Jewels, Hair and Accessories of the Middle Ages
Just another site
Language of Stones by Elizabeth Rodini
Categories: Jewelry, Uncategorized

This article discusses Renaissance and Baroque jewelry, but her ideas are useful when thinking of medieval jewelry.

Rodini’s main points can be summarized:

– though small in size jewelry signified the relationship between the wearer and society

– During the Renaissance the world was considered to be infused with signs, and it was a necessary skill to decode them. The was a literal nature to signs, in the sense that the ultimate truth, or meaning, could be inferred if you had the right knowledge. This assumes that there was a design, or an essence, before the sign.

– Jewelry was both private and public. Private because it was worn close to the body, public because it carried a pronouncement of wealth, rank, or loyalty.

Some interesting medieval notes in her article include:

– Late medieval jewelry enhanced the rarity of the stone through a simple setting.

-Jewelry was not just decorative, but served as a good form of portable currency.

– Sumptuary laws came about at moments when wealth distribution was in flux. For example, Venice saw an impressive amount of rare jewel trade. Laws regulating pearl wearing came about in order to maintain an appearance of equality. In 1299, wearing bridal pearls,except on a girdle, was forbidden. In 1582, pearls were forbidden to all except women married for 10 or more years, direct relations of the Doge, foreign ambassadors, and brides. By 1609, the importation of pearls was forbidden. From these laws, it is possible to infer that wearing pearls took priority over receiving a fine.

– Crown Jewels, or the idea of a collection of jewels belonging to a royal line, was begun by French King Francis I in 1530.

-Portrait Jewels, though given in courtship, where seldom truly romantic. Instead they served as political reminders of promises, to the wearer and to all who saw the jewels worn.

– In the case of dowries, jewels and riches represented the moral and physical health of the bride. Portraits of females often flattened the sitter, yet the jewels are depicted brightly and in great detail. The jewels tell the viewer more about the female’s inherent qualities than her physical form.

– Pilgrimage medallions pronounced a wearer’s faith, provided protection, and reminded one of their pilgrimage. The medallions were often worn on the hat and had a simple iconic nature.

The Language of Stones
Author(s): Elizabeth Rodini
Source: Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2, Renaissance Jewelry in the
Alsdorf Collection (2000), pp. 16-28+10
stable URL:

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.