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Date:first half 11th century
Geography:Attributed to Iran
Dimensions:H. 1 7/16 in. (3.7 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase, Richard S. Perkins Gift, Rogers Fund, Louis E. and Theresa S. Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art, Norbert Schimmel, Jack A. Josephson, and Edward Ablat Gifts, 1979
Gold Earrings with reflexive spiral terminations: 1979.7.4, 1979.96 and 1979.7.3a, b
Elements with perpendicular terminations that double back upon themselves before spiraling inward (see bracelets MMA 57.88a–c and 48.98.13) are found on three other objects in the Museum's collection.
The first is a single earring (no. 1979.7.4) that might easily have been considered Byzantine and about five hundred years older than it actually is were it not for the termination at the clasp. Similar heart-shape elements, formed by strips of flat wire the ends of which terminate in circles, are very common on Byzantine gold jewelry of the sixth and seventh centuries.
The outward-projecting loops of wire, each bearing two staggered rows of granules, presumably held a string of precious or semiprecious stones and pearls—another feature associated with Byzantine jewelry that is quite common on early medieval Islamic jewelry.
Additional indications of both the date and the geographical origin of pieces exhibiting the peculiar reflexive spiral termination are furnished by nos 1979.96 and 1979.7.3a, b. In the broadest terms these earrings belong to a varied and numerous family popular in Iran as well as eastern Europe from about the ninth century through the thirteenth, in which some type of hollow gold or silver bead, usually one or three in number, is threaded onto a heavy wire that extends around from the clasp to form the ear wire. The present examples are striking for the rigorous and precise rendition of regular polyhedral forms—in the one case the icosahedron and in the other two the pentagonal dodecahedron, proclaiming the Iranian fascination with such forms during the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries.
Both these so-called polyhedral forms are actually illusions since they are in fact created by the strategic placement of wires, grains, and so forth, on the surface of a hollow sphere, the edges and apexes of the polygon thus disguising a spherical form.
One other similar a jour icosahedral earring has been seen on the European art market, whereas the two dodecahedral ones are so far unique in our experience; both forms, however, are known in other Iranian objects of the eleventh and/ or twelfth century, and this school of polyhedral forms is particularly in evidence in the Nishapur material. It is therefore likely that these earrings as well as related ones were made at Nishapur. Keeping in mind the association of the bracelets with the reflexive spiral terminations (nos. MMA 57.88a–c and 48.98.13) with eastern Iran, we are tempted to think of this feature as indicative of eastern Iranian manufacture. This conclusion is, however, tempered by the fact that both the "Byzantine-style" earring (no. 1979.7.4) and the-silver bracelet (no.48.98.13) are reported to have come from Azerbaijan (northwestern Iran).
[Jenkins and Keene 1983]
1. Ancient Jewelry from the Collection of Burton Y. Berry, exhibition catalogue. Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, 1973, no. 111.
2. Keene, Manuel. 'The Lapidary Arts in Islam: An Underappreciated Tradition." Expedition 24 (Fall 1981), pp. 30–38.
[ Saeed Motamed, Frankfurt, until 1979; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Islamic Jewelry in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 22–August 14, 1983, no. 20a.
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn, and Manuel Keene. Islamic Jewelry in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1983. no. 20a, p. 46, ill. (b/w).
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