One from a Pair of Royal Earrings, Gold, India

One from a Pair of Royal Earrings

ca. 1st century B.C.
H. 1 5/16 in. (3.3 cm); W. 3 1/8 in. (7.9 cm); L. 1 1/2 in. (3.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of John and Evelyn Kossak, The Kronos Collections, 1981
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 234
This exquisite pair of gold earrings in rare in having survived. While splendid jewelry adorns the regal and divine figures represented on early stone sculptures and terracotta plaques, few actual ornaments still exist. It is thought that jewelry was not kept and reused but instead was melted down possibly to avoid transmitting the karma of the former owner. In addition to clusters and rows of beads, each earring is decorated with a winged lion, and elephant and two vases filled with vegetation. Put on by slipping through a distended earlobe from the back, they are worn with the lion facing the wearer's cheek and the elephant on the outside.

The place of these earrings in the history of Indian art is assured, not only for their intrinsic beauty, but also because of the light they shed on the superb quality of early gold-smithing in this region. Early Indian statues of both male and female figures were usually portrayed with elaborate jewelry that sometimes seemed fanciful, since very little comparable jewelry from that period survived. The discovery of this pair of earrings provided the first tangible evidence that the jewelry depicted by the sculptors was in fact based on real exemplars, for a very similar pair is shown on a first century B.C. relief portrait of a Universal Ruler, the Chakravartin, from Jaggayapeta.

These earrings, judging from their material worth, the excellence of craftsmanship, and the use of royal emblems (a winged lion and an elephant) as part of their design, were most probably made as royal commissions. Each earring is composed of two rectangular, budlike forms, growing outward from a central, double-stemmed tendril. The elephant and the lion of repoussé gold are consummately detailed, using granules, snipets of wire and sheet, and individually forged and hammered pieces of gold. The two pieces are not exactly identical: On the underside they are both decorated with a classical early Indian design of a vase containing three palmettes, but the patterning of the fronds differentiates the two earrings. They are so large and heavy that they must have distended the earlobes and rested on the shoulders of the wearer, like the pair worn by the Chakravartin.

(One of a pair; see 1981.398.3)
John and Evelyn Kossak , New York (until 1981; donated to MMA)