The aurifex and the importance of goldsmithing in the Duchy of Spoleto

Discovering the Longobard society in Italy and the Duchy of Spoleto between the 6th and 8th centuries

Among the ancient artisan traditions in Spoleto, goldsmithing is an absolute excellence. Today we talk about the role that the aurifex (the gold craftsman) used to play in Longobard society in Italy and in the Duchy of Spoleto between the 6th and 8th centuries, and its precious creations.

Artisans highly specialised in the working of non-ferrous metals came to play a very important social and economic role in Longobard society and it is precisely the Longobard goldsmithing art that offers an important testimony to the art of this people.

The more complex was the shape of the jewellery, the higher was the social rank of the wearer.

The Longobard noblewomen wore brocade dresses, enriched by traditional jewels such as necklaces and brooches, called fibulae. The most common types of fibulae were S- or stirrup-shaped.

S-shaped fibulae represented, in a stylised key, a two-headed animal with a sinuous ribbon-shaped body and were made of gold or gilded silver and semi-precious stones.

Another recurring typology was the “eaglet” fibula, which was worked with gold and semi-precious stones and portrayed a small eagle. These jewels were often found in pairs and had the purpose of fastening the clothes or stopping the cloak at shoulder height.

Stirrup-shaped fibulae, often in silver, usually included engraved abstract motifs derived from the animal world. This jewel was pointed on ribbons that descended from the belt. Soon the trousseaus of Longobard women tended to become simpler as a result of contact with the late Roman culture they found in Italy.

Alongside the typical accessories of the Pannonian tradition such as the fibulae just described, and elements of daily use like combs, knives and purses, jewels inspired from the costume of indigenous women appeared: pendant earrings, necklaces in gold and semi-precious stones, and disc-shaped fibulae. The latter, following the Roman-Byzantine influence, replaced the S-shaped fibulae.

Peculiarity of the necklaces was their “polymateriality”: they could be made of glass paste, crystal, amber, coral, pearls, amethysts and other hard stones; they could then be enriched with gold, silver or bronze pendants and sometimes even old perforated Roman coins.

Glass paste was the primary material in jewellery and was appreciated because it increased polychromy, a fundamental and constant characteristic of Longobard jewellery that can also be found in brooches or earrings thanks to the presence of different, many-coloured gems.

In February 1897, as a result of agricultural work, many Longobard burials came to light close to Nocera Umbra, considered one of the main discoveries of early Middle Ages Italian archaeology.

The 165 explored tombs disclosed a number of trousseaus of exceptional value that testify to the high skill of the goldsmiths of the Duchy of Spoleto. Since 2007 some of them have been on display at the National Museum of the Duchy of Spoleto.

Here are but some of them. Don’t say you wouldn’t flaunt them!

Cloisonné, punching, filagree, are just some of the techniques used by the Longobards, but let’s talk about this in the next article.

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