Introducing Wednesday Wonders: Jewelry at the Museum

Now introducing our feature for the month of December entitled Wednesday Wonders. Each Wednesday for the month of December we’ll be highlighting some incredible pieces in the museum’s fine jewelry collection. Though it’s perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of an art museum,  jewelry can go a long way to rounding out a museum’s collection.

Brooch. Gift of Mrs. J.P ( Virginia) Gibbons

Brooch. French. Gift of Mrs. J.P ( Virginia) Gibbons

What better month to feature these beautiful art objects than December: in addition to keeping our readers informed about the UMFA’s outstanding collection, we hope this will set the mood and give inspiration for the gift giving season (ahem, my desk is on the second floor of the museum if anyone’s looking to give away anything like our Wednesday Wonders this year).

Bracelet. Gift of Mrs. J.P ( Virginia) Gibbons.

Bracelet. French. Gift of Mrs. J.P ( Virginia) Gibbons.

Giving and receiving jewelry has a long, romantic tradition. According to a recent report by the US Retail Jewelry Industry, the total fine jewelry and watch sales in the United States grew to an estimated $71.3 billion in 2012. Available data for 2013 indicates that jewelry industry revenues will continue to grow.

But a quick search for advice on giving jewelry offers lots of cautions: apparently there is such a thing as gifting a gorgeous bauble too early in a relationship. You may also want to consider the special meaning of stones before making such a purchase.

Earrings. Gift of Mrs. J.P ( Virginia) Gibbons.

Earrings. French. Gift of Mrs. J.P ( Virginia) Gibbons.

We may have been wearing jewelry as far back as 75,000 years ago – 30,000 years earlier than previously believed – according to a recent report by National Geographic News. According to National Geographic, “Fundamentally, jewelry has always remained an adornment, but an adornment that variously transformed into a symbol of love, religion, wealth, prestige, rank, class, and sometimes authority.”

Necklace. Gift of Mrs. JP (Virginia) Gibbons

Necklace. French. Gift of Mrs. JP (Virginia) Gibbons

So, what about jewelry’s place in a museum’s collection? Says Ortiz, “Jewelry is another aesthetic based art form. I think people can find beauty in what people have chosen to adorn themselves with over the years.”

In theory, our Wednesday Wonders feature could possibly expand beyond the rarely-glimpsed collection of fine jewelry that we plan to highlight, and include other items in our collection without so much as raising an eyebrow:

Necklace with Double Bat Effigies. Pre-Columbian.

Necklace with Double Bat Effigies. Pre-Columbian.

This is one of the wonderful things about a museum that features 5,000 years of human creativity: we’re bound to encounter universals and commonalities!

Some of the “jewelry” in our galleries takes a careful eye to spot. “Many of our European paintings have portraits of people wearing jewelry,” says Virginia Catherall, Curator of Education. “In these paintings the jewelry is an important aspect of who the person is. It identifies them as a upper class or royalty and asserts their power in the form of wealth.”

Come in to the UMFA to see some of our more ancient items of adornment (and images of adornment on our walls!), and stop by the jewelry cases in The Museum Store while you’re at it, if you’re feeling generous.

And, of course, keep checking back with us for more amazing jewelry! Next week we’ll be learning more about how these jewels are cared for, and how they’re stored.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: UMFA Holiday Gift Guide 2013 |

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