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HOME : Jewelry and Seals : Masterpieces : Gandhara Gold and Agate Bead Necklace
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Gandhara Gold and Agate Bead Necklace - AM.0125
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 1 st Century BC to 3 rd Century AD

Collection: Ancient Jewellery
Medium: Gold and Agate

Location: Great Britain
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This beautiful gold and agate bead necklace was made and worn around two thousand years ago in the ancient kingdom of Majajanapada, better known as Gandhara. Situated on the border between what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan, the kingdom contained several notable cities that flourished between the 6th century BC and the 11th century AD. It saw enormous changes with the flow and ebb of contemporary superpowers. It also became a centre of learning (notably with the invention of the Kharosti alphabet) and of religious pilgrimage, as this is where the holy scriptures of Buddha were kept. Under the rule of Cyrus the Great, spreading from Greece across huge swathes of Central Asia. After his unifying rule, Gandhara became part of the Achaemenian (Persian) empire, leading to a series of power struggles that ended with the crushing of native armies by Alexander the Great in 327 BC. This was followed by the attack by Demetrius of Bactria, and while the area was Graeco-Bactrian for some time, it eventually gained independence under King Menander in the mid 2nd century BC. The final effects of Greek colonialism were eroded by about 50 BC under a fierce campaign headed by the Parthians. While catastrophic to social order at the time, the cultural diversity of the region was greatly enhanced by the appearance of the Greeks, especially in terms of artistic production. Even after the Greeks had gone, their bequest remained in the aesthetic sense that makes Gandharan art unique. The golden period of Gandharan art falls in about 100-200 AD with the arrival of the Kushans, a Central Asian group under whose governorship the arts and sciences flourished as never before. The cocktail of different cultures saw a completely unique set of architectural and artistic traditions. Their greatest monarch, Kanishka, encouraged the arts, and under his reign totally new conventions were to develop including the earliest depictions of the Buddha in human form. The cultural syncretism between eastern themes and western styles has become known as Graeco-Buddhism, and is one of the most remarkable – and successful – examples of cultural fusion in history. Everything from architecture to sculpture, coinage and even jewellery developed in new and extraordinary ways, as in the current case. Myths and figures from Greek mythology – such as Atlas, or Dionysus – are also found in some friezes and paintings. The Buddhas resemble Greek kings in ersatz togas, sitting in houses influenced by the Corinthian model. It should be noted that the Gandharan sophistication was subsequently lost in some respects, as figurative art became less and less realistic, and more symbolic/decorative as time passed. Bodhisattvas and other religious figures are often depicted with startling realism, bare-chested Indian princes adorned with jewellery such as this.

And it is certainly fit for a king. In terms of personal adornment, items such as this would have been excessively rare, even at the time they were made. There are nine large gold foil beads, surrounded by 36 smaller agate beads. The main beads are carefully worked in what approaches filigree detail, with hundreds of tiny cone-shaped appliqué fragments minutely attached to the unadorned body using gold soldering. The effect is a perfect, spiky sphere made up of components so tiny it requires a magnifying glass to see them clearly. The nature of the construction can be seen in cross section at the piercings used for the cord. The number of hours represented by these pieces is staggering, as is the fact that they have survived around 2000 years virtually unaffected. The Barakat gallery possesses a number of Gandharan heads and sculptures that are wearing pieces that closely resemble these. The beads that space them are agate, designed like tiny circular mosaics to highlight the flamboyant yet delicate beauty of their gold counterparts. Items such as this are extremely rare, as they are usually so badly damaged as to be unrecognisable. Similar specimens have been recovered in Greece, Georgia and Iran, but rarely in such good condition. It is exceedingly unlikely that a necklace of this quality, and in this condition, will ever find its way on to the market again. This truly is a wearable, regal, unique masterwork. - (AM.0125)


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