Elephant-head necklace

2nd century BCE
more object details

General Description

The typological counterpart to ancient Greek animal-head earrings [1991.75.83.a-b, 1991.75.62.a-b, 1991.75.63.a-b] are necklaces terminating in finials shaped as animals' heads. Among several examples dating to the 2nd century BCE in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art, the most fascinating is this necklace with elephants' heads. The chains of this necklace, and of a lynx-head necklace [1991.75.78], are composed of globular beads made from gold and colored precious or semiprecious stones. These multicolored chains illustrate a fundamental change in Greek jewelry during the 2nd century BCE: colored effects were no longer applied only to enhance naturalistic decorative motifs and details such as the petals of a flower or the eye of an animal; they were now used in their own right. The bright colors of precious stones were set off against the warm shades of the gold. Although naturalistic motifs continued to be used, they were no longer the preeminent factor in Greek jewelry. The abstract combination of different materials and colors became more and more important.

This necklace is composed of twenty-seven globular beads and two gold finials in the shape of elephants' heads. A hook and eye are attached to each head. The beads are made from sheet gold and from semiprecious and precious stones. There are four garnet, three rock crystal, and six emerald beads. Each bead is held by a pair of rosette-shaped settings made from sheet gold and threaded onto a double-wire loop. The chain and the finials are linked by the remains of a decorative collar; a rosette-shaped cup and a plain cuff with a beaded wire once held between them a now-missing large bead in the shape of a truncated cone. The elephants' heads are made with great care. The varying texture of the skin is carefully indicated with the help of different punches. The trunks are formed of a thick wire with a notched molding. Small leaf-shaped settings are part of a wreath on the top of each elephant's head. Their original inlays are missing. The elephants' ears are also decorated with a now-empty setting.

Such necklaces were probably worn with the finials on the wearer’s chest to display these fine sculptural attachments. The remnants of wreaths that once crowned the elephants’ heads suggest that the animals were associated with the cult of the god Dionysos, scenes of whose ceremonial procession from India to the Mediterranean often included animals like panthers and elephants. The realism of the elephant heads is also typical of Hellenistic style.

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), 65; 137.
  • Anne Bromberg, "Elephant-head necklace," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 30.
  • DMA unpublished material.