Happy New Year!
I let my blog lie fallow for a bit and now I’m ready to tell you why. Many of you are familiar with the fact that I proposed a reproduction study with The Met. We would photograph an Etruscan pair of earrings and attempt to reproduce them using only historically accurate methods and tools. I hoped to gain a more intimate knowledge of ancient jewelrymaking; the kind you can only gain through hands on study with an authenticated ancient piece for our reference.
The problem was, the more I examined closeups of the photographs I took of the Etruscan discs:
The more convinced I was that these discs were reproductions and not actually Etruscan. There were a few factors that indicated modernity to me but the most obvious one was the wirework. The Etruscan period was from 800-300 BC, well before drawplates were used (around 700 AD). Wire was made by coiling thin strips of wire (I’ll show how this was done in later posts) and twisting and rolling them to form short lengths of wire. Wire made this way always shows some spiraling on its surface. Here is an example of a close up of gold wire I made with this method.
The spirals might vary due to width of strip used, method of rolling, left or right handedness but they would exist in some form. Here are some examples of the spirals in wire work from other pieces I photographed from The Met:
Once you know what you are looking for, they aren’t that hard to see.
Here is a closeup of the “Etruscan” discs we were working on:
You can’t see a trace of spiraling anywhere and these photos are quite a bit more magnified than the others where the spiraling is easy to spot.
I didn’t want to publish my suspicions until we had Electron microscope photos taken by the lab at the Met and the gold analyzed. I’m new at examining actual “live” pieces; all of my learning has been through books and other’s research. This is precisely why I felt my knowledge had limitations, I wanted to feel confident in drawing my own conclusions.
When the results came in, I felt they proved beyond reasonable doubt that these discs are not Etruscan. The micrographs showed no trace of spirals and the analysis of the gold was improbably pure, only gold, silver, and copper with no trace elements. That kind of purity can only be from modern refining methods. Etruscan gold would have not have been so pure, as small amounts of platinum and other metals would have been impossible to refine out with the level of heat Etruscans had access to (A forge with bellows).
It’s impossible to know if they were created deliberately as forgeries (as their provenance is unknown beyond they were purchased by the museum from a private individual) or if they were eventually confused with the real thing. A great number of copies sprang up during the Archaeological revival of the 18th and 19th centuries inspired by excavations/discoveries of Roman, Egyptian, Hellenistic and Etruscan sites. These discs resemble greatly some known fakes at The British Museum and the U of Penn. It’s likely they were all made around the same time, possibly by the same workshop.
Although they turned out to be fakes, these discs are still incredible works of handmade art and it was an absolute pleasure examining and photographing them. I learned a lot, and I have a lot I can share, which was my goal from the beginning.
I was nervous about revealing my findings to the The Met but they were very gracious and thanked me for my work. They informed me that after my results went through the proper channels, the discs would be changed from being listed as Etruscan to modern.
I requested access to another piece and it was granted. Here are the Etruscan discs I was granted permission to study:
We begin again……