- Copyright Page
- List of Contributors
- Words or Things in American History?
- Artifacts and Their Functions
- Mastery, Artifice, and the Natural Order: A Jewel from the Early Modern Pearl Industry
- Food and Cognition: <i>Henry Norwood’s</i> A Voyage to Virginia
- On Pins and Needles: Straight Pins, Safety Pins, and Spectacularity
- Mind, Time, and Material Engagement
- Material Time
- Remaking the Kitchen, 1800–1850
- Boston Electric: Science by “Mail Order” and Bricolage at Colonial Harvard
- Making Knowledge Claims in the Eighteenth-Century British Museum
- The Ever-Changing Technology and Significance of Silk on the Silk Road
- Science, Play, and the Material Culture of Twentieth-Century American Boyhood
- The Sensory Web of Vision: Enchantment and Agency in Religious Material Culture
- Sensiotics, or the Study of the Senses in Material Culture and History in Africa and Beyond
- The Numinous Body and the Symbolism of Human Remains
- Symbolic Things and Social Performance: Christmas Nativity Scenes in Late Nineteenth-Century Santiago de Chile
- Heritage Religion and the Mormons
- From Confiscation to Collection: The Objects of China’s Cultural Revolution
- Persons and Things in Marseille and Lucca, 1300–1450
- Cloth and the Rituals of Encounter in La Florida: Weaving and Unraveling the Code
- Street “Luxuries”: Food Hawking in Early Modern Rome
- Ebony and Ivory: Pianos, People, Property, and Freedom on the Plantation, 1861–1870
- The Material Culture of Furniture Production in the British Colonies
- Material Culture, Museums, and the Creation of Multiple Meanings
- Chronology and Time: Northern European Coastal Settlements and Societies, c. 500–1050
- Materialities in the Making of World Histories: South Asia and the South Pacific
- Mapping History in Clay and Skin: Strategies for Remembrance among Ga’ anda of Northeastern Nigeria
- Remember Me: Sensibility and the Sacred in Early Mormonism
- Housing History: The Colonial Revival as Consumer Culture
- Collecting as Historical Practice and the Conundrum of the Unmoored Object
Abstract and Keywords
Since ancient times, pearls have been put to a wide range of uses—from decorative functions garnishing religious and secular objects, to medicinal applications for the cure of several maladies. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in particular, European scholars and aristocrats avidly collected and studied diverse specimens that became available thanks to new trade routes and markets. By means of these organic gems, scientists sought to understand nature’s mysteries while artists showed off their ingenuity and creative power. Especially appealing were large, irregular pearls, which were often transformed into expensive objects of virtue treasured over generations: an oddly formed pearl could become the body of a lion, a dragon, or a monster, whose heads, legs, and tails were recreated with gold, enamel, and other precious materials; or they could be transformed into a mermaid or a triton referencing thus the marine nature of the precious gem. They could even take the form of a caravel or a black captive, referring thus to the industry and commercial networks that made such treasures available to European patrons. Then as now, the labor cost of such desirable objects was concealed behind a veneer of beauty and opulence. In reality, by the turn of the sixteenth century, the pearl trade had become one of the most brutal forms of human exploitation. This chapter seeks to unveil the significance of objects usually deemed as innocuous decorative items.
Mónica Domínguez Torres is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Delaware.
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