Style Snapshot: Egyptian Jewelry Revisited
For centuries, ancient Egypt has been inspiring archeologists, architects, clothing and jewelry designers with its vividly colored plaster images on tomb walls, monolithic landmarks such as the pyramids, the Sphinx and amazing hoards of treasure revealed during archeological digs.
What is the lure of this ancient culture? It could be their prolific use of technology that, even with our modern progress, we still struggle to recreate. The civilization they carved out of the desert beside the Nile River is both beautiful and mystifying. Specifically, the legacy of ancient Egyptian jewelry, which tells the story of the meanings and values placed on their life. Through the use of iconic symbols, modernistic details and a broad array of extravagant materials collected from their known world, we continue to learn about their culture.
While there has always been an allure for all things Egyptian, the Egyptian Revival style originally emerged during the 1920s, resulting from the tomb discovery of a boy-king named Tutankhamun. During that time, artists of all types, including Ertè and Gustav Klimt, plunged into the Egyptian-influence, bringing forth an Art Deco style of beautiful designs centered around hieroglyphs, scarabs, cartouches, pyramids and lotus or papyrus stalks. The trend revived during the 1970s world tour of artifacts from his tomb and again in 2018 as golden objects travel around the planet.
Once again, jewelry designers are using the inspirations and intrigue of ancient Egypt to revisit the style. Jewelry is made with a modern twist in colorful designs such as bib and pectoral style necklaces, cuff bracelets and symbolic charms or pendants--all suggestive of the ancient culture. References to indigenous creatures of the region are often found in jewelry: scorpions, asps, Nile crocodile, hippos, cats and more. Many of these creatures were often associated with various Egyptian deities, too.
The key to translating the influence of ancient Egypt into modern jewelry is to incorporate elements such as relevant symbols, significant gemstones or prominent colors that were common to ancient Egyptians into your designs.
Scarabs are the most common of Egyptian symbols. Known as a protector of secrets, the scarab or dung beetle was believed to push the sun up into the sky every morning, giving birth to dawn. Scarabs had twofold symbolism, depending on whether the wings were shown folded or outstretched. Folded wings represent life not yet in existence and the wings outstretched is of personal transformation. In modern applications, the scarab beetle was the inspiration for Swarovski's scarabaeus green effect, making it perfect for incorporating with other Egyptian-inspired motifs.
Known as a powerful symbol of life and referred to as the Key of the Nile, the looping hieroglyphic cross known as the ankh has been used widely as an affirmation charm. The ankh can represent more than just life on Earth, also referencing eternal life after death, immortality and reincarnation. Ankhs were sometimes carried for protection or used in religious worship.
An important religious Egyptian symbol was the lotus, also referred to as the water lily. The lotus has a bloom that closes at night and sinks back beneath the water. In the morning, it re-emerges and re-blooms. This flower grew to be a natural symbol of the sun, dawn and creation.
Pyramids built by the ancient Egyptians were used as tombs for pharaohs and queens. The construction of these huge, grandiose structures still baffles modern society. Pyramids were symbols of power and religious dedication.
A hieroglyph represents a word, syllable or sound in ancient writing systems such as Egyptian. Each hieroglyph is comprised of three glyphs, or symbols. The term "hieroglyph" means "sacred carving" and was coined by the ancient Greeks to describe Egyptian characters. The Egyptian word for hieroglyphs translated to "language of the gods." Egyptian glyphs are either phonograms (glyphs that represent sounds) or ideograms (glyphs that represent objects or ideas). Hieroglyphics were used to write prayers, magic texts, guides of the afterworld to help the dead, royal documents, historical events, document calculations and decorate jewelry or luxury items. The hieroglyphs were carved into wood, stone or semiprecious gems and cast in gold, silver or other metal. A cartouche was an oval design that created a hieroglyphic nameplate by surrounding the hieroglyphs used for a king's name.
Egyptian Goddess Isis
While there were many Egyptian deities, Isis is one of the most important goddesses and became a well-known image. Isis was also known as Aset or Eset and married to the King of Egypt, Osiris. Isis was depicted as a beautiful woman in a sheath dress, though could be occasionally represented as a scorpion, bird, sow or as a woman with outstretched wings. Isis was typically shown with the throne hieroglyph near her or as a headdress, which helps differentiate her from other winged goddesses. Isis was viewed as a goddess of protection for those both alive and dead and was revered for her magical prowess.
Another important Egyptian goddess who is commonly recognized was Ma'at, or Maat. Sometimes her name is spelled "Mayet," which means "that which is straight." Ma'at represented balance, truth, justice and divine order. It was believed she set the world in order after its chaotic creation. Ma'at is typically depicted as a woman wearing a crown with an ostrich feather. She could also be seen with an ostrich feather headdress or as a woman with an ostrich feather as her head. She is also occasionally depicted as a winged goddess while holding a specter in one hand and an ankh in the other.
Eye of Horus, Eye of Ra and Wedjat Eye
Wedjat eyes are either left or right. The left eye is associated with Horus and the right eye is associated with Ra. The eye of Horus is a symbol of protection, royal power and health. The eye has 6 parts, which represent the six senses and is the doorway through which we receive information.
The jackal-headed deity of embalming and death was Anubis. Masks of Anubis were often worn by priests during mummification ceremonies. While Anubis was incredibly ancient and important, he was not given temples. Instead, Anubis was associated with tombs and cemeteries. Anubis was guardian of the scales, who would weigh the hearts of man against the feather of truth (Ma'at) to determine the fate of individual souls. Anubis was a protector, patron of lost souls and orphans, and was associated with rebirth.
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