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Work Serpentine bracelet

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Bracelet serpentiforme

© 2001 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

Discovered near Corinth, this bronze bracelet testifies to the flowering of Greek jewelry during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. The ends of the piece are fashioned in the shape of a serpent, whose sinuous body, decorated with engraved scales, extends the fine, spiraling band forming the central part of the bracelet. Snakes, traditionally associated with the underworld, were a favorite motif in ancient Greek jewelry, possibly due to the widespread belief in their magic powers.

A spiral bracelet

This bronze bracelet, made in the 4th or 3rd century BC and discovered near Corinth in the northern Peloponnese, was purchased by the Louvre in the late 19th century. Formed from a smooth, flat band twisted into a spiral, its extremities, in the shape of the head and tail of a snake, were made separately, then gilded and soldered onto the central part of the bracelet. The reptile's scales are finely engraved along its body, with great naturalism and attention to detail. A bust from Cyrene, displayed with the Louvre's collection of Greek marbles, represents a young deceased woman wearing a similar bracelet on her left wrist. Snakes were commonly associated with the underworld, and its presence is a clue to the figure's purpose as a funerary object. Spiral bracelets of this type were made in the Greek world from the earliest times. Homer refers to the bracelets of Aphrodite as "helikes" (helixes or spirals), from a Greek term referring to any jewelry of this type, whether or not it represents a snake.

The snake motif

The snake, traditionally associated with the underworld, is a common motif in ancient Greek jewelry, possibly due to the widespread belief in its magic powers. Numerous bracelets and rings of the period take the form of a snake (see the ring BJ 1139 in the same display cabinet, for example), and were doubtless worn as good luck charms. The motif was especially popular during the Hellenistic period, and again in Roman times. Excavations at the House of the Faun in Pompeii have uncovered two similar bracelets in gold, now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, in Naples.

Hellenistic jewelry

The bracelet dates from the flowering of Greek jewelry-making, when gold from the mines of Macedonia was in abundant supply. The conquests of Alexander the Great, at the beginning of the Hellenistic period, brought about the dispersion of the fabulous treasures amassed by the Persians and the Hellenization of a great part of the Eastern world. Contact with the Middle East and Egypt gave rise to new tastes, in particular for polychrome pieces. Gold, bronze, and silver objects were now decorated with precious stones, pâte de verre, and enamel. New motifs, such as the snake, were also adopted by gold- and silversmiths.

Technical description

  • Bracelet serpentiforme

    Provenance : environs de Corinthe

  • Bronze et or

    H. : 8,70 cm. ; D. : 6,70 cm.

  • Bj 1015

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 663
    Vitrine C5 : Bijoux

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