Metropolitan Museum of Art opens Turkmen Jewelry from the Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection exhibition

Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opens Turkmen Jewelry from the Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection, an exhibition on view October 9, 2012–February 24, 2013.

Teapot shaped ornament. Late 19th-early 20th century. Silver, fire-gilded with stamped beading, silver shot, applied decoration, decorative wire, cabochon carnelians, and turquoise beads, 4-1/2 x 5–1/8 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf, 2005© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Using a limited set of materials—silver accented by gold, carnelian, turquoise, and colored glass—and relatively simple metalworking techniques, skilled Turkmen silversmiths from Central Asia have attained dazzling effects for centuries. A selection of 43 outstanding examples of 19th- and 20th-century Turkmen jewelry and decorative objects—including crowns, earrings, and pectoral ornaments that are part of the traditional attire of Turkmen women—will be shown in the exhibition.

The installation celebrates the collectors’ recent gift and promised gift of more than 250 of these works to the Museum. The display—which focuses primarily on Turkmen silver from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and northeastern Iran—will also feature two carpets from the Museum’s permanent collection that were woven in the same region.

The exhibition is organized according to the principal techniques employed by Turkmen silversmiths. One grouping shows fire gilding, a technique in which gold filings—possibly obtained from coins—were combined with mercury in a paste that was brushed onto prepared silver; heat drove off the mercury, and the remaining gold was burnished to a brilliant sheen. Other items feature stamped beading that was produced by stamping metal from behind to obtain the appearance of individual beads or granulation on the front. A third section focuses on the inlay of carnelian and turquoise using bezels. The fourth major technique—openwork decoration—involved the use of a chisel or fine fret saw to cut through silver sheets. Many of the items on view, in various techniques, include small bells suspended from chains, which would have added an auditory component to the jewelry.

Some motifs in Turkmen jewelry are similar to those found in textiles from the area. For example, repeat patterns of squares, rectangles, or lozenges can be found both in silverwork and in carpets. The repertoire of motifs varies according to the tribe of the maker and owner, and the exhibition will highlight distinctive designs from Teke, Yomut, and Kazakh jewelry-makers.

The exhibition of tribal jewelry complements the numerous courtly and urban works of art that are on view in the adjacent areas within the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.

A publication, Turkmen Jewelry: Silver Ornaments from the Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection by Layla S. Diba, accompanies the exhibition. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and distributed by Yale University Press, the book is available in the Museum’s book shops ($60, hardcover).

The exhibition is featured on the Museum’s website