Theodore B. Starr American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 706

This gold brooch is composed of a kneeling figure clad in Egyptian headdress, arm bands, and loincloth playing a falcon-headed harp set with an oval amethyst carved as a scarab. The figure and harp rest on a plinth supported by two coiled snakes. Green, blue, and red enamel accent the harp, figure, and snakes, and the falcon’s eye is a demantoid (green) garnet. The back of the brooch is delicately engraved with details echoing those highlighted by enamels on the front; the revers of the amethyst is engraved with hieroglyphic symbols. Stamped in incuse lettering on the back of the plinth is "T.B. Starr."

Theodore B. Starr was among the most prominent and influential jewelry and silversmithing firms in New York City during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Originally in partnership with jeweler and silversmith Herman Marcus under the name of Starr & Marcus, Theodore B. Starr established his own eponymous firm in 1877. Starr’s work was regularly and enthusiastically heralded in the press. On March 18th, 1880 The Independent published an article in which "The House of Theodore B. Starr" is described as an establishment that develops "an educated demand for ‘beauty in use;’" and where one will find "his taste and his intelligence stimulated." The article goes on to state,

"No more striking proof exists of the progress which, as people, we have made and are daily making, in the arts which, as the classic poet puts it, ‘soften our moral natures and forbid us to be brutal.’ The Metropolitan Museum of Art is worthy of study because it shows us what has been done in this direction in other lands and other ages. Warerooms such as those of Theodore B. Starr are not less worthy of a visit because they show us what is doing now in our own country."

Such hyperbolic praise was not unusual for T.B. Starr, and the contention that the firm was producing important and artistic jewelry is supported by surviving examples of the firm’s work.

This piece is a lovely example of T.B. Starr’s work in the Egyptian revival style, a taste that captured the imagination of Western jewelers and their patrons from the 1860s into the 1920s. Evoking exotic treasures unearthed from Egyptian royal tombs, jewelry adorned with such symbolic and talismanic motifs as scarabs, lotus blossoms, sphinxes, and ibises ensured protection from evil and the promise of eternal life.

Brooch, Theodore B. Starr (American, New Rochelle, New York 1837–1907 Ridgefield, Connecticut), Gold, amethyst, demantoid garnet, and enamel, American

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