The Gold Room

The History of Gold

The unique properties of gold mean that its colour remains consistent even though an object may have been buried for centuries, unlike other metals which tarnish and disintegrate under such conditions. It was always an important material, as besides being visually beautiful, it represented the symbol of the sun; silver being under the influence of the moon. With the spread of Christianity, both the style and demand for gold radically changed. Jewellery was no longer buried with the dead in great amounts as before. Instead, there was a considerable demand for jewellery for courts and religious establishments and lead to a new richly embellished style of ornament that spread throughout Europe and into the Middle East. With the spread of Islam across Africa and towards North-West China, the art of goldsmithing became a fusion of local cultures as Islam came into close contact with a wide variety of civilisations. Goldsmiths within the Islamic world drew inspiration from many of these civilisations, combining ideas and styles to ultimately provide Islamic art with its recognisable and distinctive styles. Byzantine art forms were a particularly important source of influence on the early development of Islamic jewellery. Perhaps the epitome of jewellery technique and beauty might be considered to be the Mughal period in India (AD 1556-1857). This period represents the successful interaction and combination of Islamic and Hindu goldsmithing skills.

In the Gold Room are displays of a collection of gold jewellery ranging from pre-Islamic to the Islamic period. This includes examples from the non-Islamic Himalayan region. There was much interaction through movements of people and trade between areas and the geographical vastness of the Muslim world, along with the varied historical and cultural developments that have taken place over thirteen centuries make the arts of Islam intricate and complex. The Museum’s collection reflects this and highlights the changing of styles as they began to amalgamate with those of many different cultures, resulting in the sharing of patterns and techniques still visible today. 

The Gold Room’s collection includes a number of important pieces including a beautiful gold necklace set with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls from 18th century (AD) Jaipur, Mughal India. Another interesting part of the collection is an Islamic gold necklace with Qur’anic inscriptions. The family through whom this exceptionally large and important necklace has been handed down, say it was presented to their ancestor by Sultan Barghash bin Said, the Sultan of Zanzibar (1870-1888) for services he rendered to his Sultanate. The Sultan made a state visit to Britain in 1875 to meet Queen Victoria and it was through the good offices of the ancestor that a successful visit to Britain was made. Upon the Sultan’s return to Zanzibar, the necklace was presented to the ancestor to thank him for his efforts.

Collection Highlights

A few examples of the Gold Room’s notable objects

Click on each image for more details!

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