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The Pin, a Special Connection. An essay by Julia Wild

Article  /  Essays   Critical Thinking
Published: 18.09.2017
Julia Wild Julia Wild
Author:
Julia Wild
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Barcelona
Edited on:
2017
Jing He. Brooch: Untitled, 2013. Ready-mades. Jing He
Brooch: Untitled, 2013
Ready-mades
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
The pin unites, the clasp secures and the bow or front decorates this union. Thus the pin is actually the basis for the interpretation of the fibula or brooch as a symbol, which for thousands of years has stood for love, friendship, and faith. Aware of this level of meaning, the narrator Herodot had the women use the symbol of loyalty to kill the messenger, perceived as disloyal.

Article published in the book To the Point by Daniela Malev.
 

The back of a brooch is and always has been about more than just mechanics or function. The front and the back of this type of jewellery are closely connected. The earliest Bronze Age finds of ancient brooches, so-called fibulae, already show an elaborate design of both pins and bows which cannot be explained purely by the need to fix individual garments in place. For that purpose, a simple safety pin shape, which in any case forms the technical basis of the fibula, would have sufficed and could have been hidden in the folds of an antique tunic.

The first symbolic interpretation of both the front and back or underside of the fibula can be found in the fifth book of histories by the Greek historian Herodot (490/480 – 424BC). Herodot does not differentiate between the technical function and symbolic meaning of the fibula, but intersects the two planes: After the inhabitants of the island of Aegina had stolen two divine figures from Epidauros, the possession of which required payment of a tribute to Athens, Attic warriors travelled to Aegina to demand payment of the outstanding tribute. But the expedition failed and only one survivor returned to tell of the catastrophe. This messenger was killed by the furious wives of the fallen warriors using the pins of their fibulae. As they were stabbing him they asked their victim about the whereabouts of their husbands. When the Attic government learned of the incident, the behavior of the women seemed worse than the defeat that had been suffered so a dress code was issued stating that women could no longer wear Doric clothing, as this was fixed on the right shoulder with a fibula. Instead, Ionic dress, which did not require fastening with a brooch, became mandatory.


Ancient Greece, 4th century BC. Bronze fibula with olive-green patina. 4.4 cm


The pin unites, the clasp secures and the bow or front decorates this union. Thus the pin is actually the basis for the interpretation of the fibula or brooch as a symbol, which for thousands of years has stood for love, friendship, and faith. Aware of this level of meaning, the narrator Herodot had the women use the symbol of loyalty to kill the messenger, perceived as disloyal.


 
  • The fibula was simultaneously a symbol of both concealment and exposure and bore the danger of a potential crossing of a line, which the Athenians attempted to stave off by changing the mode of dress.


That women and widows, who in ancient Greek society had no rights, took it upon themselves to execute a fully-fledged citizen of Attic society set social order on its head. To emphasize the scandal, Herodot did not have the messenger killed with a knife or other weapon but with the fibulae, symbol of femininity and virtue. Furthermore, the fibula can only be used as a weapon when it is removed from the clothing, so Herodot and his contemporaries were not only outraged by the bloodlust but also the assumed nakedness of the women. The setting of a dress code as punishment bears witness to the attempt to restore order. The fibula was simultaneously a symbol of both concealment and exposure and bore the danger of a potential crossing of a line, which the Athenians attempted to stave off by changing the mode of dress.

 
  • It is worth noting that in many languages, these main types of jewellery are named for the body part on which they are worn, a necklace for example. This ‘body jewellery’ places a marker on the skin or hair of the wearer, the natural boundary between individual and environment and enhances the wearer and their characteristics.


When the men of Aegina heard of this incident, they decided that their women should sacrifice their fibulae to the two divine figures and in future only wear brooches that were half again as large. Herodot points out that even in his time, one hundred years after the events described, it was the custom amongst the Aeginans to wear very large decorative brooches. He saw it as symbolic of the still ongoing hostility between Athens and Aegina.

