From the Vault
The Gothic griffin and charismatic chimera recall the Romantic movement
of the 19th century
The Romantic movement in 19th century Europe inspired artists to look
to the past for purity of artistic expression. The pious and chivalrous
ideals of the Middle Ages were especially popular during the early 1800s,
leading to the revival of the Gothic style in literature, architecture and
the decorative arts.
Popular social events for the upper classes during the 19th century included
extravagant dress balls based on historical themes. Queen Victoria and Prince
Albert, for example, hosted the Plantagenet ball in 1842 dressed as Medieval
monarchs, setting a precedent for fashionable society to follow.
Jewelry was frequently made to suit whatever period was chosen for these
elaborate affairs. Because there were few, if any, examples of Medieval
jewelry available to imitate, jewelers turned to Gothic architecture for
inspiration, giving Gothic revival style jewelry a decidedly structural
look. Pointed arches, trefoils and gargoyles copied from Gothic cathedrals
provided motifs for jewelry.
One particularly popular gargoyle was the griffin - a mythological beast
that typically had the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion.
Another prevalent Gothic monster was the dragon, usually portrayed in jewelry
in its death throes under the business end of St. George's lance.
As the century progressed, other revival styles came in waves, replacing
each other in fashion. The archeological revival style that imitated ancient
Greek, Roman and Etruscan cultures was paramount from roughly 1860 to 1880,
while the Renaissance revival style was de rigueur from about 1870
until the turn of the century.
Renaissance ornament derives in great part from the ancient cultures
of the Mediterranean. One motif they shared was the chimera - a mythological
creature with the head of a lion belching fire, the body of a goat, the
tail of a serpent.
Griffins, dragons and chimeras became interchangeable stylistic images
of the time and myriad variations appeared in jewelry. In his 1908 book
describing jewelry of the late 19th century, Henri Vever says le broche
chimére, or chimera brooch, was all the rage in France during
the 1880s and 1890s. From there, its popularity spread to Germany, England
and the U.S. Because it was a suitable motif for men's or women's jewelry,
virtually every jeweler of the time had at least one variation of the chimera-griffin-dragon
as part of his inventory. To this day, antique jewelry dealers offer its
rampant form on stickpins or watchfobs for men, and on bracelets, earrings,
pendants or brooches for women.
by Elise B. Misiorowski
Of hand-chased gold with a natural pearl emanating from his mouth like
cool fire, this beguiling variation of a griffin-chimera is poised in midair,
its scaly body coiling, eagle wings spread and leonine head with glittering
emerald eye set in a menacing pose.
Brooch and photo courtesy of Robert Weldon.
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.