Because of its wine-like hue, early Greek legends associated amethyst with Bacchus, the god of wine. The stone was believed to prevent intoxication and addictions in general – in ancient Greek language amethystos means not drunk. Different legends made amethyst into a stone that helped its wearer to remain calm, clear-headed and sharp in battle, and in business affairs. More than anything, amethyst became a symbol of fidelity and temperance. Even Leonardo Da Vinci found that the stone protected him from evil thoughts and stimulated his intellect. Considering the above, it is quite clear why it was one of the favourite stones of the royals – it helped the leaders focus when making important decisions. And the clergy men liked amethyst as it enabled restraint, thus helping them keep their vows of celibacy.
Amethysts, mined in Brazil, became very fashionable and expensive during 18th century France and England. However, in 19th century the amethyst deposits were also discovered in Ural mountains of Russia making the stone affordable. The amethyst is a Pisces zodiac stone and birthstone for the month of February. It is also known as the stone of St. Valentine.
The February-born shall find,
Sincerity and peace of mind,
Freedom from passion and from care,
If they an amethyst will wear.
(Gregorian birthstone poem.)
Initially, Valentine´s Day was a Christian holiday celebrated to remember a priest named Valentine of Rome. He was martyred on February 14th in 269, and made into a Saint Valentine in 496. The stories indicate that Valentine was put in jail, because he organised marriages for soldiers not allowed to marry, and practiced Christianity when it was forbidden. The Roman Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage between young couples, for he thought that unwed young men made better soldiers as they had no ties to a wife and children. Valentine defied the government’s ban and married couples in secret, believing that marriage was a gift from God.
In the Roman Empire the image of cupid was a legal symbol representing love. It is said that St Valentine wore a purple amethyst ring with an engraved cupid so that Roman soldiers could recognise him, and ask for his marriage services. This is probably why Valentine’s Day became so popular day for marriage proposals as it traces back to the forbidden marriages facilitated by Valentine.
Leon Bazile Perrault Cupid's Arrow St. Valentine, Terni, Italy
However, the widespread celebration of Valentine´s Day as a romantic day did not take place until the 17th century. From then on cards and tokens of affection were exchanged on this day. Before, during the Middle Ages, February 14 was known as the beginning of bird’s mating season, but this slowly added to the idea the Valentine’s Day should be a day of romance. The first link between romantic love and Valentine’s Day was made when the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “Parliament of Foules” (ca 1375). This poem, which received a lot of attention, referred to birds finding their mate on February 14th.
St Valentine, Cupid, and forbidden romance all helped polishing amethyst into a stone of pure love, faithful lovers, and fidelity. It became a “couple´s stone” with ability to manifest soulful and deep emotional connection between lovers. And, in case the connection was somehow lost, the stone would be helpful in bringing the lost love back.
And if all this is not enough, this pretty stone was also credited for its ability to increase faith and wisdom, diligence in prayer and religious practices, assistance in prophecy, protection from poisonous substances and sorcery, discernment and suppression of evil thoughts and evil forces, guidance for travellers, indications of deterioration in health, seeing and interpreting prophetic dreams and visions concerning future events. Did I mention that amethyst is thought to attract good fortune?
Crown princess Victoria of Sweden wearing the Napoleonic Amethyst Tiara
Which stone would be worthy of the Queen of Heaven? Few hints. It was the favourite stone of Cleopatra. It is a stone associated with legends, royalty, love, power, and unfortunately much violence and war. Legend says that it was one of the four stones given by God to Solomon giving him extraordinary powers. It is the epitome of green as it´s the greenest of the green stones – there is the Emerald Isle of Ireland, the Emerald City of Seattle, and the Emerald Buddha of Thailand, a sacred religious icon that is actually made of green jadeite.
One of the finest and historically significant pieces of jewellery adorned with emeralds is the Crown of the Andes. It is made of 20-carat gold and 450 genuine Columbian emeralds. Christie´s expert Christopher Hartop thinks the crown evolved over time, and different elements and parts of the crown point to styles of different centuries. The largest emerald in the crown, weighing 24 carats, is known as the Atahualpa Emerald. It is reputed to have been among the stones seized by the Spanish from the Inca ruler Atahualpa in 1532. The estimated value of the crown is $3m-$5m.
The history of the crown is not only interesting, but surprising to the point of unbelievable as it has remained intact to this day throughout its many adventures and owners. The crown was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015.
The Crown of the Andes was made in 17th century in the city of Popayan, Columbia. It was made during the course of six years by 24 Spanish goldsmiths who used Spanish and Indian techniques. It was intended for a more than life-size statue of the Virgin Mary of the Popayan cathedral. According to a legend, there was a devastating smallpox epidemic around 1590 in nearby coastal regions of Popayan. The people of Popayan were scared and prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. Luckily their prayers were answered, and the epidemic avoided the city. The believers were sure that they had the Blessed Mother to thank for stopping the disease entering their city. However, there were also more rational explanations suggesting that the city remained untouched due its isolation at top of the mountains, 5700 feet (1737 m) above sea level.
A group of local noblemen, belonging to the believers clan, commissioned the crown as a sign of gratitude. Their goal was to make a crown more beautiful and valuable than any reigning monarch´s crown on earth, so that it would be worthy of the Queen of Heaven. The Coronation of the Virgin in the cathedral took place in 1599.
The crown, along with other ecclesiastical treasures of Popayan, was seen only once a year during the processions organised to celebrate Holy Week. Stories indicate that the crown was stolen twice (first by British pirates, and second time by revolutionary Simon Bolivar). Luckily the Popayans got the crown back both times. In order to keep the crown safe, the local noblemen organised a group called the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception whose duty was to protect these treasures. The treasures were divided between them, and hid separately. It is said that the crown was dismantled into six parts and divided between several guardians. And this is the way it survived into the 20th century.
In 1914 Pope Pius X granted permission for the sale of the crown, but it wasn't until 1936 that the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception found a buyer – an American businessman Warren J. Piper. Since that time it has remained in the United States. When the crown arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in December 2015, the structure of the crown had suffered due to centuries of ceremonial use, and decades of exhibition. There had also been quite a bit of reckless rental activities. For instance, the crown of the Blessed Mother had been rented out for dinner parties. I can´t help but wonder, what the original protectors of the crown, the members of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, would have thought of that.
Below: Crown of the Andes featuring as a centerpiece of a dinner, Recess Club in Cleveland, 1936.
In 1983, an earthquake struck Popayan. About 85 per cent of the the city was damaged and more than two hundred people were killed. The domes of the cathedral collapsed. After the earthquake, it appeared that the city's ecclesiastical treasures had survived, since the old Confraternity had hidden the treasures well. Or perhaps, it was the Queen of Heaven who had protected the treasures again.
History of Kashmir textile crafts
The Kashmir region of India is famous for its shawls and textiles known for extraordinarily beautiful designs and exquisite materials. The history of shawl and textile art of Kashmir goes back more than 700 years. According to a UNESCO report from 2014, it was the Iranian born Syed Ali Hamadani who shaped the culture, architecture, arts and crafts of Kashmir. Hamadani brought special skills and knowledge to Kashmir that gave birth to an entire industry. In 14th century Mir Ali Hamadani came to Kashmir along with 700 craftsmen from parts of Persia. He also went to Ladakh, and for the first time in history the extra soft wool produced by Ladakhi goats was discovered by him. Hamadani, after giving a pair of socks knitted from cashmere wool to the local king as a present, suggested to the ruler that they start a shawl weaving industry in Kashmir using this soft wool.
The earliest documentary references to the Kashmir shawl industry appear in literature of Akbar’s reign (A.D. 1556-1605). By the 16th Century the Kashmir shawl industry had become a well-established one, and it was King Akbar who promoted the manufacture of shawls in Kashmir. The Emperor was an admirer of the shawls who not only kept his wardrobe well stocked with them, but also introduced some new ways of wearing these shawls. During this period the Kashmiri shawls were already popular gifts to send to distant countries. For instance, King Akbar also presented a gift of Kashmir jamawar shawl to the Queen of England.
Kashmir shawls were first worn in fashionable circles in the West in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, and by 1800 the shawl trade between Kashmir and the West was well established. Shawls from Kashmir were also mentioned in the early records of the English East India Company as being useful articles of bribery. Imports from the East India Company in the first half of the 17th century made paisley and other Indian patterns so popular, and the Company was unable to import enough to meet the demand.
The shawls became a highly desirable and stylish accessories among European women, especially after Empress Josephine famously received Kashmir shawls as gifts from Napoleon. The popularity of the Kashmir shawls in Europe was also related to the romantic ideas and an illusion of the ‘mysterious and unchanging East.’
Cashmere or Pashmina? Authentic Viscose Pashmina?
Shawls from Kashmir are made using different materials such as regular sheep wool, silk, mixture of silk and cotton or other materials. The most famous material coming from Kashmir is pashmina. However, most people don’t exactly know what pashmina is. Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge is often effectively used in marketing and selling products as 100% pashmina that really have no pashmina in them. The truth is that the market is inundated with “pashmina wannabes” from wool, acrylic, viscose, polyester or mixture of these fabrics sold as 100% pashmina.
The word pashmina is an indigenous word for cashmere, and comes from an old Persian word pashm referring to a weavable fiber (sheep wool, shahtoosh, and cotton). In Kashmiri language the word pashmina means "soft gold." Pashmina is a very fine type of cashmere wool, which is the fiber woven from the undercoat of special breeds of long-haired domestic goats living in high altitude of Himalaya. The first textiles made from it were woven in Kashmir. This wool comes from four different breeds of the Cashmere goats of Himalaya region: 1) the Changthangi or Kashmir Pashmina goat from the Changthang plateau in Kashmir region, 2) the Malra from Kargil area in Kashmir region, 3) the Chegu from Himachal Pradesh in northern India and Pakistan, and 4) Chyangara or Nepalese Pashmina goat from Nepal.
The most expensive authentic Pashmina shawls are made from Changthangi goat´s (Kashmir Pashmina) wool. These shawls have so high price because of the special craftsmanship that goes into creating each shawl, and the rarity of this specific type of wool. The Changthangi breed makes up less than 0.1% of global Cashmere production. One distinct difference between Pashmina and other Cashmere goat´s wool is the fibre diameter. Pashmina fibres are finer and thinner (12-15 microns) than other types of generic cashmere fibre (15-19 microns). Cashmere is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool and 33% lighter.
The Changthangi goat sheds its winter coat every spring, and regrows it again in winter. One goat sheds approximately 80–170 g of the fibre. This under fleece is collected by combing the goat, and not by shearing as done with other fine wools.
Similarly to other areas of Kashmir design and craft, the Kashmir shawl designs also have significant influences from Persian art. For instance, during Mughal period a characteristic motive of Kashmir shawl-design was a slender flowering plant with roots combining the delicacy of Persian floral ornament (that it was derived from) with the naturalism characteristic of seventeenth-century Mughal art. Also, during the later time periods this motive merged with another well-known Indo Persian decorative motive – the conventional vase-of flowers.
Another well-known motif is a Paisley or Paisley pattern, which is a term in English for a design using the buta or boteh, a droplet-shaped vegetable motif of Persian (i.e. Iranian) origin. The floral motif was originated in the Sassanid Dynasty and later in the Safavid Dynasty of Persia (from 1501 to 1736), and was a major textile pattern in Iran during the Qajar and Pahlavi Dynasties. In these periods, the pattern was used to decorate royal regalia, crowns, and court garments, as well as textiles used by the general population.
Dancer Qajar Persia, Persia - Qajar & Safavid Periods paintings
Buta is a very popular symbol not only in Iran, but also in Azerbaijan, Turkey and countries of the South and Central Asian countries. Patterns and ornaments of buta motifs can be found on Azerbaijani rugs, kalaghai and textiles, paintings of decorative-applied arts of Azerbaijan, and in decorations of architectural monuments. It is woven using gold or silver threads on silk or other high quality textiles for gifts, for weddings and special occasions. In Iran and Uzbekistan its use goes beyond clothing – paintings, jewelry, frescoes, curtains, tablecloths, quilts, carpets, garden landscaping, and pottery also sport the buta design.
Some scholars believe that this motif is a leaf of a cypress tree, and it is a Zoroastrian symbol of life and eternity. It is a bent cedar, and the cedar is the tree Zarathustra planted in paradise. The "bent" cedar is also the sign of strength and resistance but modesty.
Such designs became very popular in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries, following imports of post-Mughal versions of the design from India, especially in the form of Kashmir shawls, and were then imitated locally.
Paisley motif used by fashion designers Pierre Balmain (left) and Jil Sander (right), below.
Examples of Silkroad Treasures hand embroidered shawls from Kashmir, below.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Welcome! :) My name is Monika. I am interested in beauty, art, different cultures, and good stories. I have always been fascinated with semiotics and symbols, and how people of different cultures interpret them.