July 19, 2011–June 1, 2014

Jewels, Gems, and Treasures

Ancient to Modern
“Spectacular…one-of-a-kind…a very sparkly part of our history.”—WCVB-TV

What is a gem? "Jewels, Gems, and Treasures: Ancient to Modern," the first exhibition in the Museum's new Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery, examines the various roles and meanings associated with a wide range of gem materials. Drawn from the MFA’s collection and select loans, these range from a 24th-century BC Nubian conch shell amulet, to Mary Todd Lincoln’s 19th-century diamond and gold suite, to a 20th-century platinum, diamond, ruby, and sapphire Flag brooch honoring the sacrifices of the Doughboys in World War I.

Today, in the West, we have come to regard diamond, pearl, emerald, sapphire, and ruby as the most precious of materials. That has not always been the case. Other substances have commanded equal attention, from feathers, claws, and mica appliqués to coral and rock crystal, serving a protective role, guarding their wearer from dangerous circumstances or malevolent forces. Other substances, especially those that are rare and available to a select few, are signifiers of wealth and power.

Above: This charming enamel marsh-bird decorated with moonstones and pearls was created by English Arts and Crafts designer Charles Robert Ashbee as a hair ornament that was later converted to a brooch.

  • Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery (Gallery 104)