Inspiration for Gothic & Renaissance Revival Style Jewels


Many antique and estate jewelry dealers have pieces that fall into either the Gothic or Renaissance revival styles, yet don’t fully comprehend the characteristics that make these pieces unique. By understanding these jewels’ historical significance, stylistic elements and manufacturing techniques, dealers can spark customers’ interest and enhance sales appeal


Europe and the U.S. were inspired by the Romantic movement, a cultural trend lasting almost 100 years from the late 1700s with a profound effect on philosophy, art, literature and the decorative arts.

Romanticism encouraged freedom of thought and expression, strong imagination, and an idealization of nature and past cultures. Emperor Napoleon I, for example, linked himself with the glory of the Roman Empire. He equated his stature to that of Caesar and adopted ancient Roman dress and decorative ornament for his court. Here was the Romantic movement at work.

After Napoleon’s downfall and exile, an interest in Medieval culture replaced this neo-classicism or “Empire Style.” The Romantic ideals of chivalry – seen in Sir Walter Scott’s Gothic Waverly novels and Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame – reinforced this growing interest. Architects “rediscovered” the beauties of Gothic architecture. They adopted the style for their new buildings, notable among them London’s Houses of Parliament in London, rebuilt after a destructive fire.

During the 1840s, the French spirit of Medievalism was strengthened even more by the Viollet le Duc’s renovation of Medieval churches and cathedrals. The newly-opened Musée de Cluny was dedicated solely to Medieval artifacts.

Throughout the 19th century, one of the favorite amusements of the upper classes was the staging of elaborate costume balls, usually with historic themes. In the early 1800s, these elegant and expensive affairs often were set in Medieval times. The Plantagenet Ball of 1842, organized by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, was in the Gothic mode. Together, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert hosted the ball dressed as Queen Philippa and King Edward II, England’s royalty from the 14th century.

Gothic motifs and materials. Jewelry began to show the influence of this Gothic fascination in the early 1800s, and neo-Gothic style jewelry reached its peak between 1830 and 1855. Because there were almost no jewels from the Middle Ages to use as models, jewelry designers in England, France and Germany turned to Gothic architecture and decorative arts as sources of inspiration. As a result, Gothic revival style jewelry has a very structural look, frequently incorporating ogives (pointed arches), and trefoil or quatrefoil motifs.

The overall subject matter is spiritual, often with devout figures grouped under ogives or canopied niches, similar to what might be seen carved in stone on the outside of a Gothic cathedral. Other themes include mythical beasts such as griffins and gargoyles, acanthus leaves and vines, crosses of many types, fleurs-de-lis, shields and crowns, single gothic letters or Latin inspirational phrases in Gothic lettering.

The jewels themselves were fabricated in gold or oxidized silver (silver treated to darken it; not just naturally tarnished), or sometimes both, often with enamel accents. Gemstones, mostly pearls and colored stones, were used sparingly. Colored stones were cabochon cut rather than faceted, in keeping with the Medieval period. In the rare instances when diamonds were set in Gothic revival style jewels, designers used small rose-cut or table-cut stones.

The ferronière. Of all jewelry worn during the early 19th century, the ferronière was most evocative of the neo-Gothic style. This ornament, usually a center gem surrounded by smaller gemstones, was suspended in the center of the forehead on a chain that fastened under the woman’s hair, which was worn piled high on her head. Occasionally the ornament was a strand of pearls or gemstone beads.

The inspiration for this style was a Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Louvre. “La Belle Ferronière,” as it is called, is believed to be a portrayal of a blacksmith’s beautiful wife who captivated Francis I in the 15th century. The lady in the painting wears a single jewel on a black cord suspended on her forehead.

Although fashionable as early as 1830, ferronières were at their peak of popularity from 1836 until about 1845. Even the young Queen Victoria was known to have several. When hairstyles changed, the ferronière was no longer considered a suitable ornament and the vogue for wearing them died out. Many were converted into bracelets or necklaces, but their origins sometimes can be seen on pieces where the attachments are at the ten and two o’clock positions, rather than the nine and three o’clock positions, on the central motif.

Neo-Gothic style jewelers. The inspiration for neo-Gothic jewelry had its roots in Germany. Perhaps the earliest examples appeared in what are known as Berlin iron jewelry. It was made in Germany and became popular during the War of Independence against Napoleon in 1813 and 1814. These delicately wrought, cast iron jewels were given to German women in exchange for the gold jewelry they donated to support the war effort and phrases such as “gold gab ich fur eisen” (“I gave gold for iron”) were inscribed on them to show patriotic solidarity. Some of these early wrought iron jewels have a distinctly Medieval look.

