Few examples of medieval Islamic jewelry survive, leaving scholars to rely on depictions of jewelry in manuscript paintings of the period for evidence of their appearance. Imagery from Ilkhanid and later period painting reveals that necklaces sharing some details with the jewelry elements shown here were worn by women in the fourteenth to sixteenth century in Iran and Central Asia.
The dating and attribution of gold jewelry from the Islamic world presents numerous challenges to scholars and art historians. Hardly any of the extant examples are dated or bear inscriptions. Furthermore, because of their inherent value, gold and other precious metals were melted down and reused in times of economic crisis. As a result, few examples survive, complicating research and comparative analysis, as in the case of these necklace elements. The basic form and arrangement of similar necklaces are, however, depicted in paintings of women from the late fourteenth to the late sixteenth century in Iran and Central Asia.
Two medallions in the necklace — one a large circular medallion pendant with lobes, and the other a smaller fan-shaped piece — are both of box construction. The large central pendant is inset with a cartouche of gray chalcedony with a turquoise bead at its center, surrounded by turquoise, chalcedony, and glass beads of different sizes and shapes. The fan-shaped element, also inset with a variety of gems and glass, lacks a large cartouche. The two are joined by ten small cartouche-shaped elements, each with a central turquoise. The backs of both of the larger elements are chased and punched with animal motifs of Far Eastern inspiration, including gazelles and quadrupeds attacked by lions, while the fan-shaped medallion has a number of small loops, presumably to hold a delicate string of pearls.
A close look at paintings of women, ranging from an illustrated folio in the Great Mongol Shahnama of about 1330 to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century images from Bukhara, shows that comparable gold necklaces were indeed worn by women. The pendants in these representations are all in the shape of half medallions with lobes (rather than full medallions), similar to the one in the scene of "Rudaba Chastised by Her Mother" from the Great Mongol Shahnama. The paintings also show cartouche-shaped elements alternating with other shapes, but these connecting pieces are missing from the Metropolitan Museum’s assemblage. Lisa Golombek, who has studied the Metropolitan’s necklace in great detail, has reproduced a number of these paintings; her survey, however, does not extend beyond the fifteenth century, mentioning the sixteenth century only in passing. She assigns the Museum’s necklace elements to late fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century Iran or Central Asia on the basis of their relationship to paintings, cartoons, and preparatory sketches in one of the Timurid albums in the Topkapı Palace Library (H.2152), which was used by artists and craftsmen to replicate patterns in a variety of media. A close stylistic resemblance between the chased motifs on the back of the large elements of this work and those in the Topkapı cartoons is evident, and this association is corroborated by Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo in a vivid account of the Spanish envoy to the Timurid court in 1405–6.
However, it is not entirely clear that these jewelry elements belong to a single ensemble. The large lobed central medallion, in fact, more closely resembles elements of men’s belts seen in paintings. This type of element is almost never shown as the central pendant in a necklace, and when it is represented, it appears on the back of the neck of the female wearing it. The absence of holes for stringing the elements complicates matters further. Upon close inspection, these elements appear to have been produced in the same workshop, but they raise unanswered questions. Until a painting appears with an identical configuration of elements, it can be said only that individual elements of this so-called necklace attest to the popularity and longevity of tastes, forms, and techniques of jewelry making in Iran and Central Asia from the fourteenth through the sixteenth century.
Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See Golombek, Lisa. "Golden Garlands of the Timurid Epoch." In Jewellery and Goldsmithing in the Islamic World: International Symposium, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem 1987, edited by Na‘ama Brosh, pp. 63–71. [Jerusalem], 1991.
2. See, for example, the image of a young women from an anthology painted by Mahmud (Bukhara, ca. 1550) in the Topkapı Palace Museum, Istanbul (Revan 1964, fol. 2a; Titley, Norah M. Persian Miniature Painting and Its Influence on the Art of Turkey and India: The British Library Collections. London, 1983, p. 90), and a folio from an album dated Dhu’l Qa’da 935 [July 1529] produced in Bukhara (Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, no. c-860).
3. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (no. S1986.0102). Golombek 1991, p. 66; Carboni and Komaroff 2002, pp. 86–87.
4. Golombek 1991, p. 65.
[ Habib Anavian, New York, until 1989; sold to MMA]
New York. Forbes Galleries. "Masterpieces of Ancient Jewelry: Exquisite Jeweled Objects from the Cradle of Civilization," September 22, 2008–December 31, 2008, p. 131.
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