Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art
On View: Old Kingdom to 18th Dynasty, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
Middle Kingdom Jewelry
Gracious taste, arresting design, and technical mastery of materials characterize Middle Kingdom jewelry.
Jewelers elevated their craft to a level of artistic accomplishment unrivaled in Egyptian history. They refrained from excess, choosing simple, clean forms and understated color patterns. For instance, unlike flamboyant examples from the later New Kingdom, Middle Kingdom necklaces were usually monochromatic and almost never included beads of more than three colors. The most expensive jewelry featured beads made of gold; because it never tarnishes, gold was called the “flesh of the gods” and conveyed immortality.
Jewelers of the Middle Kingdom also relied on certain attractive semiprecious stones that had appeared only sporadically in the Old Kingdom. Red carnelian represented blood’s life-giving properties, and green turquoise symbolized vegetation and fertility and thus resurrection. Purple amethyst and pale blue anhydrite, however, seem to have had no magical powers and were admired solely for their visual appeal.
Rock crystal, amethyst, and an unidentified stone
ca. 1938-1759 B.C.E.
Gift of the Egypt Exploration Society
Necklace of blue and gray stone beads with every third bead a crystal or an amethyst. Circular pellet of carnelian in center of necklace.
Necklace, ca. 1938-1759 B.C.E. Rock crystal, amethyst, and an unidentified stone, 17 1/4 in. (43.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Egypt Exploration Society
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