07 January 2014

SCA Pyxis Medallion: Material Culture 23: A&S50 Challenge

Research and Design of an SCA Medallion
Sayyeda al-Kaslaania
Boar’s Head 2013
Revised September 2018
Figure 1 Completed Pyxis Medallion

I am honored to have been recognized by King Tom and Queen Sigrid as a member of the Order of the Pyxis. As a member, I am invited to wear the symbol of the order: (Fieldless) A cross clechy Or within and conjoined to an annulet argent.

Recognized for research and recreation in the Middle Eastern arts and culture, I wanted to wear a symbol that honored the order while also coordinating with the specific Middle Eastern culture I research, Fatimid Egypt in 1066.

Figure 2 Fatimid pendant, 10th – 11th c, 2.9 cm. Aga Khan Museum, assn AKM00594
I started with a silver cross-shaped pin. It was created by designer Lois Hill, who specializes in granulation and filigree techniques. The granular ornamentation of this cross is,by happenstance, marvelously in keeping with the styles used in the Fatimid period. In fact, a researcher has remarked how this style (which sometimes modernly is so-called “tribal”) flourishes in the Hellenic period of the Mediterranean, and then dies out until the Fatimid period. It enjoys about two hundred years of Fatimid popularity before dying out again.[1]

I commissioned designer and goldsmith Kelly Williams of Whiplash Designs to create a frame for the cross and convert it to a pendant[2]. She created a piece based on several designs from extant pieces, and used lost wax casting techniques to make it.

I have not been able to find Fatimid-period jewelry with the pearls intact, however Byzantine, and Hellenistic, (and even Victorian) jewelry all use a very small pearl size for this purpose. Kelly also plated the cross itself in yellow gold to make the pendant match the symbol of the order.  

Most Middle Eastern pendants on display in museums do not include a method to suspend them for wearing. I have located two extant likely-Fatimid examples of chains. The first was auctioned from Christie’s Auction House. The second is housed at the National Museum in Damascus.

Figure 3. Fatimid silver necklace, 12th c. Length 30 ¾ inches. Christie’s Sale 440-7428 “Art of the Islamic and Indian World.” October 23, 2007: London, King Street.
Figure 4. Brooch 7 cm (detail reveals approx. 3 cm). Fatimid style, 11th century.  National Museum, Damascus. Inv. ع 5881 , detail.

I am not an expert in the technique trichinopoly chain work (frequently called Viking wire weaving) but amateur historical researchers Sefa Farminsdottir and Svein Turnheim believe it is possible the necklace in Figure 3 is made with this technique (each has said they would need different photographs to determine for certain). The chains hanging from the pin pictured in Figure 4 were determined to likely be a different style of chain work. These chains indicate that complex chain techniques were sometimes used to display Fatimid-period jewelry.

 The silver necklace chain used in my Pyxis piece was an uncredited donation to a silent auction at the SCA event Haire Affaire in 2011. It is silver wire worked with the "Viking" wire weaving technique. It sports a modern clasp and two faceted Swarovski-style beads.

Figure 5. SCA registered Pyxis image for the  Kingdom of Northshield.
Figure 6. Bead, diameter ¾ inch. Fatimid style, 11th century. “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art history” Metropolitan Museum of Art. Assn. 1980.456,7. Showing "beaded" bumpy-style granulation decoration. 
The resulting necklace meets my personal criteria. The glamorous styling is an homage to the prestige of the Order of the Pyxis and can be worn during court events. The granulation styling keeps with the period design and flavor of the Fatimid era. I am thrilled to wear it in the context of the SCA. I want to be sure to emphasize that I did not make a single element of this jewelry, but assembled it from among the skills of other fantastic artisans.

Figure 7. Byzantine Gold, Pearl, Emerald and Spinel Cross, Early 7th c. 1 5/8 inches long. Christie’s Sale 444-2375, “Ancient Jewelry”.  December 9, 2010: New York, Rockefeller Plaza.

Figure 8. Byzantine gold ring with decoration. Garnet cabochon and surmounted with seed pearls. Measures size US 7 and UK M, weighs 10 grams  Dated circa twelfth century.

Figure 9. Islamic Egypt, eleventh/twelfth century. Pair of earrings. Seed pearls and gold filigree. Height x width: 1 1/8 in. x 1 1/8 in. Detroit Institute of Arts, accession number 1986.100.  https://www.dia.org/art/collection/object/part-earring-49363

[1] Jenkins, Marilyn. “Fatimid Jewelry: Its subtypes and influences” Ars Orientalis 18 (1988): 39-57.

1 comment:

  1. Your piece is beautiful, and it looks like you did a lot of really good research on it.