News

Beauty and Betrayal: ancient jewellery at the Nicholson Museum


28 June 2010

A stunning collection of ancient jewellery, including pieces close to 4000 years old, is on display at the University of Sydney's Nicholson Museum as part of its latest exhibition, Beauty and Betrayal: Ancient and Neo-Classical Jewellery.

Beauty and Betrayal officially opens on Wednesday 30 June and features 75 intricately detailed pieces, including gold-hooped earrings and a toggle pin from ancient Gaza, dating 1650-1400 BC. It also features a selection of Neo-Classical pieces from the 18th and 19th century that were inspired by the aesthetics of ancient Greek and Roman jewellery. 

According to exhibition curator Dr Elizabeth Bollen, ancient jewellery was not only used for decoration and adornment, but was also seen as a symbol of power and worn as protection or to ensure a safe transition into the afterlife.

(L-R) Gold amulet, Eye of Horus, Egypt, Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC, Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney, NM65.66; Antique cameo necklace and earrings, France, 1830s, Private Collection of Anne Schofield AM; Gold earrings, antelope head terminals, Greece, 3rd century BC, Classics Museum, Australian National University, 86.01. All photographs taken by Phil Rogers.
(L-R) Gold amulet, Eye of Horus, Egypt, Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC, Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney, NM65.66; Antique cameo necklace and earrings, France, 1830s, Private Collection of Anne Schofield AM; Gold earrings, antelope head terminals, Greece, 3rd century BC, Classics Museum, Australian National University, 86.01. All photographs taken by Phil Rogers.

"Jewellery such as necklaces, bangles, amulets, rings and pendants could speak of an individual's status, wealth, taste, education and international connections," says Dr Bollen. "And according to some Greek myths, it could also lead to betrayal."

Gold, silver and bronze have been used for most of the pieces and while some - including heavy earrings requiring large piercings in the lobes of ancients - might speak of the time, Bollen says she was surprised to discover that "the aesthetic hasn't changed that much" throughout the ages.

"Today we can look at the jewellery worn over 2000 years ago and not only recognise its beauty but even think, 'I could wear that'."

Lovers of modern jewellery will find inspiration from many of these ancient pieces, including a stunning and mysterious golden "torc", which was excavated in County Cork in Ireland in 1857. The torc, or necklace in the style of a choker, has twisted entwined golden layers and has subsequently been dated between the 4th and 1st centuries BC. The piece is apparently the only one of its kind to be found in Europe. Other pieces include a set of golden earrings with lion-headed mouldings, a striking carnelian beaded necklace from Egypt (12th Dynasty) with hieroglyphic etchings inscribed and more modern pieces such as a pair of gold pendant earrings signed by the 19th century jeweler Castellani.

The exhibition is made up of selected pieces from the Nicholson Museum collection as well as pieces on loan from the Classics Museum at the Australian National University, the John Elliot Classics Museum at the University of Tasmania, the Museum of Ancient Cultures at Macquarie University, the RD Milns Antiquities Museum at the University of Queensland, the Powerhouse Museum and the private collections of Dr Monica M Jackson, Fran Keeling and Anne Schofield AM.

Beauty and Betrayal: Ancient and Neo-Classical Jewellery will be officially opened on Wednesday 30 June with a lecture by world-renowned ancient jewellery expert, Dr Monica Jackson, titled Gold from Afghanistan: rediscovered treasures from the Bactrian Silk Road. (6pm for 6.30pm. Tickets $30/$20 Friends of the Nicholson. Includes champagne. Bookings essential 9351 2812 or email.)

Well-known Sydney antique jewellery collector and dealer Anne Schofield AM of Anne Schofield Antiques will also give a lecture, in conjunction with Beauty & Betrayal on Thursday 26 August. (6pm for 6.30pm. Tickets $30/$20 Friends of the Nicholson. Includes champagne. Bookings essential 9351 2812 or email.)

Beauty and Betrayal: Ancient and Neo-Classical Jewellery closes at the Nicholson Museum on 29 November, 2010.

For more information, visit the University of Sydney Museums website.


Media enquiries: Katrina O'Brien, 9036 7842, katrina.obrien@sydney.edu.au