Saturday, July 28, 2012

OLYMPIC DREAMS: Athletes Carved in Gold


Classical figures flank a large octagonal sapphire. 
One side depicts the Discobolus (shown); t
he other reveals the Borghese Gladiator. 
Hand-wrought in rose gold by Gustav Manz 
and presented a the Louisiana Purchase 
Exposition in St. Louis by F. Walter Lawrence 
(The Keystone, July 1905)

In honor of the London games and the exuberance of this year's athletes, we've pulled up a few of the heroes from Gustav Manz's portolio. Manz's training as a draughtsman and jeweler coincided with the archaeological digs of the late 19th century which revived classical motifs and styles. The detailing on a gold signet ring shows off not only a master goldsmith's fondness for high-relief carving but his wit and skill in compressing the famous myth of the Dioscuri, Zeus's twin sons by Leda, onto the narrow band of the ring. He even fit in a "boxing ring" (overlapping straps) beneath the feet of Pollux, who was famous for his fisticuffs though he was ultimately outmatched by a brass-headed giant named Amycus. When his twin Castor died in a fight their father arranged for the brothers to maintain their closeness by placing them among the stars as the Gemini. So perhaps the ring was commissioned for a pugilist born between May 21 and June 21.  


Heavenly twins Castor and Pollux, 
naked with their reined steeds, steady an 
oval stone in this early Manz signet ring 
design,circa 1900-1910


 Manz's log notes for a ring 
sold to 42nd Street retailer George Bell 
identify the figure reaching for a gem-
studded grape cluster as Diana; 
other early designs incorporated 
bacchantes, naiads, and mermaids 

The sketch of Manz's Diana ring shown above is pasted next to an order for George Bell (1852-1944), who may have encountered Manz's work while taking in the jewelry manufactures on display at the Expo. A native New Yorker, and son of a German immigrant who Americanized his family name from "Uibel,"Bell had established a retail and manufacturing business in Denver in the late 19th century, lured by mining interests and mountain air (his first wife and two children had succumbed to tuberculosis). Bell's company produced turquoise and other novelties under several labels, including American Turquoise Mines Company, Inc. and George Bell Jewelry Company. He commissioned artful brochures for his higher-end Egyptian revival line ("Scarabaeus"), advertised his sterling matrix turquoise rings and stickpins in Scribner's, and exhibited his gem collection at the Louis & Clark Exposition in 1905. Bell eventually moved his second wife and family back to Manhattan, opening a store at 4 East 42nd, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue, opposite the new (circa 1911) main branch of the New York Public Library. Whether he purchased Manz's Diana mounting for himself, as a one-off, or for recasting is unknown. 


Three of the works in the photograph—
brooches at upper left and upper right, 
and pendant at bottom—may have been sent 
to St. Louis. Photographed at Manz's studio 
at 41-43 Maiden Lane, circa 1903 

The third modern Olympiad took place in St. Louis in 1904, and was more or less folded into the Expo, creating the perfect backdrop for Manz's miniature evocations of classical gods and goddesses. A photograph of unfinished jewelry found in Manz's archive at Winterthur offers further clues to what his work for Lawrence's exhibit looked like. Several of the items incorporate what appear to be iridescent shards of ancient glass. Placed atop a sheet of Manz & Co business stationery are a lotus buckle or dress clip; two scenic brooches evoking Nile Valley flora and fauna—lion and snake (upper left), Sphinx and pyramids (upper right);and a fancy pendant depicting a semi-nude female dancing above diamond-set lotus blossoms (possibly Psyche). And at center, an intricately carved purse frame depicts mermaids rising from a lotus pond (the finished piece, marked for F. Walter Lawrence, was set with a cabochon chrysoprase and is now in a private collection). A collection that looked backward, to be sure, in total harmony with prosperous Americans' infatuation with Grand Tours and European high culture.  

1. Discobolus ring first appeared in The Keystone; thanks to Cleota Reed at Syracuse University for locating this image
2. Photo of custom work from Manz's studio, c 1900-1905; courtesy Winterthur Museum
3. Atlas and Diana ring design drawings by Gustav Manz (c) Gustav Manz LLC
4. Poster courtesy of Smithsonian Image Collection
5. Special thanks to several descendants of George Bell for sharing biographical details

Olympic Revival: Poster for the games held in St. Louis during the summer of 1904, signed "St. John" 

Copyright © 2014 
All Rights Reserved 

1 comment:

  1. Feeling happy to read this article. I think all should have a look on diana rings.