In 1830 Carl Wagner, a German jeweler, moved to Paris and began making jewelry and metal work in the Medieval mode. His work had a seminal effect on several jewelers in Paris at that time, among them Frederic-Jules Rudolphi who became Wagner’s pupil and worked in his workshop until Wagner’s death in 1841. Rudolphi’s work in oxidized silver combined Gothic and Renaissance period motifs; pieces made in France between 1839 and 1855 often combine the two stylistically, occasionally working in some 18th century Rococo motifs as well.

Wagner also is believed to have influenced François-Desirée Froment-Meurice, one of the most important French jewelers in the neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance styles, who began making this type of jewelry in the late 1830s. Another Berlin-trained jeweler who moved to Paris in the early 19th century was Jules Wièse. He began working with Froment-Meurice in 1839 and was made his shop manager in 1844. Several pieces of their collaboration were shown under Froment-Meurice’s name at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.

The Great Exhibition of 1851. The Great Exhibition held in London in 1851 was the first ever to invite international participation. By initiating the event, Prince Albert’s intent was to stimulate and promote trade and technology in the decorative arts and sciences worldwide. The exhibition did exactly that and more; it was an event of unprecedented magnitude that had a huge impact on the western world. Exhibitors from England, France, Germany, Italy and other countries displayed every conceivable type of merchandise, and an international audience flocked to see it. The success of the venture was so great it became the prototype for myriad international exhibitions subsequently held in Europe and the U.S., even to the present day.

Several displays of jewelry and metalwork in the Gothic revival style were among the goods shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, including jewelry designed by A.W.N. Pugin and François-Desirée Froment-Meurice.

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, the architect who had designed the Houses of Parliament in the Gothic manner, was enamored with the Middle Ages. At the Great Exhibition, he displayed a suite of neo-Gothic style jewels designed as a wedding gift for his third wife. They were manufactured in London by John Hardman in 1848 and displayed in a hall of Pugin’s own design called the Medieval Court.

The jewelry was made of enameled gold set with half pearls and cabochon cut gems, designed to imitate what Pugin imagined actual jewels of the Middle Ages would have been like. The sumptuous suite included a bandeau (a head ornament that is fastened across the brow) embellished with a Gothic cross and the phrase Christi crux est mea lux (Christ’s cross is my light) in enameled Gothic lettering, two necklaces with cross pendants, a bracelet, two brooches, a pair of earrings and two rings. Three pieces from this parure have survived and are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum: the bandeau, a necklace with a Gothic cross pendant, and a quatrefoil motif brooch, all made of enameled gold set with half pearls, cabochon garnets and turquoises.

French designer Froment-Meurice had several showcases at the Great Exhibition devoted to jewelry and metalwork in the Gothic revival style. Unlike Pugin, who replicated what he imagined Gothic style jewels might have looked like, Froment-Meurice invented the idea of creating little vignettes of grouped figures as the central motif for a bracelet, brooch or necklace. Angels playing musical instruments, a crusader knight taking leave of his lady, or the Virgin and Child were grouped under pointed arches or canopies. These were made primarily of gold and oxidized silver with enamel accents, occasionally enhanced by the addition of a few pearls or gemstones. The soft patina of the oxidized silver figures closely imitates Gothic stone sculpture, further underscoring the connection between Froment-Meurice’s jewelry design and architecture.

An international jury at the Great Exhibition awarded Froment-Meurice the prestigious Council Medal for his work, and Queen Victoria herself purchased several pieces, a tremendous compliment to his artistic aesthetic.

The end of the trend. The Gothic revival style was a strong fashion trend between 1820 and 1850, but it never became fully integrated into mainstream jewelry. In England, a number of important jewelry firms such as Garrards and Phillips made a few pieces that hinted at the Gothic style. But this apparently was a way of catering to fashion and wasn’t really a large part of their inventory.

Froment-Meurice perhaps was the most innovative jeweler in the neo-Gothic manner and his death in 1855 coincides with the style’s decline. A few motifs, such as the quatrefoil and some of the foliate tracery, persisted in jewelry during the 1850s and 1860s, but their Medieval origins were muted and they ceased to be directly connected to the Gothic revival style. In general, the fashion for Medievalism faded after the Great Exhibition and was replaced in popularity by the Archeological revival style that emulated ancient Greek, Roman and

Etruscan jewelry. The Archeological style reigned supreme during the 1860s, maintaining its following until the end of the century.


