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Description

A round tubular frame in gold with six loops accompanied by twisted wire on either side to form claw-like settings. These hold a Greek silver coin, a Didrachma from Campania, Naples (300–275 BC), with the head of Parthenope in profile facing left, her hair bound with a broad ribbon, and wearing an earring and a necklace, and on the reverse Nike holding a palm branch flying above to crown a human-headed bull walking to the right. The Greek inscriptions read as NEOΠOΛITΩN (of the Neapolitans) and IΣ (the initials of the ruling magistrate) between the bull’s legs.

The lozenge-shaped maker’s mark for Louis Wièse and the French mark of the eagle’s head on the brooch hook (French guarantee mark for 18 carat gold for goods made in France); another eagle’s head on the brooch pin.

The popularity of wearing coins in jewelry dates to the third century AD Rome. It was revived in sixth-century Byzantium under Justinian and then in the nineteenth century inspired by the discovery of vast amounts of ancient jewelry and the availability of specimens of coinage. Makers used rings, bracelets, necklaces, and brooches as settings for coin-inset jewelry, which became a mainstay of firms such as Castellani and Pierret in Rome and Naples, Robert Phillips in London, and the Wièse dynasty in Paris. Typically, the coins had little numismatic value; a London jeweler refers to them as mere “trouvailles.”

Although the present coin, a Neapolitan Didrachma, is not rare, the mint condition is good. The siren Parthenope appears on the face of the brooch, while an image of her father, the river God Achelous depicted as a man-faced bull, appears crowned by Nike on the reverse. During Odysseus’s return from the Trojan War, which is recounted in Homer’s Odyssey, Parthenope and other sirens tried to lure his ship onto rocks with their beautiful song. When they failed, Parthenope drowned herself and washed ashore at Neapolis (modern Naples), where she was honored as the local goddess. The tomb and sanctuary of Achelous are also located there. Coins like this were issued during the festivals and games that were dedicated to Parthenope.

Following in the footsteps of his father, who made coin-set jewelry, Louis chose a simple, but decoratively strong frame for the coin, so that the ancient object remains the focus, undisturbed by the setting. This is in marked contrast to designs by Boucheron and later Lucien Falize who integrated ancient coins into highly decorative jewelry designs.

Literature:

on the history of coins in Roman jewelry, see Bruhn 1993; comparisons Tait 1984, no. 376 (pendant set with a related Didrachma by Ernesto Pierret); Hellmuth 2014, pp. 227, 232–233, cat. nos. 45 and 50 a-b (coin-inset jewels by Jules Wièse); Hellmuth 2014, p. 233 and Purcell 1999, p. 217 and Vever 2001, pp. 954, 990, 996 (coin-inset jewels by Boucheron and Falize); Soros/Walker 2004, p. 244, fig. 9-34 (Castellani brooch); Munn 1984, pp. 40, 42, fig. 38 (Giuliano).

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