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All That Glitters

Risdm 1996-73-1 AbcBy Marianne Ruggiero
Coordinator of Family Programs at The RISD Museum

Shakespeare wrote, “All that glitters is not gold.” What this means is that you have to be careful about judging things that LOOK really good on the outside, because chances are that they might not be so great when you look on the inside. Inner value, in other words, is just as important as surface value.

Think about a favorite bracelet or ring you own. Is it special because it’s beautiful, or because a special person gave it to you as a gift? Perhaps it’s both. This makes our jewelry extra-special for us, in terms of its beauty and sentimental value.

Jewelry has played an important role throughout history. Different cultures attach very different meanings to the pieces of jewelry they create. Let’s look at some examples of this:

The ancient Egyptians believed that the images of gods and goddesses they wore when they were buried kept them from harm throughout eternity. This type of jewelry (pictured above) is a “pectoral,” worn over a man or woman’s chest. It is made of faience, which the Egyptians produced by mixing powdered quartz with other minerals. Faience objects turned bright blue green when fired. The goddess represented is Isis, a powerful protector of the dead. This pectoral was pierced with tiny holes jewelry so that it could be sewn to the mummy’s bandages.

Image Credit:Risdm 48-246-1
Egypt, Third Intermediate period
Winged Isis Pectoral, around 1075 — 712 BCE
Egyptian faience
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund
Photography by Erik Gould

Can you guess what was used to make the long necklace of this Native American Sachem, or chief? Give up? The answer is clam and mussel shells. Shells were also used to make his crown. The person in this portrait is thought to be Robin Cassacinamon, ruler of the Pequot nation almost four centuries ago.

Image Credit:
Artist unknown
Native American Sachem, late 17th century
Oil on canvas
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Gift of Mr. Robert Winthrop
Photography by Erik GouldRisdm 67-342-1

Would you guess that this fancy necklace was made to be worn by a man? High government officials in Tibet once wore such beautiful jewelry as a mark of their importance. The light blue stones are turquoise and the red ones are rubies, a gem of great value. The “monster” face in the center of the necklace was meant to protect its wearer from evil.

Image Credit:
Collar (neckwear)
Brass (alloy), gilding, turquoise, ruby, mother of pearl, stone
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Bequest of Martha B. Lisle
Photography by Erik GouldTl87-2007-100

The creator of this strawberry pendant is Kenneth Jay Lane, one of today’s most famous costume jewelry designers. Visit the RISD Museum to see the current exhibit of Lane’s jewelry.

Image Credit:
Kenneth Jay Lane
Strawberry Pendant Necklace
Gold-plated base metal with enamel and rhinestones
Courtesy of Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Photography by Erik Gould

Now it’s time to try your hand at designing a piece of jewelry. Click here to print a necklace template. With markers, crayons, paint or collage materials, add details to the jewelry shown here or use your own imagination.

All additional inquires or requests should be directed to: Melody Ennis, Coordinator of Photographic Services, The RISD Museum, 224 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903. 401 454-6535. E-mail inquires to: mennis@risd.edu

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