Cartier's chimera bracelet will be on view at the MFA in Boston.


The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will be digging into 4,000 years of jewelry history with an exhibition that will open Feb. 14.

“Past Is Present: Revival Jewelry” will feature 80 glittery pieces by Castellani, Tiffany & Co., Bulgari and Cartier, spanning from antiquity to today, and is meant to demonstrate that the revivalist narrative did not end in the early 20th century. The Cartier-supported exhibition relied mostly on the museum’s collection a well as 17 loans from private collections.

Revival jewelry started to be fashionable in the 19th century as such factors as archaeological digs and newly established museums, including the MFA, and international expositions showcased discoveries from antiquity. Like many different types of artists, jewelers were among the many who tapped into these visual resources for inspiration and incorporated some of their features into their work. Despite the fact that jewelry from the 19th and early 20th centuries explored many different revival styles, the MFA exhibition focuses on four — archaeological (inspired by newly excavated art and artifacts), Renaissance, Egyptian and Classical.

As a nod to the maker culture that is prevalent in so many cities — Detroit, Brooklyn and Reykjavik among them — the museum will have its own spotlight on craftsmanship in the exhibition. Contemporary pieces that focus on how the revival jewelry tradition continues today by showing hands-on workmanship that examines themes that first surfaced hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of years ago.

Emily Stoehrer, the Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan curator of jewelry, said, “Today, as technology continues to advance and life’s pace continues to accelerate the traditions of the past, from ancient Egypt to the Renaissance, continue to provoke and inspire.

A few items from the Cartier Collection are among the strongest of the exhibition, which runs through Aug. 19, 2018. After British archaeologist Howard Carter and his team discovered the steps that lead to King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in 1922, Louis Cartier bolstered his collection of ancient artifacts (as did other jewelers at that time). And they were incorporated into his work. Case in point is the 1924 Scarab Brooch, which can be converted into a belt buckle, that will be paired with a Winged Scarab (740–660 BC) from the MFA’s collection. The gold, platinum and diamonds brooch has ancient faience (glazed ceramic) fragments; and the holes, which were used to secure the Egyptian ornament to linen mummy wrappings have been hidden. Another standout item is the 1928 Bracelet that was designed for composer Cole Porter’s wife Linda. That piece has a replica of an ancient Eye of Horus — a protective amulet thought to have healing properties. The Head of Medusa Pendant (1906) and Chimera Bracelet (1929) set with diamonds borrowed inspiration from ancient mythology.

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