Bringing together a spectacular collation of jewellery and gems from the ancient world, spanning China, Egypt, Greece, India, Persia, Mesopotamia and Rome, as well as South America and beyond, Instagram account @aureaetmanus is a joy a to peruse. Trolling museum archives, auction catalogues and galleries to find some of the most unique and beautifully crafted pieces of jewellery ever created, the page offers a jubilant eruption of carved citrines, amethysts, carnelians and rubies, mosaicked lapis lazuli and turquoise, alongside intricately placed glossy pearls and copious hand-worked gold, revealing fascinating customs and tastes of the past.
Among the account’s highlights is this Ancient Roman chalcedony intaglio, composed of very fine intergrowths of quartz, engraved with a magical and allegorical scene: a hybrid creature, formed by the body of a raven, thought to be a volatile animal, with a horse head, held by an insect, carrying a caduceus, the staff held by Hermes in Greek mythology. Likely dating back to the 1st century BCE, its composition refers to the Apollo and Mercury cult, alluding to the underworld and magico-apotropaic beliefs.
Elsewhere on the page, hailing from Panama and pictured in the header, is a pendant depicting two side-by-side composite creatures in which the long, toothy snouts with extended, bifurcated tongues of crocodiles are combined with the curled-up noses of bats and flowing crests of iguanas. The accumulation of such specific animal features, though little understood today, may have referred to the wearer’s status and the ability to control natural or supernatural forces. The pairing of figures is found on some of the earliest known Central American gold objects and continued until the time of the conquest. This cast gold pendant incorporates two stones of translucent pink quartz that depict the tails of the beasts and contribute to the visual appeal of the piece through the juxtaposition of different colours and textures.
Another standout is this Nubian ram amulet, likely made for a necklace worn by one of the Kushite kings. Representations show these pharaohs wearing a ram’s-head amulet tied around the neck on a thick cord, the ends of which fall forward over the shoulders. Sometimes a smaller ram’s head is attached to each end. Rams were associated with the god Amun, particularly in Nubia, where he was especially revered.
More recently shared by @aureaetmanus is this striking circular cameo of Saint Nikolaos, wearing bishop’s robes and holding gospels in his left hand, with his right hand raised in benediction. Framed by an identifying Greek inscription, OA[GIOS] NIKOLAOS, the gold mount features a circular bezel, surrounded by pearls threaded on wire and secured by loops adorned with clusters of golden droplets. The gold frame ornamented with pearls and granulation is closely paralleled in similarly framed enamel medallions that were made in imperial workshops in Constantinople and mounted on a variety of objects such as book covers, votive crowns and chalices.
Feature image: Double Crocodile Pendant, 8th–10th century, Coclé (Macaracas). The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979. (via The Metropolitan Museum of Art)