Among the things that connect the past to the present, jewelry may be the shiniest (and least subtle) of them all. Animals, not excluding humans, have always been attracted to beautiful, glitzy things, and we have centuries of accessories to prove that. In fact, jewelry has existed even earlier than cave paintings ever did, a fun fact Max Hollein, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has shared during a press release for a new exhibit. You know where we’re going with this—the Met will be hosting yet another must-see selection this month, this time exploring humanity’s fascination with jewelry, baubles and trinkets and everything in between, with its new exhibit “Jewelry: The Body Transformed” on the 12th.
The tradition of adorning our bodies with things we find fascinating is one that remains unbroken through the time periods that have gone, and is also among the most universal and unifying of human practices. How we’ve come about to make something beautiful out of the unpolished is an interesting topic to explore, and even more so with the Met’s collection that spans both time and geography. The exhibit is an array of necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings but also headdresses and brooches, sculptures and paintings depicting humans wearing jewelry, and early photographs of icons decorated from head to toe.
The exhibit will have five sections in total, all of which will exemplify the transformative power of jewelry on the body, divided into their specific uses throughout history. There’s Divine Body, which presents the ornaments that have accompanied ancient humans in their journey to immortality—that means that some of the jewels have been buried with its deceased owners in the belief that they will pave the way to life beyond death. Transcendent Body shares some elements in that it also deals with how the gems have conveyed peoples’ belief in the spiritual and the metaphysical, thinking that the jewelry will aid in delivering the message to the gods as well as communicate with late relatives and ancestors. Meanwhile, Alluring Body will be all about the erotic and the power of desire; the pearl in particular will be highlighted for its relationship with beauty and sensuality, a departure from the usual (read: European) impression of being refined and proper. Regal Body and Resplendent Body both show how jewels were used to designate status, even that of royalty, as well as elevate one’s standing.
In the different galleries, you can expect to find pieces from different parts of the world, ranging from the ancient civilizations of South America to the love of adornment of Victorian London and going as far as pre-war Japan. Contemporary collections can also be spotted on here, including the infamous Simon Costin piece as well as the bejeweled bodysuit created especially for Alexander McQueen.
The exhibit came about after six women from the museum—Melanie Holcomb, Beth Carver Wees, Kim Benzel, Joanne Pillsbury, Soyoung Lee and Diana Craig Patch—decided to present the importance of jewelry in history, the ornaments often thought of as unnecessary and or extravagant. Holcomb, who serves as the Jewelry: The Body Transformed’s lead curator said that, “Our hope is to offer a richly layered experience, to look at jewelry up close, from on high, and through a broader view.”
Image credits: G. Scott Segler, Metropolitan Museum of Art