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SYDNEY.- The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences is displaying rarely seen treasures from its rich decorative arts collection in a striking new exhibition A fine possession: Jewellery and identity, at the Powerhouse Museum from 24 September 2014 – 20 September 2015.

Spanning millennia of jewellery history across continents and cultures, A fine possession is the Museum’s most ambitious jewellery exhibition ever staged. With over 700 pieces spanning time, place and culture, it tells the stories of jewellery designed, made and worn in Australia and across the globe.

This exhibition is a fascinating window into our past, exploring some of the earliest days of creative expression, and highlights the importance of our collecting institutions in preserving the material heritage and stories of New South Wales and Australian culture, history and lifestyle,” said Minister for the Arts, Troy Grant.

Among the precious pieces worn by high- profile Australians that feature in the exhibition are a star- studded ring from fashion designer Catherine Martin, a sparkling neckpiece worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, and a stunning diamond brooch worn by Cate Blanchett to the Oscars. This exhibition reveals the intimate details behind these dazzling objects and many more, asking us why the appeal of jewellery remains timeless and universal.

Other highlight objects range from ancient Egyptian amulets and heart scarabs through unique pieces of Victorian mourning jewellery; an ornate Napoleon Bonaparte ring carved in onyx by Italy’s Antonio Santorelli around 1800; the beautiful and bizarre Lady Granville parure made from exotic iridescent beetles; and contemporary conceptual works including a rainbow-coloured bracelet by acclaimed Glasgow designer Peter Chang and a ‘Tiara’ made of aluminium sardine tins by Venice Biennale 2015 artist Fiona Hall.

A fine possession showcases jewels of desire made from a variety of traditional and avant-garde materials, while addressing the key theme of ‘our place in time’ through a remarkable selection of jewellery collected in Australia. The exhibition also aims to celebrate some of the diversity of Asian, African and Oceanic adornment, as well as the innovation and creativity of contemporary studio jewellers.

This stunning exhibition brings together objects from the Museum’s own rich collection that have rarely or never been seen, alongside prized possessions from a range of private and public collections from Australia and overseas,” said Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Director, Rose Hiscock.

These include pieces borrowed from the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Galleries of NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), and the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA); as well as community galleries, private collectors such as Anne Schofield Antiques in Woollahra, jewellers, critics and academics.

A fine possession Curator Eva Czernis-Ryl says the exhibition will appeal to anyone with “an interest in creative jewellery from different periods and cultures, and in objects of intimate beauty that enchant, surprise and stimulate the imagination”.

The exhibition and key contents are broken up into the following themes:

Belief & Magic: Jewellery design has long been influenced by belief and magic. From amulets and talismans, to images and motifs inscribed on objects, prized possessions have been used to ward off evil spirits, safeguard against ill health and misfortune. The personal nature of jewellery has ensured it has forever been used to mark rites of passage, and recognised for its ability to possess protective, religious and magical powers.

Wedjat eye Amulet made of faience pottery, Egypt, 817-725 BC.

Wedjat eye Amulet made of faience pottery, Egypt, 817-725 BC. Photograph: Marinco Kodjanovski./Powerhouse Museum

Love & Death: Jewellery has long been made and worn as a marker of love and death. This section juxtaposes how and why people have commissioned, exchanged and worn jewellery relating to the vastly different emotions of love and grief. Highlight objects range from sentimental jewellery exchanged by lovers through to memento mori jewellery featuring skulls and skeletons as a reminder of mortality, as well as mourning jewellery made from jet and human hair worn to mourn loved ones.

Gold ring set with an eye miniature within a border of seed pearls, plaited hair and half pearls from around 1810.

Gold ring set with an eye miniature within a border of seed pearls, plaited hair and half pearls from around 1810. Photograph: Anne Schofield Collection/Richard Gates Photography

Nature & Culture: The wonder and beauty of the natural world has inspired jewellery in every culture. From spiritual exploration to scientific interest, our desire to understand and imitate nature has been central to different jewellery styles from floral jewellery of the European rococo style to Victorian flowers and insects beautifully trapped in gold, or objects crafted from native fauna including shells and coral, birds’ beaks and feet, feathers and beetles. Highlights include Chinese hairpins made from kingfisher feathers, Pacific jewellery made from brilliantly coloured beetles and Aboriginal necklaces made from kelp shell.

The Lady Granville Beetle Parure

The Lady Granville Beetle Parure in its original box, consisting of tiara, necklace and earrings made from beetles and gold, Phillips, London, 1884-85. Photograph: Hawkins Family Collection

Antique diamond and sapphire bee brooch, 18ct gold setting, English, c.1880. Photograph: Anne Schofield Collection/Richard Gates Photography

Style & Revival: The arts of ancient classical cultures have been a recurring source of inspiration for European jewellers since the 1500s. In the mid-eighteenth century jewellers returned to Ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration and from around the 1860s, once again ancient models returned to the spotlight. This time around, jewellers aimed at historical accuracy often copying archaeological finds. Led by the legendary firms of Castellani of Rome and Giuliano in London, jewellery in the ‘archaeological style’ was made alongside that reviving renaissance patterns and techniques particularly enamelling.

