Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, opens newly renovated gallery for world-renowned jewelry collection

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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, opens newly renovated gallery for world-renowned jewelry collection
Castellani, micromosaic lion brooch, about 1870. Gold and glass (micromosaic). Gift of Susan Beth Kaplan.

BOSTON, MASS.- Believed to be one of the earliest art forms, examples of jewelry date back more than 100,000 years and tell complex stories about human history. Beyond Brilliance: Jewelry Highlights from the Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, showcases ornaments crafted over 4,000 years and reflecting global cultures, drawn from the MFA’s world-renowned jewelry collection. Opened in the newly renovated Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery on May 18, 2024, the installation features more than 150 objects— each with a unique story to tell. The gallery spotlights ancient artifacts, fine jewelry, costume jewelry and jewelry by contemporary artists, in addition to five new acquisitions that have never before been on view at the MFA.

“This space showcases the MFA’s outstanding collection of jewelry, one of the most expansive in the world,” said Emily Stoehrer, Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry. “Beyond Brilliance celebrates the depth and breadth of the collection by examining objects past and present to discover the universality and creativity that jewelry offers.”

Installation Overview

Presented in a jewel box-inspired space, the new installation is organized into thematic groupings:

• The introductory section features iconic pieces of jewelry including an ancient Egyptian broad collar necklace consisting of glazed-steatite beads, gold ball beads and gilded beetles; René Boivin’s life-like gold, ruby and amethyst Starfish brooch from 1937 and a newly acquired butterfly-shaped brooch by Wallace Chan. Forever Dancing – Bright Star (2013) is made with large yellow diamonds and real butterfly wings, among other stones, and is the first work by Chan to enter a U.S. museum collection.

• The Decorative Arts section includes outstanding examples of 19th-and 20th-century design movements like Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, Surrealism and Modernism, demonstrating the deep connection between artistic expression and jewelry. Offering an expanded look at materials used to make jewelry, this section features jewelry made in gold and silver, diamonds, colored gemstones, pearls and plastics. Extraordinary craftsmanship and the mastery of materials are seen in techniques like micromosaic, granulation and enamel. New acquisitions in this section include a brooch fashioned with the rare Paraiba tourmaline gemstone by Feng J (2021).

• The Adornment section emphasizes jewelry’s connection to the body and clothing to remind visitors of the creative ways that it has functioned as part of global visual culture spanning thousands of years. For the opening of the gallery, the paper rotation features two 1920s fashion plates to demonstrate how jewelry and fashion function together to create an overall look. This section celebrates a new acquisition by Anna Hu, 20th century designs by Marcus & Co. and Bulgari, and fashion jewelry by Chanel and Dior.

• The Messaging section explores how jewelry can be used to communicate—whether to tell private, personal stories or indicate rank, marital status or religious beliefs. This space includes jewelry formerly worn by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, a necklace by Charlotte Newman featuring the profile of Elizabeth I and a turquoise eagle brooch presented by Queen Victoria to each of her train bearers on her wedding day. A pair of earrings by Hemmerle include the Bavarian crown, paying tribute to the German jeweler’s heritage.

• Additionally, a center case in the gallery will rotate annually, featuring objects that together illustrate the timeless human desire to self-fashion, collect and create. The first rotation pays tribute to Italian designer Elsa Peretti, who died in 2021 and is remembered as one of the 20th century’s most important designers. Her career began in the late 1960s working with fashion designers Giorgio Sant’Angelo and Halston before partnering with Tiffany & Co. in 1974. In addition to two iconic examples of Peretti’s work—her large silver Bone Cuff (1978) and silver Scorpion necklace (1978)—that are permanently on view in the gallery, this installation highlights the timelessness of her oeuvre with early designs that nod to the range of materials, like silver, jade and rock crystal.

Multimedia Tour

Key works in the gallery are included in a 10-stop multimedia guide on the free MFA Mobile on Bloomberg Connects app to provide a closer look at key objects. Audio stops are narrated by MFA curators and contemporary artists Joyce J. Scott and Tanya Crane, whose works are featured in the gallery.

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