• Sigrid van Roode

Jewellery in context

When I saw this pocket-size book, I obviously had to read it! Jewellery in context is my personal mantra and the title of a lecture series I have been giving for over a decade: I can't emphasize enough how jewellery is part of a culture instead of an artform only. The subtitle, A multi-disciplinary framework for the study of jewellery, made my heart skip a beat: this could be a very useful publication for my research. And, is it....?

The book is the English translation of Marjan Ungers' PhD-thesis. She is a renowned Dutch jewellery historian, who sadly passed away two years ago. This translation of her 2010 thesis appeared in 2019 and is a valuable publication for anyone in the field of jewellery studies.


The book starts out with a chapter on definitions and classifications of jewellery, followed by an exploration of art history as foundation for the study of jewellery. In this chapter, the author argues that too often jewellery is regarded as an art form only. She then goes on to discuss the functions of jewellery in relation to personhood, before delving into angles from other disciplines. Humanities, the study of fashion and clothing, literature, economy and morality are examined, followed by an extra chapter on symbolism. In her evaluation finally, she argues that jewellery should be studies from various angles instead of only as 'art'.


For me personally, the book contained no new information: certainly not because I claim to know everything there is to know about the study of jewellery (that would be the day....), but because the line of reasoning the author advocates is not new to me. That is because of my training as an archaeologist, I suppose. Material culture to an archaeologist is an intermediary to gain knowledge about ancient cultures, and as such is always interpreted within a multidisciplinary framework. Jewellery is no different, it is looked at through the lenses of economy, religion, symbolism, social hierarchy, craftmanship, trade...The author herself remarks in her evaluation 'Such interferences have been used both in archaeology and in the study of material culture' (p 173-174)


I do however highly recommend this book to everyone interested in jewellery studies. It explains and explores theoretical aspects underlying jewellery studies in a clear and concise manner, illustrates how these have historically grown and compares cross-disciplinary angles. As this is a thorough theoretical study, it has no illustrations: don't expect shiny jewellery pictures, but lots of sound thoughts on how to interpret jewellery.

So, should you want to engage in jewellery studies, read this book first! It will provide you with an excellent starting point and solid basis to consider jewellery within a multudisciplinary framework.


Jewellery in context. A multidisciplinary framework for the study of jewellery. By Marjan Unger.

229 pages, text only. Arnoldsche Art Publishers.


The book was purchased in a book store; also available through Amazon

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