Etruscan Jewelry Happy Dance

A jewelry technique that has fascinated me since high school is something called granulation. The ancient Etruscans were the masters of granulation and it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the lost process of granulation was fully rediscovered. I was thrilled to see a piece in the Naples Archeology Museum a few weeks ago.

So naturally one place I have been looking forward to visiting here in Rome is the National Etruscan Museum. I’ve seen less than a handful of ancient granulation pieces in person until now and I was hoping to get my fill here in Rome. It’s only a short distance from Temple Rome and with Spring Break upon us, it was time to finally check this off my list.

We hopped on the tram a couple blocks away and rode to the door.
The 19 Tram home

The museum is located in Villa Guilia, which used to be a papal residence. There is a lovely inner courtyard and covered walkway decorated with frescoes. Gwen enjoyed looking at them and taking reference photos.
Villa Guilia

The Etruscans worked in a lot of pottery. The majority of the museum is full of pottery and bronze metalwork: Pitchers, bowls, amphorae, equestrian themed funeral goods. Many pieces are very reminiscent of the ancient Greek pottery in patterning and colors. Most of what is known about the Etruscans was deduced from their elaborate tombs complete with Terra cotta sarcophagi adorned with sculptures of the people they contained.

But there is one Room on the third floor that was full of jewelry. This is where I spent most of my visit. Incredible pieces of filigree and granulation work found me having to remind myself to shut my mouth that kept gaping open in amazement. I went slowly through the entire room gazing on every piece thinking that I really needed a catalog of this exhibit.
Jewelry at the Etruscan Museum

Granulation is an incredibly tedious process of chemically soldering tiny, high karat gold grains in elaborate patterns on jewelry. The work was exquisite. And not just exquisite, but mind bogglingly detailed, especially considering its age. The Etruscans starting using granulation around the 8th century BC.

The collection at the Etruscan museum also includes micro-mosaic jewelry from the Byzantine time frame. This jewelry, made with tiny pieces of glass in many colors looks like a detailed miniature painting until viewed from a few inches away.
Jewelry at the Etruscan Museum
It wasn’t possible to take a huge amount of decent pictures as I would have liked. Instead I asked about a book or catalog at the bookstore. No luck, but the guards were happy to tell me the name of the publisher who has a book on the whole collection that I could order online. It’s on its way.

If you are interested in knowing more about the fascinating process of granulation, here’s an article from Antique Jewelry University.

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