The first part of Herodot’s narrative deals with the symbolic aspects of loyalty and virtue, which can be derived from the relationship between brooch and clothing and therefore from the pin, and their reversal through the extreme of murder which illustrates how easily the veiled, archaic nature of mankind can surface. The second part refers to the symbolic meaning of the front of the fibula and its function as a reminder and identifier. By henceforth sacrificing fibulae to the divine statues and only permitting the wearing of significantly larger fibulae, the Aeginans allied themselves with the stolen idols which they believed would help them to victory. This new religious cult stood at the centre of the common identity and the jewellery was related to it. The wearing of large brooches strengthened solidarity with one another and was simultaneously a symbol distinguishing Aeginan from Athenian society.

Since antiquity, fibulae have been clearly visible on the shoulder or chest. They were prominent symbols of the ability to artistically work metal. The pins used and the advancing techniques in brooch backs enabled a new and symbolic combination of textile and metal jewellery. For in contrast to other forms of jewellery, such as earrings, necklaces, bracelets, head jewellery and rings, which instantly accentuate and modify the wearer’s physical form, brooches require the auxiliary medium of clothing from which they draw not only their functional but also their symbolic meaning.

It is worth noting that in many languages, these main types of jewellery are named for the body part on which they are worn, a necklace for example. This ‘body jewellery’ places a marker on the skin or hair of the wearer, the natural boundary between individual and environment and enhances the wearer and their characteristics. In contrast ‘vesture jewellery’ or ‘garment jewellery’ refers to jewellery that is not in direct contact with the body but rather embellishes the clothes. As well as brooches this can take the form of appliqués and buttons. This type of jewellery unites with the clothing and adorns and highlights the artificial boundary between person and environment.

In this sense, the brooch is ‘body resistant’ii as the pin is distanced from the body and only works with a textile, and the bow or front of the brooch does not follow or conform to the body of the wearer but orients its jewels and character notably towards the social environment. Embellishing the very edge of the individual’s personal domain, the symbolic function of the brooch points away from the body of the wearer to the superpersonal(3). Thus an important component of the brooch since antiquity is that has been used to communicate the wearer’s membership in a community or position within a group.

 
  • Translated into today’s world, the brooch can be seen to symbolize consensus with a social order or values. Thus from the function of the pin, the social value of connection can be symbolically derived and the themes of loyalty, love, and friendship as well as of faith and solidarity can be symbolically expressed.


Alongside these outwardly focused, socially communicative properties, the brooch has another aspect worthy of mention, derived from its original function of joining textiles together: the brooch was in particular initially used as an accessory which brought the clothing into shape, a means of draping fabric and artfully covering up the body. It served on the one hand to cover the body and on the other, it was a visible sign, fastened on the boundary between concealment and exposure and so highlighting the transition to the subject’s intimate. This is most clearly illustrated by the medieval Fürspann, a brooch which held the neckline closed whilst simultaneously drawing attention to it.


Fürspann, around 1250, Gold, sapphires and garnets, 2.4 × 0.4 cm


The symbolic quality of virtue associated with wearing a brooch stems from this tension. Translated into today’s world, the brooch can be seen to symbolize consensus with a social order or values. Thus from the function of the pin, the social value of connection can be symbolically derived and the themes of loyalty, love, and friendship as well as of faith and solidarity can be symbolically expressed.

For millennia the brooch retained its technical as well as its symbolic function. But with the invention of the button in the 14th century and the advent of tight-fitting, figure-hugging fashion since the Renaissance, brooches lost their function as a clothing fastener and with it their symbolic value, which was transferred to the increasingly fashionable appliqué. These gemstones and opulent materials applied directly to the fabric followed the silhouette, on the one hand accentuating the lines of the body and on the other, through the resplendence of the stitched-on materials, dematerializing the body and transporting it to a superpersonal domain. This can be seen in depictions of the Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, whose costly clothing elaborately appliquéd with jewels brings to mind portraits of the Virgin Mary or relics decorated with precious stones and displayed in glass cases.

Under the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, brooches came back into fashion though not as functional fastenings. The Marquise de Sévigné (1626 – 1696AD) for example invented a brooch, named after her, in the shape of a bow, the design for which was inspired by clothing appliqués. The Marquise’s innovation was to take the previously fashionable fabric bows, adorned with precious stones and pearls and translate them into metal. Thus very large and elaborately designed pieces of jewellery could be created which could be worn flexibly and independently of any particular dress. This was also the time when stomacher brooches came into fashion, worn directly below the décolletage. They assumed the old function of the brooch as a widely visible sign highlighting the boundary between concealment and exposure.

