This Antique Jewelry Retrospective Proves Fashion Always Makes a Comeback

The 4000 years of personal ornaments have their moment at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

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Feb 26 2017, 12:30pm

Polyp Colony, 1995, John Paul Miller

Spanning over 4,000 years and displaying 80 precious items, a jewelry exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston showcases a brief evolution of ornaments. Drawing from the institution's expansive collection, the sparkly exhibit underscores cycles of change and returning trends of ancient designs. Focusing on the concept of a comeback, the exhibit Past to Present: Revival Jewelry addresses three specific eras of inspiration for jewelry-makers in the 19th and 20th century: Egyptian, Renaissance, and Classical. 

The collection takes a full-fledged look at how adornments changed from King Tut's time in the 14th century—B.C.—to contemporary craftsmanship by major jewelry houses like Cartier and Bulgari. The official release for the show details how travel in the 19th century lead to more excavations abroad and the discovery of more unearthed fine metals and stones.

Renaissance revival neck ornament, 1900-04, G. Paulding Farnham

Girl Blowing Bubbles Pendant, about 1910, Fuset y Grau

Necklace with cameo of Elizabeth I, about 1890, Mrs. Phillip Newman

Necklace, brooch, and earrings in the archaeological revival style, about 1880, Castellani

Bocca Baciata (Lips That Have Been Kissed), 1859, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Brooch, about 1958, Castellani

Necklace with Coins of Hercules, 1980, Bulgari

Necklace, about 1875, Eugéne Fontenay

Winged Scarab, 740-660 B.C.

Necklace and brooch (group shot), about 1860, Castellani

Scarab brooch, 1924, Cartier Collection

A mix of materials and patterns dominate throughout, while concentrations on revivals give us fashion déjà vu. Some of the pieces take up residence in the pop culture canon, as one snake piece showed up on the wrist of Elizabeth Taylor on-set, though not in her movie role, of Cleopatra. The jewel-encrusted Bulgari watch was one of many pieces from the designer worn by Taylor throughout her celebrity career.

Egyptian revival necklace, 1913, Louis Comfort Tiffany

Bracelet with lions' head finials, about 2400 B.C.

Chimera Bracelet, 1929, Cartier Collection

Head of Medusa pendant, 1906, Cartier Collection

"Slave-in-Chains" medallion, 1786-87, Wedgwood Manufactory

Coral revivalist jewelry suite in four parts, 1850s

Necklace and brooches, about 1840

Explore more of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts collection of over 20,000 objects and 6,000 years of history on their website here. The exhibit, Past to Present: Revival Jewelry, shows until August 19, 2018.

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