A period rediscovered. It wasn’t until the 1870s that the Renaissance was “rediscovered” and jewelry inspired by that period became fashionable. Unlike the more conservative and pious neo-Gothic style jewelry, the neo-Renaissance jewels of the 1870s were richly opulent in a way that appealed to jewelry designers and consumers alike, starting a new trend that continued into the early 1900s.

The upper classes of the late 19th century could identify strongly with society of the 16th century. The tremendous growth in art, sciences, literature and technology – as well as the commercial development and political intrigue of the Renaissance world – closely paralleled their own. Fashionable hostesses in the late 1800s used Renaissance themes when planning their costume balls, and the jewelry worn with their costumes often was made specifically for these extravagant evenings.

A new ease of travel aided the movement, giving access to Renaissance shrines. Improved roads, the invention of the steamship, and development of an international railway system led to the birth and flourishing of tourism. The Mediterranean – particularly Italy – became the favorite destination. Chilly northern Europeans came to bask in Italy’s temperate climate and to soak up layers of culture. The newly revealed archeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum offered ancient culture, while Venice and Rome offered the villas and palazzos of the Renaissance princes. Painting and sculpture from these historical times were everywhere, an inspiration to artists and artisans of the time.

Renaissance revival style jewelers had many direct sources of inspiration for their designs. They could refer to surviving jewels from the Renaissance, to jewelry pattern books by artists of the 15th and 16th centuries, or to court portraits showing the powerful figures of the period wearing their jewelry. It’s important to note that Renaissance artists were trained in all the arts, including jewelry design and manufacturing, so we can conclude that the jewels rendered in Renaissance paintings are realistically portrayed. Paintings by artists such as Raphael, Holbein and von Cranach provided perfect jewelry renderings for 19th century jewelers to imitate.

Motifs and materials. Motifs for jewelry in the Renaissance revival or neo-Renaissance style fall into several categories. Some, such as the cross, the quatrefoil and the griffin, were inherited from the Gothic style. Many others were taken from classical mythology, sometimes modeled as allegories of abundance, harmony, fame or love, triumphant in enameled and gem-encrusted gold.

Pieces often were centered around cameos or intaglios, preferably of ancient origin or dated from the Renaissance. But, if antiques were unobtainable or unaffordable, cameos or intaglios could be carved to suit the specific piece. Scenes from classical mythology or portrait cameos of important personalities from antiquity or the Renaissance were the predominant themes.

Other motifs derived from the colorful and intriguing 16th-century Mannerist style of ornamentation. Mannerism is characterized by unique hybrids of human and animal forms called grotesques, human or animal torsos that terminate in columns or pedestals called terms, and winged creatures that usually combined a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a snake’s tail, called chimeras. Little naked cherubs, called putti, and fantastic masks that combine human, animal and plant forms also are typical Mannerist motifs used for surface enrichment.

Enamel work is a common feature of neo-Renaissance jewelry. A variety of enameling techniques was used including basse-taille, champlevé, cloisonné and email en ronde bosse.

Basse-taille is translucent enamel over a decorative, hand-engraved base plate; champlevé is enamel in hollowed-out cells on the base plate; cloisonné is enamel of different colors confined to little cells made of gold or silver wire that have been soldered to the base plate, and en ronde bosse is enamel applied to completely cover a figure in the round. Some pieces incorporate more than one of these exacting enameling techniques in an outstanding display of technical virtuosity.

Painted enamels also were employed; colored enamel was painted onto a previously fired white enamel base, then refired. Sometimes this technique was used for portrait miniatures, but more commonly it was applied as delicate fleur-de-lis, scrolls, lines or dots. The dots usually were painted in rows like peas in a pod, sometimes diminishing in size along the row to enhance this similarity.

Along with pearls, neo-Renaissance style jewelers made good use of diamonds in a variety of cuts. They also used faceted and cabochon-cut colored stones of many kinds to give their pieces rich color and a more contemporary appearance for the 19th-century taste. Favored gems included pale green or yellow transparent chrysoberyls (known as chrysolites), emeralds, sapphires and rubies, along with amethyst and citrine quartz; pyrope, demantoid and hessonite garnets; peridots, zircons, turquoises, and tourmalines.