From the Renaissance until the French Revolution the nobility focused their desire to bejewel on their bodies, be it accentuating with appliqués or drawing attention to the décolletage. Amongst the bourgeoisie of the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the brooch was once again distanced from the body. Brooches became a symbol of virtue and of the entitlement to an elevated social position. During the day middle-class women wore high-necked clothing that did not allow for much jewellery. By wearing a brooch, the increasingly self-confident bourgeoisie showed that they, in contrast to the working classes, could also wear jewellery during the day. Furthermore, since the Biedermeier period, the brooch has been very popular as a symbol of remembrance and solidarity. Both elements in remembrance of a person or place and symbols representing faith (cross), love (heart) and hope (anchor) have been worked into brooches.

 
  • The brooch has highlighted the boundary between person and environment for thousands of years. It is a means of communication, a marker but also a boundary marker.


Beginning with Art Nouveau and Art Deco when the brooch became an important accessory for emancipated and in some cases, working women, the brooch developed in three directions: firstly as a fashion accessory for example in the minimised form of ornamental pins in the 1950s. Stylish jewellery is still closely matched to the clothing today, complimenting the fabric in design as well as in function, for example pinning shawls and scarves in place. Secondly, the brooch developed into a medium for making political or social statements. “Nuclear power- no thanks”, “mod” and love and peace symbols were statements emblazoned on the fronts of pins and buttons from the end of the 1960s, displaying an attitude and membership of a movement. The conscious use of the brooch as a subtle means of communication was demonstrated by the former US foreign minister Madeleine Albright who used her brooches to show criticism of the talks of the time.


“Ban The Bombers - SDS” 1960s Anti- Vietnam War Cello Button


The third direction concerns the freedom of artistic design which a brooch offers. Thanks to its detachment from the body, the brooch allows the jewellery artist to work sculpturally and to carve out artistic aspects which function independently from the body and person of the wearer. This was seen for the first time in the pieces by René Lalique which is, as described by Georg Simmel, autonomous artistic products which no longer form a unity with the wearer. The potential for formal autonomy made the brooch the preferred form of jewellery for the contemporary author jewellery style. Jewellery artist Hubertus von Skal underlined this in a text accompanying the first overview exhibition of author jewellery in 1971 in which he wrote that brooches had a special meaning for him, due to their independent character, which made it possible to wear them or hang them on the wall.

Despite the artistic autonomy of the brooch as a small sculpture worn on the body, it needs the pin. This is the element which connects it to the wearer, who is not to be compared to the neutral presentation surface of a white cube. The person who wears the jewellery chooses it and in wearing it the statement made by the jewellery connects very intimately with his or her personality. In contrast to the viewer, the wearer knows the unexpected details and the innovative technical solutions as well as the artistic beauty of the back of the brooch. It is the part of the brooch that communicates only with the wearer and it does so via the very tangible but also symbolic form of the pin. Even though a brooch in contemporary jewellery refers primarily to itself and to the artist, it must still tolerate the wearer and be tolerated by them in return. Superficially far-distanced from the person and independent from them, it is nevertheless a very intimate act to make such a marker a part of your personal domain.

The brooch has highlighted the boundary between person and environment for thousands of years. It is a means of communication, a marker but also a boundary marker. In order to function independently of the wearer, it needs clothing, which is the artificial extension of our personal domain and also the pin, the backside- its technical and symbolic base. This indivisibility of the elements and aspects of a brooch and the formal and contextual integration of the back and the pin into the overall concept of the brooch is the subject of this book.
 

About the author

Julia Wild (b. 1970) has been an academic assistant at the Department of Gemstones and Jewellery at the Trier University of Applied Sciences since 2010. She studied German studies and history at the Ruprecht-Karl University Heidelberg. Her focus lies in the field of ritual and symbolic communication, space and body, which she seeks to bring together in her teaching with the social phenomenon of jewellery.
 
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