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Renaissance Mannerist Silver Gilt Belt

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Mannerism is a term that refers to the later part of the 16th century style of the arts. Later Renaissance art, architecture and decorative arts have certain characteristic features which identify it as mannerist. Mannerist has also comes to mean the final high and developed phases of an artistic movement. This is a marriage belt or girdle in the mannerist style. The material is silver with a fire gold gilt finish that is remarkable in that is it still intact after these many centuries. The patina and wear are one of the first things you notice about this rare work. Patina is one of the most tactile and visual of the delights of earlier jewelry. Nothing renders metal, wood or other surfaces more delicious than the touch of a thousand hands caressing its surfaces over time.

The second is the heft and sheer weight of its construction – all 230 grams (8.1 ounces of silver). It is a substantial and weighty artifact from another time and place. The belt’s origins are most likely in the German region. This was a belt made specifically for someone’s marriage – most likely in a rural region. The form is traditional “peasant” jewelry. This was commissioned once a young woman was betrothed to her intended. The jeweler used finely carved wooden molds to cast these various piece and then hand finished the entire belt. What we have here is the main part of the belt. Additionally there was a separate buckle and also some dangling chains, now lost.

Quite rare, this consists of two types of plaques – one is a mannerist style cartouche of central oval surrounded by beaded gold work in a square area. Surrounding this are a quatrefoil (four) scrolled elements that are highly textured and detailed. The other elements are casts of an ancient coins - these must have been taken from actual Roman coins, including what appears to be a Republican denarii, the denarius of L Cornelius Sulla (82/81BC), a Macedonian teradrachm and a coin with the head of the Emperor Hadrian. Each coin is then encircled by a snaking band the twists and ends in an openwork half circle. Each coin is then encircled by a snaking band the twists and ends in an openwork half circle. Front and back images are present of each coin, each individual in itself. The reverse images are particular poetic with chariots, animals, seated figures and battle images.

There is a hand-made three part hinge and most delightfully, the skilled metal smiths made individual hinge covers which swivel and hide each actual hinge. Every one distinct, each is highly ornate and textured. The entire belt terminates with two hooks. The decoration chosen was leaves, roses and that Renaissance icon, the dolphin head curved to form part of the closure for the belt. Each hook has an open eye.

The reverse tells a story unto itself. The maker having placed his very personal marks upon each element to note which piece later would join with what piece. Unusual marks that resemble letter, or numbers, yet have such an medieval feel to them. Each deeply etched into the silver on each side of the hinges. There is also a hallmark, an SI within a heart shape. This mark so far has been untraceable even with a great deal of research but similar marks are German in origin.

Fascinating to note that while this style dates to the later part of the 16th century, this belt could be up to 100 years later. Marriage belts in the provincial regions did not change style for generations. In addition, molds were very expensive to have carved so molds were utilized for generations of jewelry, who would pass on their molds to the next younger silver and gold smiths.

This ultimate expression of a jeweler’s art is a masterpiece to be studied and yet is sturdy enough to be worn. It is a simple matter to string silken cords or leather thongs through each open eye at each terminal end and tie these artistically together to lengthen and make this practical to wear. Alternately, this is a show piece for any collector – whether worn or displayed.

+ Measurements, Condition & More

Measurements: 25 3/8 of an inch long by just under 1 inch at the widest (64.4 cm by 2.5 cm wide).

Condition: Very good with one hinge cover missing. One plaque upside down as earlier repair to a hinge was not undertaken as carefully as one would hope – although this could be easily fixed we have chosen for the moment to leave its history intact. One modern repair to a hinge’s connection. Again, missing separate buckle and chains. Patina is excellent and gilding extraordinary. Rare. Please email us for further photos and condition if desired.

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