Following on from her first book Coveted: Art and Innovation in High Jewelry, Melanie Grant examines the evolution of jewellery as art with a new five-part series created during lockdown with some of jewellery’s modern masters.
It Began With an Etruscan Bowl
When I was thirteen years old I had an epiphanic moment. I was at the V&A museum in London with my mother at the end of an eleven-day trip through places like Lichtenstein and Luxembourg and I was exhausted. We were at the jewel vault having passed through this iron turnstile and we were looking at all this stuff. Then near the back, on the left there was this small golden bowl and it pinned me. It was stunning.
Back home in Cleveland Ohio I used to glue model cars together and sailing ships or play football with my friends but suddenly I was standing here, staring at this bowl with little balls all over it and I knew at that moment I had to make something like that in my lifetime. Thinking back it was an overwhelming revelation and of course it roosted in my mind for 20 years.
I did some research. The bowl was found in Palestrina, a small city near Rome and was made around 700 BC. It was small, about four inches wide and three inches high and I studied its history while I was teaching at Georgetown University in the 1970’s. I would go to Dumbarton Oaks (now part of Harvard) as they had this incredible library and collection of pre-Columbian, also Roman, Greek and Byzantine gold. The roosting had taken over.
I found out it was most likely hammered from a sheet of gold which was probably not refined but alluvial gold. It was raised very much the way a silversmith raises a tea or coffee pot into somewhat of a melon shape and had these patterns of gold granules, rectangular labyrinth configurations and interlocking loops. It was an extraordinary creation, effortless in fact with an ethereal lightness of spirit. Just as the Roman philosopher Pliny said as if little girls with little fingers were laughing between themselves before lunch and applying the granules. It had insouciance.
After reading all the books and after traveling all over the world and thinking about granulation endlessly, I wanted to delete everything I had learned and become a little girl in Etruria. It was the only way I could ever attempt to be as good as they were. In fact, I didn’t even come close. Their lightness of spirit was in the work and I still had my classical Western education to deal with which I couldn’t get rid of entirely, but anyway this is part of my background and of my thinking.