After centuries of sluggish growth known as the middle ages, Europe finally emerged to the Renaissance in the 14th Century. The Renaissance bought with it rapid developments in art - but also in technology, knowledge, science and infrastructure.
The making of jewelry during the Renaissance period began to change from Gothic to that of early modern – it was still influenced by biblical depictions as in the Middle Ages, but also had links to classical and mythological themes from the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome.
Renaissance jewelry was influenced by the new art styles of this period. Although there are few examples remaining, we know from the numerous portraits that have been preserved from that time that Renaissance jewelry was magnificent.
In paintings of this era, many forms of jewelry have been portrayed clearly to give us a wonderful insight as to the splendor of jewelry back then.
It was thought that some painters, sculptors and goldsmiths worked closely together. The making of some prestigious pieces of jewelry may have involved different specialists to undertake different parts of the process.
For example, it wasn’t uncommon for a painter to design a piece of jewelry, a goldsmith to cast and shape the piece and then for another specialist to enamel, engrave or set the jewelry with gemstones.
Items of jewelry gradually evolved from the brooches and shoulder clasps of the Medieval Ages to more modern items like necklaces, chandelier or drop earrings and bejeweled headdresses. The wealthy wore rings set with gems on all five fingers.
Probably the most iconic item of jewelry from the Renaissance period was the pendant, worn on a necklace. Pendants were often enamelled on the front and back so that both sides were seen as equally impressive.
Pendants featuring the initials of their wearer were a popular jewelry item. These were seen as very personal and many are thought to have been destroyed once their wearer died. This photographic reproduction of a portrait of Anne Boleyn below depicts her wearing her famous letter B pendant choker necklace, complete with pearls.
The Tudors loved jewelry. Henry VIII in particular, had hundreds of jewels in his personal collection. Jewelry was seen primarily for adornment purposes but it was also used as a form of wealth too.
The developments in exploration and trade meant that a wider variety of materials other than precious metals were used in making jewelry of this era. A range of gemstones were available, including emeralds, rubies, diamonds, topaz, amazonite, garnet, amethyst and many more. Pearls, especially baroque pearls that had an irregular shape, were very popular and featured in many jewelry designs.
It’s evident that Renaissance jewelry was very much about vivid color and beauty – an important contribution to the development of jewelry in history. Many pieces featured large stones, with other jewels set around them. Towards the beginning of the 17th century, jewelry designs started to incorporate jeweled patterns with the arrangement of gemstones.