The Georgian period saw a great interest in archaeology. In 1748, the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum were rediscovered, arousing tremendous enthusiasm amongst the public. The continued archaeological discoveries and enthusiasm of the public was reflected in jewelry that attempted to imitate the jewelry made by ancient civilizations. The jewelry of the ancient Greeks and Romans went in and out of fashion from the time of the Georgians.
Napoleon Bonaparte was also a great fan of the ancient. His campaign in Egypt (1801) was accompanied by about 500 scientists and civilian professionals. They discovered the Rosetta Stone. Napoleon also set up a school for deaf mutes in which they were taught the ancient art of cameo carving. Napoleon’s wife, family and court were encouraged to wear beautiful jewelry in set, much of which incorporated elements directly from, or copied from the ancient world of Greece and Rome.
In Europe and England, amongst the aristocracy, masked balls were tremendously popular. They needed sources of information for their costumes. There was no actual jewelry left from those days – it had all been melted down to support the various wars and campaigns that kept them in power. So, the revelers turned to antique paintings, paintings depicting their Renaissance and Gothic predecessors for inspiration for their parties.
One of the most famous of such sources for jewelry was Hans Holbein the Younger, a German/Swiss artist who spent time painting in England during the 16th century. Not only paintings of sitters wearing rich jewelry, but sketches of jewelry inspired jewelers from 1860-1900. These were not direct copies, being much richer than the originals. This jewelry is known as Holbeinesque – after the artist, although he never actually made any jewelry himself. Holbeinesque jewelry is Renaissance Revival or Neo Gothic. It often consists of a central large gemstone, surrounded by smaller stones in an enameled gold mount. Carbuncles, citrines and opals were often used in this jewelry.
Some people believe that reviving ancient civilizations was a means of encouraging national pride, but it hardly seems likely given the way most of the Revival movements came about.
In Rome, Italy, Fortunato Castellani became intrigued with the jewelry of the ancient Etruscans. In particular he wanted to know how they accomplished their fine filigree and granulation work. He spent years studying the subject and conducted many experiments in an effort to reproduce their jewelry. He tracked down jewelry craftsmen in remote Umbrian villages in an effort to find clues to re-create jewelry of the old Etruscan style.
Castellani and later his apprentice, Carlo Giuliano (both of whom opened shops in England) were largely responsible for the Neo Classic Revival. Their work was not directly copied from the original pieces, but managed to merge the modern with the old. The standard of their workmanship was exceptional and it is for this reason that Revivalist jewelry is sought after.
We can see some of the magnificent Neo Classic jewelry of the era in the paintings of Ingres, such as his portrait of the Princess de Broglie.
Other Revival styles were based on ancient Egypt, Assyria (bulls) and Mesopotamia. Sometimes we call these styles Revivalist and sometimes we refer to them as Neo-Egyptian / Neo-Classic etc.