Skip to Content

Pair of Crescent-Shaped Earrings

Early Byzantine
late 6th century - 7th century
3.2 cm x 2.5 cm (1 1/4 in. x 1 in.)

Not on view


Additional Images
Click an image to view a larger version
Additional Image obverse

Crescent-shaped earrings were the most popular style of Byzantine gold earrings in the sixth and seventh centuries. The jewelry was formed from sheet gold using the openwork technique, by cutting away the background and leaving the image as a positive in silhouette. The surface could then be engraved with details, as the surface is here, creating a more reflective and sparkling effect. Peacocks are shown in profile, facing each other on either side of an amphora. Peacocks were one of the favored images among the openwork earrings, others including generic birds combined with a fountain or a cross in the center. This style of earring was frequently edged as this one is, with beading and often with additional punch work and globules.

Peacocks had been used as decorative motifs for many centuries in pagan Roman and Christian art. They were attractive not only because of the associations with their luxuriant and colorful plumage but also because it was believed that the flesh of these exotic birds did not decay after death. The peacock was therefore a symbol among pagans, gradually adopted by Christians, of immortality and of life after death in paradise.

- S. Zwirn

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 78, no. 180.

M. C. Ross, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, vol. 2 Jewelry, Enamels, and Art of the Migration Period (Washington, D.C., 1965, 2nd ed. with addendum by S.A. Boyd and S. R. Zwirn, 2005), 68, no. 87, pl. 47.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 59, no. 211, pl. 211.

Byzance: l'art byzantin dans les collections publiques françaises, exhibition catalogue, Musée du Louvre, 3 November 1992-1 February 1993, (Paris, 1992) 129.

A. Geroulanou, Diatrita: Gold Pierced-work Jewellery from the 3rd to the 7th Century (Athens, 1999), 284, no. 515.

F. Daim, J. Drauschke, and F. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz. Forschungsinstitut für Vor- und, Byzanz - das Römerreich im Mittelalter = Byzantium - the Roman Empire in the middle ages = Byzance - l'Empire Romain au moyen age, Monographien (Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz. Forschungsinstitut für Vor- und Frühgeschichte) (Mainz: [Regensburg], 2010), 182, fig. 10.

H. C. Evans and B. Ratliff, Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th-9th Century, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 14th-July 8th, 2012, (New York and New Haven [Conn.], 2012), 191, no. 131B.

Exhibition History
Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, “The Collector's Microbe: Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Collections,” April 15, 2008 - November 9, 2008.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th-9th Century),” March 12, 2012 - July 8, 2012.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Dr. Margaret Burg, England and Scarsdale, NY.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.. Nov. 1952.