DMA Insight

The Ancient Mediterranean Gold Jewelry Collection

The following excerpt was written in 2003 by Dr. Anne Bromberg, The Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Ancient and Asian Art,__ for the publication Dallas Museum of Art, 100 years.

In 1991, the Dallas Museum of Art was fortunate to acquire a major private collection of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman gold jewelry, which is now one of the highlights of the classical collection. The jewelry was assembled by Dr. Athos Moretti, a European businessman and collector, who also donated antiquities to museums in Italy and Berlin. He wanted his complete jewelry collection to go to a public institution, and because the Museum had recently exhibited jewelry from the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece, and I had written the handbook for the exhibition, we were approached as a possible buyer.

Coincidentally, the Museum League's Beaux Arts Ball of the previous year had raised a considerable sum of money to purchase a Greek antiquity. This was due to Virginia Lucas Nick, a longstanding Dallas arts supporter of Greek descent. Dallas Museum of Art Director Rick Brettell asked me to look for something suitable to buy with the Museum League funds. A dealer in New York suggested the Moretti gold collection, even though the purchase price was far more than the Museum League funds. Other supporters, including longtime Museum patrons Margaret McDermott and Ida and Cecil Green, made up the purchase price to honor Mrs. Nick. The jewelry actually arrived at the Museum in a suitcase, casually brought by the dealer on an airplane. A real haul!

Andrew Oliver, a classical jewelry expert, reviewed the value of the collection. After the purchase, Dr. Barbara Deppert-Lippitz of Frankfurt, Germany, an expert familiar with the collection for some time, wrote the catalog. Museum Conservator John Dennis and I also contributed essays to the publication, which was underwritten by The Wendover Fund. Having a printed catalog enabled the Museum to circulate the collection as a traveling exhibition for several years. It was shown in Birmingham, Alabama; Montreal; Minneapolis; Santa Barbara; and Norfolk, Virginnia.

In 2000, the gold jewelry returned to Dallas, where it was eventually reinstalled as part of a new, larger installation of classical art. Its glowing warmth and mythological images call up the wealth and splendor of ancient Greece and Rome. Dionysos, Athena, Aprhrodite, Eros, majestic lions and sexy female swimmers, and the goats, bulls, lynxes, dolphins, and grape wreaths of a nature-worshiping people all evoke a vanished civilization.

The craftsmanship of these intricately wrought earrings, necklaces, bracelets, pins, wreaths, and ornamental pendants is essentially irreproducible today. The techniques of granulation, filigree, inlaying gemstones, and repoussé required many hours of patient craftwork, especially sine the tools for heating and working the gold were quite simple. Almost none of the jewelry is cast; it is worked sheet gold. While the jewelry colleciton appeals to Dallas as a luxury-loving city, it also reflects the difference between then and now. Soon after the Museum acquired the collection, D Magazine did an article on the jewelry. The model who was to wear some of the pieces could not get any of it on her wrists or fingers; modern, well-fed people are very different from the thin, graceful, short Greeks and Romans of long ago. Julius Caesar was probably only a little more than five feet tall!

Excerpt from

Anne Bromberg, "The Ancient Mediterranean Gold Jewelry Collection," in Dallas Museum of Art, 100 Years , ed. Dorothy M. Kosinski (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), Pamphlet number 67.

Web Resources

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