Captivating – From the Fibula to the Brooch

Sunday, 19. June 2016 - 0:00 to Sunday, 30. October 2016 - 0:00
Radnadel mit doppeltem Speichenkreuz. Bronze. 15. Jh. v. Chr.  Fundort: Maintal-Hochstadt, Töngeswald, Grabhügel. Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte Hanau-Steinheim. Foto: Alexander Zickendraht

An arrangement of around 170 exhibited works from the Jewelry Museum in Pforzheim, the Museum of Prehistoric and Early History in Hanau-Steinheim, as well as private collections is dedicated to the entire spectrum of this theme. On the basis of the selected items, the development from the simple pin to the sculptural brooch can be observed.

What we regard as self-evident today – fastening our clothing with buttons or zippers – was for centuries the task of fibulas and pins. In its application, the fibula corresponded to our present-day safety pin and held in place the ancient garments which were not as yet sewn together. Not until the invention and common acceptance of the button during the height of the Middle Ages did the fibula begin to slowly lose its popularity. The once functional emphasis of the fibula developed into the brooch with a purely decorative purpose.

While the historical works are for the most part executed in costly materials such as silver, gold, and precious stones, common materials such as plastics, wood, or glass came into use during the postwar period. The jewelry pieces are not presented here in a strictly chronological order, but are displayed in groups, organized by theme, and clustered together across all periods. In addition to the material, a particular technique, a specific design feature, or the intended purpose can be highlighted.

Christianne Weber-Stöber, Director of the German Goldsmiths’ House, comments, “Through the combination of the objects into thematic groups, our goal is to allow the individual pieces to participate in a dialogue that goes beyond their temporal and regional borders. This type of combination offers the viewer the opportunity to embark on a discovery trip, to recognize commonalities, and to create his own associations.”


Noteworthy is the time span of the exhibited works. The oldest object is a bronze wheel brooch from the 15th Century, BC that is fascinating in its ornamental simplicity. That it was highly valued at the time can be judged by the fact that it was included in a burial treasure. The fibulas on display continue into the early Middle Ages. With the exception of a few examples, works from the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance are quite scarce.

The brooches from the 17th to the 19th Centuries are dominated by the opulence of material, technique, and design. For example, the magnificent brocade gowns of the Baroque Period were additionally embellished by lavish corsage brooches. At the royal and ducal courts, in particular, jewelry played a significant role in a representational sense.

Memorial jewelry grew principally out of the strict mourning regulations at the court which governed the wearing of jewelry, among other things. This jewelry was wide-spread, even extending to the middle classes. As a result, black jewelry became highly popular. Dark stones such as onyx and jet, as well as dark enamel and glass became favored materials. In addition to the black jewelry, a particularly intimate memorial form evolved – jewelry made from the hair of the deceased. A mourning brooch from England, made in about 1840, exemplifies the custom in which the hair was artistically braided and secured under glass in such jewelry.

A playful handling of material and established techniques is demonstrated by the jewelry of the post-war years. In 1969, Claus Bury created a brooch of colored acrylic resin that is reminiscent of the Pop Art of that period. A work by Reinhold Bothner illustrates how well traditional and new jewelry can co-exist. At almost the same time, during the 1970’s, he created a pin with a reduced form expression. Bothner embraced the centuries-old granulation technique and reinterpreted it through a discrete and controlled application. A lapis lazuli disk set in gold is surrounded by a simple meander band made of granulated gold spheres.

Among the representatives of a more recent jewelry art, in which brooches have developed into wearable miniature sculptures, is Mirjam Hiller. Her spatial brooch of stainless steel is constructed out of additively joined individual elements, and through this interplay it obtains a harmonious whole. A different interpretation of spatial design can be perceived in the brooch by Bernard A. Früh. Mounted in a lattice-like structure of yellow gold is a colorfully set twig. It is constructed so that it seems to float in space.