Walters unearths 5,000 years of bling

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Entertainment,Jessica Novak
Men who wear earrings: Your 17th-century French predecessors’ dangling choices are on display at the Walters Art Museum beside exquisite jewels such as a 1904 Tiffany & Co. necklace.

With 265 glittering diamonds, the lavish piece would make the starkest dresser ache for bling. The necklace is one of more than 200 stunning examples of how rings, bracelets, broaches and lesser-known styles of jewelry such as stomachers evolved from 3,000 B.C. through early 20th century.

“As we worked on this exhibit [“Bedazzled,”] it grew on me how important and personal jewelry is to people,” said Sabine Albersmeier, the Walters’ associate curator of ancient art. “Many times a piece of jewelry was more than adornment. Jewels were thought to be magical. In Egypt, they were sewn to mummies to protect the deceased ... In a painting of the baby Jesus, you can see he’s wearing a coral necklace that was thought to have a healing quality and protect one from illnesses.”


Paintings such as the Jesus portrait and other objects in the show that demonstrate how the jewelry was worn take “Bedazzled” to the next level, said Gary Vikan, the museum’s executive director. “That sense of context is a source of pride for the Walters.”

Among the many highlights in the exhibit are two gem-laden, boxy gold bracelets worn by 1st-Century Greeks, geishas’ sensuous silver hair pins and a weighty gold-mesh evening bag carried by the wife of Baltimore native and Hecht’s department store founder Alexander Hecht.

The exhibit also showcases a Chinese empresses’ headdress decorated with countless pearls and rubies on delicate wires that allowed the gems to vibrate when she walked.

Among the many treasures, it’s hard to detect the pinnacle piece until you reach Tiffany & Co.’s Iris Corsage made of 139 sapphires, and numerous diamonds and citrines. The brooch claimed the grand prize at the 1900 Worlds Fair.

Viewers may be especially taken with two focus rooms, one of which explores forgeries, primarily the fakes created in the 19th century to meet demand for jewelry from earlier periods.

The second focus room, a section dedicated to rings -- the only type of jewelry that’s never gone out of fashion -- reminds us rings were at one time given at funerals and diamond’s weren’t always a girl’s best friend.

Magnifying glasses will be available at the exhibit to see jewelry’s details and understand the meticulous techniques used to create the minuscule wonders.

IF YOU GO
Bedazzled: 5,000 Years of Jewelry
Where: The Walters Art Museum
600 N. Charles St.
Baltimore
Admission: Adults $8; $6 for seniors; $4 for college students and adults age 18 to 25; Walters members and 17 and under free. Admission includes make-your-own book bracelet.
When: Oct. 19 through Jan. 4
Info: 410-547-9000, www.thewalters.org

jnovak@baltimoreexaminer.com
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