the wearer is single and seeking love (or some reasonable approximation); when the ring is on the right hand with the heart turned in, it means the wearer is in a relationship, but not engaged.  When the Claddagh ring jumps to the left ring finger things have gotten serious:  the Claddagh with the heart outward indicates betrothal and when heart is turned inward, the wearer is married.  Or at least that is what people say about the tradition.  Every ring I have worn ceaselessly turned like a record on my finger.  I’m sure all sorts of couples would end up in desperate needless fights if the Claddagh tradition was held too closely.

Although the folklore traditions in the paragraph above seem to be innovations of the nineteenth century, the ring descends (through a long lineage) from Roman “fede” rings which featured clasped or joined hands as symbolic of a sacred vow.

Roman Bronze Wedding Ring with Clasped Hands (2nd century AD)

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