The Ancient World

The earliest-known fine goldwork is from Ur in Mesopotamia. Dating from c.3000 B.C. to 2340 B.C., it was executed with great technical proficiency. Egyptian goldwork dating from the Middle Kingdom, including gold jewelry with inlaid gems, and the objects found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, are examples of the fine work done by Egypt's goldsmiths.

Goldwork of the Aegean civilization shows the many metalworking techniques—openwork, repoussé, embossing, and inlaying—used by artisans of that time. The Vaphio cups are the most outstanding treasures to survive this period, although many fine examples of goldwork (jewelry, death masks, drinking cups, vases, weapons, and dress ornaments) have been found at Troy, Mycenae, and Tiryns. The goldwork of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia (6th–4th cent. B.C.) is noted for its extreme opulence and for the technical skill with which it was executed; examples of these treasures are in the British Museum and the Louvre.

Archaic Greek and Etruscan goldwork dating from c.700 B.C. to 500 B.C. was strongly influenced by Middle Eastern artisans. With its rich and barbaric design, Etruscan goldwork was among the finest in the ancient world. Later Greek work developed exquisite filigree and combined delicate geometric ornament with mythological figures. Roman goldwork followed Greek forms but placed greater emphasis on massive proportion and over-elaborate detail. Greek forms also influenced the goldsmiths of the Byzantine Empire.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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