 Egyptian style necklace and earrings: lapis lazuli, gold Luigi Freschi, Rome, Italy, about 1860.

Egyptian style necklace and earrings made of lapis lazuli and gold by Luigi Freschi in Rome, about 1860. Photograph: Anne Schofield Collection

Catherine Martin ring

An 18th century English ring of rose-cut diamonds, blue enamel, silver, gold from the private collection of Moulin Rouge costumer designer Catherine Martin. Photograph: Powerhouse Museum

Napoleon Bonaparte’ ring: Onyx cameo, gold, carved by Giovanni Antonio Santarelli, Florence, Italy, about 1800. Private collection of Anne Schofield AM

Gold & Identity: The discovery of gold in Australia in the 1850s led to a massive influx of people, including many immigrants who were also skilled jewellers. Their beautiful craftsmanship and the abundance of materials helped to forge Australian identity and a uniquely Australian jewellery style. In addition to unique goldfields jewellery, expect to see every element of Australian flora and fauna captured in massive gold brooches and bracelets and precious collector items from the Federation period.

Lola Montez brooch : Gold, garnets, Melbourne, 1855. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2014

Goldfields brooch with foliate design, 1855 – 1865. Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, gift of Una and Winifred Lane, 1954; Purchased 1984

Status & Wealth: Traditionally people have worn jewellery as an expression of their wealth and status, but its meaning and value is shaped by society, and the materials it is made from are accorded different values by different cultures. While gold, diamonds and pearls are highly valued in the West, jade is favoured in Asia, metals and beads in Africa and whale ivory in the Pacific. Experience the vivid diversity of prized possessions from around the world through the ages.

'Wasekaseka' necklace made of sperm whale teeth and plant fibre in Fiji, mid-19th century.

‘Wasekaseka’ necklace made of sperm whale teeth and plant fibre in Fiji, mid-19th century. Photograph: Marinco Kodjanovski/Powerhouse Museum

Men & Adornment: Historically, most cultures recognised the power of jewellery to assert the place of important men in society. From chieftains in the Pacific and Africa, through noblemen and royalty in the grand courts of Europe, to Indian princes and mandarins in China, rich adornment has signified prowess, status, wealth and office. Highlights include coveted fobs, buckles and rings worn by European gentlemen, ceremonial ornaments worn by central Asian Warriors and Pacific chieftains and even an African Dinka corset.

Shoe buckles (from court suit): Sterling silver, paste (glass), steel, England, about 1770–1830. Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, purchased 1959

Modernity & Change: The twentieth century brought far-reaching changes to the way people lived, worked and thought and vast changes to what people wore, from fashion through to jewellery. Featured objects from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and private collections show the trajectory of objects through the ages, including the feminine decadence of the Art Nouveau, the modernism of Art Deco in the aftermath of the war, and into the psychedelic experiments of the 1960s and 1970s.

Faberge cigarette box, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

Cigarette case in a presentation box of gold, diamonds and enamel, designed and made by August Hollming for Fabergé in St Petersburg, Russia, 1896-1908. Photograph: Powerhouse Museum

Tiara of horn and moonstone made by FJ Partridge for Liberty & Co

Tiara of horn and moonstone made by FJ Partridge for Liberty & Co, England, c.1900. Photograph: Geoff Friend/Powerhouse Museum

Contemporary & Expressive: The last four decades have seen an explosion of creativity in jewellery studios. Jewellers created jewellery as an artistic expression rather than for trade. This segment of the exhibition showcases Australian and European contemporary jewellery marked by individuality and the desire to engage. Sources of inspiration include nature, modernism, global issues, personal and cultural identity and the potential of old and new materials and technologies; the fantasy section includes jewellery inspired by film and fictional stories.

Priceless neckpiece, Australia 2003

Designer Christel van der Laan’s ‘priceless neckpiece, Kallaroo, Western Australia, 2003. What seems to be made of crystal is actually made up of polypropylene shop price tags. Photograph: Powerhouse Museum Collection / Yasuko Myer Bequest

Acrylic, polyester, polyurethane foam and silver bracelet, designed and made by Peter Chang

Acrylic, polyester, polyurethane foam and silver bracelet, designed and made by Peter Chang, Glasgow, Scotland, 2004. Photograph: Powerhouse Museum

Satine by Stefano Canturi necklace

‘Satine’ by Stefano Canturi, created for Nicole Kidman’s role in Moulin Rouge and inspired by the Louis XVI style. The original featured 1308 diamonds of 134 carats, making it the most valuable piece of jewellery ever created for a film. This silver and crystal replica was its stunt double. Photograph: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney