In many societies silver is but one component of costume traditions that consist of special fabrics and embroideries, accented with necklaces, hair ornaments, anklets, bracelets, amulets, earrings, belts, and other accessories. What jewelry these groups wear continues to define aspects of their heritage, whether the ornamentation is for men or women. Many adornments are fundamentally talismanic, incorporating powerful symbolic motifs or reliquaries for prayers, incantations, or fragments of holy writings, for the purpose of drawing divine protection or shielding from malevolent forces. Some elaborate ornaments were worn only on special occasions or as part of performances, while other jewelry would be used in everyday life. In some cultures, the weight of the silver served as an important indicator of wealth, comprising a substantial portion of a family’s financial assets.
The precise dating of such jewelry is often difficult, but the items displayed here are not older than the early nineteenth century. Many represent types still used in the traditional way today, in societies that are barely integrated into the modern state. Silver jewelry often formed an important part of a dowry that might be passed down as heirlooms, or traded, or melted down to create new jewelry.
This exhibition celebrates Daniel (Cornell Class of 1955) and Serga Nadler’s passion for the artistry and sculptural quality of silver jewelry from North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, India, Southeast Asia, and Southern China. Decades of travel throughout these areas yielded the treasures shown here and frequently involved direct contact with the peoples whose jewelry traditions they represent. This selection from the Nadlers’ extensive collection illustrates the range of shapes into which silver is wrought and exemplifies its appeal to specific ethnic populations. The Museum is grateful to the Nadlers for so generously sharing their collection and expertise.