The jewelers in London. The Devonshire parure made by Hancock’s for the Countess Granville to wear at the 1856 coronation of Tsar Alexander II of Russia probably was the earliest manifestation of jewelry in the neo-Renaissance style.

Queen Victoria had appointed the Countess’s husband, Earl Granville, as British Ambassador to attend the month-long celebration in Moscow, and the Countess needed suitably impressive jewels to wear. Lord Granville’s uncle, the sixth Duke of Devonshire, provided 88 engraved gems from his historic collection to form the basis for this magnificent parure of seven pieces: bandeau, comb, diadem, coronet, necklace, bracelet and stomacher.

Some of these gems date back to 100 B.C. while others, including several portrait cameos of Tudor and Stuart royalty, are from the Renaissance. They are set in polychrome enameled gold that incorporates floral tracery and quatrefoil motifs derived from the Tudor period of England’s Renaissance. Charles Frederick Hancock added 320 diamonds, also from the Duke’s inventory, to lighten the effect that he felt might otherwise have been too heavy and somber.

Archaeological revival style jewelry emerged as the dominant fashion during the 1860s. Nevertheless, jewelers continued to develop a more refined neo-Renaissance style that came into its own in the 1870s.

“Holbeinesque” jewelry was one of the early manifestations of the 1870s Renaissance revival style. Like the Devonshire parure, this type of jewelry also derived from Tudor court portraits, many by Hans Holbein, hence the name “Holbeinesque.” These jewels, usually in the form of pendants, brooches or earrings, are centered around a large cabochon garnet, or oval gem-set motif, mounted in gold and enameled with the ubiquitous quatrefoil motif. From this, a drop-shaped pearl or diamond-set lozenge is suspended. The back of each piece often is elaborately hand engraved in scroll and foliate designs. “Holbeinesque” pieces were made by many British jewelers including Hancock’s, John Brogden and Robert Phillips and were popular mainly in London.

The Giulianos. The name most closely associated with neo-Renaissance style jewelry, however, is Carlo Giuliano, an Italian jeweler who moved to London in the early 1860s. It’s believed that he was trained in the jewelry arts by the celebrated Castellanis, known internationally for their jewelry in the Archeological revival style.

Giuliano started out making jewelry in the Archeological style and his early pieces were marketed by the retail companies of Hancock’s, Robert Phillips and Harry Emanuel. By 1874, however, he was able to open his own retail shop and it was then that he earned his reputation as a jeweler in the neo-Renaissance style. Carlo Guiliano’s interpretation of the Renaissance was distinctive. His work didn’t replicate Renaissance jewelry, but translated it to appeal to the taste of the wealthy patrons he was cultivating.

He became known for his lozenge-shaped pendants of pierced gold, in foliate and scroll motifs, exquisitely enameled in the painted “peapod” manner described above. These pendants were discreetly set with gems that harmonized with the overall design rather than dominating it and typically were finished off with a drop pearl. As well as diamonds and pearls, which appear in virtually every piece, Guiliano favored rubies, emeralds, sapphires, moonstones and brown, orange or green zircons. Often the colored stones were cabochon cut.

After Carlo Giuliano’s death in 1895 the shop was maintained by his sons, Carlo and Arthur. They continued to make jewelry in the neo-Renaissance style until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

French neo-Renaissance jewelers. Although many jewelers in France designed jewelry in the Renaissance revival style, none focused on this style exclusively. The most notable were the artist jewelers Lucien Falize, Alphonse Fouquet, Louis Wièse, and the larger jewelry houses of Boucheron, Chaumet and Vever. The last decades of the 19th century were eclectic times demanding a varied inventory to satisfy diverse tastes.

Like his father before him, Lucien Falize was well known for his enameling virtuosity and was one of the few jewelers to use cloisonné enameling in his neo-Renaissance jewelry. He was commended for his Gothic script motto bracelet in cloisonné enamel shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1889, and went on to produce a variety of bracelets and brooches of this type in the 1890s.

Chimera brooches (broches-chimères) were immensely popular in the 1890s, according to Henri Vever in his book on jewelry of the 19th century. It’s difficult to say who first used this motif, but Fouquet’s archives show that examples of this type of brooch were designed by Alphonse Fouquet in the 1870s. His design of a chimera wrestling with a snake was exhibited as the model for a necklace at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.

The image of a chimera locked in mortal combat with some other beast, or in some other exotic stance, became one of the most popular motifs in jewelry of the late 19th century. The chimera was universally appealing and was used by jewelers all over Europe and the U.S. as the central figure in brooches, bracelets and necklaces for women, or in stickpins, watch fobs and cufflinks for men.

