Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cordiform Pendant

Object Name:
mid–late 19th century
Country of Origin Turkmenistan, Teke
Silver; fire-gilded and chased, with niello inlay, decorative wire, and table-cut carnelians
10 x 6 1/8 in. (25.4 x 15.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf, 2006
Accession Number:
Not on view
The inclusion of niello, or black composite, decoration on this magnificent pendant is unusual in Turkmen jewelry. The technique is found in the urban metalwork of Central Asia and may indicate that the piece was a special commission from an urban workshop for a Turkmen patron. The split-palmette leaf arabesque is a long-lived motif of Islamic art, while the silver wire filigree and twisted rope wire border are common to Teke and Yomut Turkmen jewelry
Three Teke Cordiform Pendants (MMA 2013.968.1, MMA 2006.544.1, and MMA 2005.443.1)

These Teke cordiform pendants present three variations on the arabesque design in its clearest, most legible form. In no. 2013.968.1 an
arabesque of even width, composed of a trellis pattern of palmettes, covers the entire surface of the pendant. Other decorative elements such as carnelians and strips of decorative silver wire are used sparingly. The relatively small scale, skillful execution, and silver and gold palette of the chased design make for an elegant, harmonious, and sophisticated work. However, we see the tendency to make the design abstract emerging in problematic areas: where the pendant narrows at the bottom, for instance, the design becomes increasingly illegible, while at the top, in the narrow cylinder, it becomes completely stylized into a tiger-stripe design and crowded in the triangle above it. The challenge of adapting the arabesque to different surfaces is a common one in Islamic art, leading to more or less successful solutions.

No. 2006.544.1 presents another skillful variation on the arabesque. Here it is organized on either side of the central vertical in a symmetrical design of imposing scale and color contrast. The elements in this piece are more striking than in the previous work, creating a stronger visual impact. Prominent large carnelians anchor the design,[7] and a lavish use of decorative silver wire strips emphasizes the cordiform shape of the piece. Three bands of varying widths are present: a wide gold-on-silver arabesque of even width at the top, centered around a table-cut oval carnelian; a narrow gold interlace that springs from the bottom of the pendant; and, within the compartment bordered by that interlace, a graceful arabesque of varying width encapsulated in a half-cordiform outline executed in niello. The piece displays classic features of the Islamic arabesque: the equal importance given to positive and negative parts ofthe surface, seen particularly in the vertical section at the top, where both the gold and silver areas create arabesque forms; and the versatility of the design and its ability to impart vitality and interest to the surface.

The arabesque of even width is first identified in Abbasid or Seljuq silver ornament.[8] The question of whether its use in Turkmen jewelry is a survival or a revival is controversial. While a similar approach to the arabesque appears in Turkmen and Kazakh felts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,[9] the design may have been appropriated from early metalwork pieces available in urban Central Asian markets.

The arabesque of varying width in no. 2006.544.1 is in a split-palmette form of fleshy, pointed intertwining leaves. This very distinctive form of arabesque, which emerged in the thirteenth century during the Seljuq period in Iran and Turkey, is particularly well documented in that era’s metalwork. Once established, it became increasingly attenuated and elegant in the Timurid period (the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries) and later. Here we see its survival into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Unlike so many typical Islamic designs, however, the arabesque folds back on itself, rather than extending to the very edges of a surface where it is abruptly cut off to create the effect of an infinite and unending design. This indicates that it is a relatively late piece, made after European preferences for symmetrical, centered designs had begun to influence Islamic art. What we see here is thus a reflection of the conscious revival of earlier styles in urban workshop production throughout the Middle East and Central Asia—one of the hallmarks of colonialism in this period. The jewelry in this collection reveals that Turkmen silversmiths used both centered and unending arabesque designs, continuing the tradition of classic Islamic ornament.

This work also illustrates the sometimes close relationship between Turkmen craftsmanship and that of Central Asian urban workshops. Niello, rarely used in Turkmen art, is adopted from the Central Asian urban jewelry and metalworking repertoire. And while the technique is the same, the form has been adapted to the Turkmen taste for bold design, in contrast to the urban taste for smaller, more precious floral and vegetal leaf designs,[10] again illustrating the originality of Turkmen art. This piece may have been a special commission produced by an urban workshop for a Turkmen patron, or it may have been created by a Turkmen silversmith familiar with the more sophisticated urban techniques. In its use of the arabesque, this pendant also exhibits a clear relationship to nineteenth-century chased silverwork from Bukhara (see fig. 26, page 35 in this volume).

Finding dated parallels for Turkmen pieces is rare, which is why we are fortunate to have drawings dating from 1886 that show comparable examples utilizing the same style of interlace and splitpalmette arabesque. Were it not for this piece, one might assume that the European artist of these drawings had reinterpreted the designs according to Western criteria, by shading and creating a sense of volume that seems to mitigate the flatness characteristic of Islamic design, although shading and volume are found in a number of Turkmen works.

The third work, no. 2005.443.1, an example of monumental size and weight, illustrates the use of a cut-out arabesque, which in this case lightens the piece enough to make it wearable. A large carnelian is displayed in a floral setting at the center, surrounded by an arabesque that reaches to the edge of the pendant but also doubles back on itself. A border is richly embellished with a continuous design of smaller carnelians in elongated ovals with split palmettes on either side. At the top the cylinder displays a more stylized arabesque, whereas the triangle exhibits an elegant design similar to those of the main field, centered around a flat-cut carnelian. The piece is surmounted by finials in ram’s-head and trefoil motifs. The aesthetic effect is achieved by the delicate, lacelike arabesque openwork, a lavish use of gilding in proportion to the silver on the surface, and a total of thirty-one stones sprinkled over the piece.

Layla S. Diba in [Diba 2011]


7. Rudolph, Hermann. Der Turkmenenschmuck: Sammlung Kurt Gull. Exh. cat., Museum Rietberg Zürich; Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin. Stuttgart, 1984, p. 209, refers to this as the "power of the center".

8. Ettinghausen, Richard. “Turkish Elements on Silver Objects of the Seljuq Period of Iran.” In Communications Presented to the First International Congress of Turkish Arts, p. 133. Ankara, 1961.

9. Trilling, James. The Language of Ornament. London, 2001, p. 18.

10. Kalter, Johannes. The Arts and Crafts of Turkestan. New York, 1983, p. 124, fig. 115, and p. 141, fig. 141.
Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf, Toronto, Canada (until 2006; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Turkmen Jewelry," October 9, 2012–February 24, 2013, no. 47.

Diba, Layla S. "Silver Ornaments from the Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection." In Turkmen Jewelry. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 47, pp. 92-93, ill. pl. 47 (color).

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