Recent Acquisition | Pair of Earrings with Bull’s Heads

Pair of earrings with bull's heads, 3rd century B.C.

Greek, Hellenistic, Pair of earrings with bull's heads, 3rd century B.C. Gold. Museum purchase, Classical Purchase Fund, in honor of Susan Love Lehre, Department Manager, Department of Art and Archaeology, 1998-2018 (2018-105 ab)

The Museum looks for opportunities to improve its collection of ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan jewelry, recently adding a pair of Hellenistic gold earrings from the third century BC. The hoops of twisted wire terminate in bull’s heads crafted from hammered gold. The hoops taper to points that loop below the chins of the animals. The facial details are finely modeled, including whorls of hair on the foreheads. The eyes were once inlaid with garnets or glass. Below each head is a spherical bead framed with filigree, while the juncture with the hoop is masked by a sleeve of triangles fringed with minute gold granulation. As with most ancient Greek jewelry, the purity of the gold is as close to 24 karat as could be managed.

Before the Hellenistic Period (ca. 325-30 BC), Greek gold jewelry is quite rare. The conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great (d. 323 BC), however, brought immeasurable wealth into Greece, and thereafter it became more common for families to bury their loved ones with a modicum of gold jewelry. These earrings undoubtedly accompanied the body of a Greek woman to her grave, accounting for their preservation as a pair. Earrings of this general type were introduced at the end of the fourth century and became ubiquitous in the third century; they are found wherever Greeks of that era lived, traveled, or traded, from Spain to Afghanistan. Bull’s heads were a common design element, as were the heads of lynxes, antelopes, and women.