Jules Wièse, known for the neo-Gothic and Renaissance style jewelry he made in collaboration with Froment-Meurice earlier in the century, moved with the tide of fashion, making Archeological style jewelry during the 1860s and 1870s. His son, Louis, took over the workshop in 1880 and, after Jules’s death in 1890, began producing revival style jewelry based on his father’s designs for the Archeological, neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance styles.

Jewelry by Louis Wièse is characterized by the use of high karat gold finely modeled in high relief, then chased and engraved. A few of his pieces incorporate pearls and gemstones, but in general gem use is kept to a minimum.

The larger jewelry houses of Boucheron, Chaumet and Vever also sold jewelry in the neo-Renaissance mode, but it was a small part of their overall inventory and usually was commissioned and manufactured by outside artists. Of the three jewelry houses, Boucheron was probably the least conservative. It stayed on the cutting edge of fashion by offering unusual and innovative pieces in a wide range of materials including blackened steel and neo-Renaissance jewelry styles. Frédéric Boucheron, the company’s head, commissioned Renaissance style jewels and objets d’art regularly from outside independents.

Some of Boucheron’s most successful pieces in this genre were bangle bracelets made of pierced and engraved gold, in Renaissance motifs on an enameled background. The plaques were engraved by Tissot, a freelance engraver who worked for jewelers and gunsmiths. The bracelet then was assembled by Alfred Menu, an independent manufacturer renowned for the quality of his work.

And in conclusion. International exhibitions held almost yearly after 1851 played a large part in spreading throughout Europe interest and fashion for jewelry in the neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance styles.

Jewelers in the United States were less affected by the trend because it wasn’t part of their cultural heritage. The motifs from these styles they incorporated in their work often seem to have lost their roots. Their chimera and acanthus leaf motifs, for example, are considered “late Victorian” or turn-of-the-century ornamental images rather than neo-Renaissance in origin.

As the 1800s came to a close, the fashion for revival styles began to wane and by 1910 historicism was considered completely outmoded. The onslaught of World War I had a devastating affect on society, killing what was left of the Romantic movement and bringing a more pragmatic society in its wake. This modern generation wanted new and fresh expressions in jewelry and the decorative arts. Revival style jewelry was relegated to the shadows for the next fifty years, unfashionable for any but the most devoted collectors.

Today, individuals choose jewelry to suit their own senses of style and, in many ways, our current culture is as eclectic as that of the late 1800s. Antique and period jewelry is in great demand and jewelers find clients often are as interested in the background of a piece as they are in the quality of its workmanship and its intrinsic value. Understanding this need, and being able to answer it, is a challenge that the competitive antique and estate dealer will continue to meet.


The Art of the Jeweller; A Catalogue of the Hull Grundy Gift to the British Museum, (1984), edited by Hugh Tait, British Museum Publications, Ltd., London.

The Belle Epoque of French Jewellery 1850-1910, (1990), edited by Michael Koch et al., Thomas Heneage & Co., Ltd., London.

Bennett, David & Mascetti, Daniela. (1994), Understanding Jewellery, Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England.

Bury, Shirley. (1991), Jewellery 1789-1910; The International Era, Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England.

Clifford, Anne. (1971), Cut Steel and Berlin Iron Jewellery, A.S. Barnes and Co., South Brunswick and New York.

Flower, Margaret. (1951), Victorian Jewellery, Cassell & Co. Ltd., London.

Gere, Charlotte. (1972), Victorian Jewelry Design, Henry Regnery Co., Chicago.

Gere, Charlotte. (1975), European & American Jewellery 1830-1914, Heinemann, London.

The Glitter & The Gold; Fashioning America’s Jewelry, (1997), edited by Ulysses Grant Dietz, The Newark Museum, Newark.

Hackenbroch, Yvonne. (1979), Renaissance Jewellery, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London.

Hinks, Peter. (1975), Nineteenth Century Jewellery, Faber and Faber, London.

The Master Jewelers, (1990), edited by A. Kenneth Snowman, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.

Munn, Geoffrey C. (1984), Castellani and Giuliano; Revivalist Jewellers of the Nineteenth Century, Trefoil Books, London.

Princely Magnificence; Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630. (1980), DeBrett’s Peerage Ltd., London.

Scarisbrick, Diana. (1990), Ancestral Jewels, The Vendome Press, New York.