Pair of earrings with bull heads

2nd century BCE
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General Description

Toward the end of the 4th century BCE, new shapes and materials were introduced to Greek jewelry. The most ingenious innovation of the Greek goldsmiths of this period is the animal-head earring: a tapering, penannular hoop made of twisted wire with one terminal and the larger end in the form of an animal's head. In this example, the complete hoop of each earring is formed by a large bull's head worked in the round, a joining decorative collar, and a length of spirally wound wires that tapers toward one end. A grooved loop underneath the head holds the small end of the hoop. The heads show a remarkable amount of engraved detail, rendered, however, in a slightly provincial manner. Each collar consists of a large globular rock crystal bead between serrated, completely granulated gold mounts. The cone-shaped extension of the collar, made from sheet gold, is decorated with lengths of beaded wires that alternate with tongue-shaped filigree ornaments set with clusters of granulation.

It has been assumed that this design derived from Etruscan lion-head earrings, represented by several examples seen in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art (1991.75.27.a-b, 1991.75.28.a-b). However, it is more likely that the animal-head earring type is a genuine Greek creation, inspired by a long-established type of Greek animal-head bracelets like this lion-headed bracelet (1991.75.52), also in our collection.

Almost immediately after their introduction, animal-head earrings became the most popular type of ear ornament in the Greek world. The following two centuries saw a number of variations of the basic scheme, where the animal's head is either a lion, a bull (as seen here), antelope, or eagle. Compared to the early Greek lion-head earrings, the proportions of the head, ornamental cuff, and hoop have changed considerably here. The heads are much bigger, and large rock crystal beads have been incorporated in the ornamental cuffs of these 2nd century BCE pieces.

Adapted from

Barbara Deppert-Lippitz, Ancient Gold Jewelry at the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art in association with the University of Washington Press, 1996), 62-63, 133.