Pair of ear spirals with ram's heads

second half of 5th century BCE Magna Graecia
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General Description

One of the most popular types of Archaic Greek ear ornaments, known from pictorial representations as well as from actual finds, is exemplified here by these ear spirals. Each piece consists of a hollow tube, broadened at the center and bent to form a spiral that terminates at both ends in a ram's head. Attached to the outer center is a thin gold sheet cut in the shape of a lozenge, which is flanked by lotus flowers and palmettes. The single elements are outlined in filigree, and granules are added in places. The rams' heads are made in repoussé from two halves; the seam is still visible. The curly fur of the ram is indicated on the forehead by punch marks, and under the neck by a crisscross pattern. The spiral and the finials are held together with the help of a rivet. Broad decorative cuffs with an undulating pattern and S-volutes in filigree, arranged in two registers, cover the joins.

Spirals in general have a long history in Greek jewelry, with the first examples dating to the 9th century BCE. Their use as ear ornaments has been disputed, but representations on coins prove that even bulbous spirals like these were thrust through a hole in the earlobe. This example illustrates the development in Greek jewelry from comparatively simple shapes and discreet supplementary decoration (1991.75.40), to more elaborate forms and ornate designs.

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), 61-62, 131.