Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Book--Medieval Jewellery in Europe

A few months ago, I wrote about a new book from the V&A Museum called Medieval Jewellery in Europe: 1100 - 1500. I was able to obtain a copy from The Book Depository for under $20 USD (and with free shipping!), so I ordered it. It arrived yesterday, and is sufficiently short that I've already read about halfway through it. However, I figured it might be of sufficiently general interest to warrant a quick book review.

As the price suggests, this Medieval Jewellery, unlike Ronald Lightbrown's out-of-print classic, is slender (about 110 pages, including the bibliography and index). The text, though somewhat informative, contains little that might not be found in any standard survey-type history of the subject.

Where this volume shines is in the pictures. There are many of them, some quite large. Virtually all of them are in color. About half of the photographs are wonderfully large, clear close-up photographs of items of jewelery; the rest are equally clear photographs of paintings or miniatures, which show how the jewelery was worn with period costume. A few of the photographs will be familiar to enthusiasts of costume of the period, but most are of items that do not commonly appear in the standard surveys on the subject.

My own regret about this book is that, despite the title, it focuses almost exclusively on jewelry from the 13th through 15th centuries. There are almost no images of jewels from the 1100s or 1200s. I had hoped for more 11th and 12th century material.

Despite that disappointment, I am not sorry to have bought this book. However, it's far from a must-have. If you like this sort of book, I'd advise you to check a copy out of your local library once it arrives there, or to wait a few months until copies begin to show up on the used-book market. $20 is not a bad price for what you get; but I'll bet that within a year it will be possible to locate copies for half that amount.


  1. Four figures for that out-of-print book, huh? Yikes! For that price, the Lightbrown book had better include Baltic-region jewelry as well. I suspect the V&A book doesn't....

  2. I assume by "the V&A book" you mean the new book I posted about--ironically, Lightbrown's work was also published by the V&A.

    I've no idea what Lightbrown's book includes or does not, as I've never seen a copy. I understand that it's large (560 pages, according to Amazon) and that it's become a classic in the field.

    Ironically, shortly after it came out, I remember receiving catalogs from George Hamilton Co., then a re-seller of remaindered items, hawking the Lightbrown book for something like $45 USD. At the time, it didn't seem worth the money to me, so I let it pass. If I'd only known!

    Finally, I'm not sure whether it's "Lightbrown" or "Lightbown"--I've seen it spelled both ways by bookdealers. A costume scholar of my acquaintance swears it's "Lightbrown", so that's what I go by. If I ever see a copy of the 1992 tome, I'll adopt whatever spelling of the author's name it uses.

  3. Just realized I never answered Patricia's question about the new V&A book on Medieval Jewellery.

    No, it does not include any Baltic-area jewellery that I recall. I suspect it only includes items in the V&A's collection, and I doubt they have a significant number of Baltic-area items.