'Serpentina - Snake Jewelry from Around the World'
by Fritz Falk
Review by Mary Sue Packer

'Serpentina -  Snake Jewelry from Around the World'
by Fritz Falk
Review by Mary Sue Packer

  By its very sibilance, the word 'Serpentina' conjures up the infinite realm of the most fascinating creatures ever to slither  out of the primordial slime and evolve into efficient denizens of the earth.  They  thrive in water on land, and by a stretch, in the air (trees obliging) and are ubiquitous in art, religion, medicine, literature, - the world as we know it, even to include a celestial constellation. Serpents have been feared and revered in practically every culture throughout the ages, and endowed with deifying and demonizing qualities.  As symbols, these precisely engineered creatures were certainly not lost on the jewelry industry, where all their attributes, positive and negative, are sublimated by the artisan's creative whim.  There is no neutral ground even here;  whether in effigy or reality; snakes are exalted or despised, arousing awe at their sinuous beauty or terror at their sinister elegance.

 'Serpentina' is master goldsmith\art historian Dr. Fritz Falk's brilliant treatise on the subject, as well as the catalog to the exhibit in the Pforzheim Jewelry Museum.  During his 34-year tenure as museum director, he was responsible for ca. 150 exhibitions of historical, ethnological and modern jewelry, and has numerous publications to his credit in the areas of jewelry and ethnography.  Here in both fields snakes are meticulously traced throughout the millennia in various aspects of their imagery.  Their expression as jewelry is of course the prime theme of his monograph, dedicated to the entire range of the snake motif in ornament, from the early examples found in Egyptian as well as Greco-Roman antiquity up to the present, and including just about any civilization with artisans inspired by and able to produce facsimiles of what could occasionally be found underfoot - the generic snake. 

If one feels depleted after delving into this comprehensive historical background, the exquisite large-formatted photos illustrating the text throughout are inspiration to continue on with this engaging volume - e.g., the luminous Laliques belying the inherent flatness of their photographs by maintaining their dimensions against  black backgrounds so vividly that one is seduced into illusions about the secret lives of inanimate objects - particularly since these very objects represent such mysterious beings.  Are these dimensions palpable, or merely the overlay of my fantasy?  Did I actually recoil from the stunning Lalique evening bag just waiting to thrash into action if its clasp is incorrectly approached?  Do certain objects really have secret lives, only subjugated by the forms imposed on them, like the water trapped in those pebbles from India? 

Ah, eternal Ophidia!  So entrenched in so many cultures, such a significant symbol with such myriad interpretations - and now the entire spectrum of the snake in jewelry, culminating in the extravagant bespoke Jugendstil creations and continuing to inspire design into the 21st century...Once again Dr. Falk has broadened our horizons and enriched us with his expertise, and once again the Arnoldsche has produced a definitive work.  This singularly wonderful tome almost defies description - the comprehensive overview, the opulent photo documentation and eloquent text, fascinating variations on a theme to inspire, mesmerize, entrance - a superior reference  to peruse over and over, and a stellar addition to the Arnoldsche design classics.

Fritz Falk, 'Serpentina - Snake Jewelry from Around the World'.  192 pages, 238 color plates, hard cover, text in German and English.  ISBN 978-3-89790-354-8.  Available for $85. from the Antique Collectors Club, 6 West 18th St., 4th Floor, New York 10011, NY  

Through the efforts of Mary Sue Packer and the generosity of the publisher ARNOLDSCHE Art Publishers
we have been able to add an amazing photo gallery from this book.

Serpentina Jewelry Photo Gallery

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