Bejeweled: Quick Bite

We’re getting our glam on today at Museum Quick Bites with a stunning Bukharan headdress crafted in the mid to late 1800s. Made of gilt silver and decorated with rubies, mardjon and colored glass, this ceremonial headdress has an exotic vibe.

Woman’s Ceremonial Headdress (mid to late 1800s), Bhakara, Uzbekistan, Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)

Zoom in and notice the intricate floral pattern on the crown and the star and crescent moon charms dangling from the mushroom-like top. The beaded fringe no doubt provides a musical accompaniment with every toss of the head. This beauty must have been a delight to wear.

Located in modern-day Uzbekistan, Bukhara is an ancient city situated along the Silk Road. Over the centuries, rule of this bustling oasis changed hands multiple times, most notably in 1220 when Genghis Khan (1162-1227) and his Mongol army invaded. In 1785, the Emirate of Bukhara was established and ruled by the Manghit Dynasty. In 1868, Bukhara became a protectorate of tsarist Russia until the Red Army invaded and took control in 1920. Uzbekistan declared independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Fun Bejeweled Bukharan Fact #1:  Silver represented the moon and femininity, and had the power to purify. Mardjon, a type of coral, possessed healing powers and was believed to improve the wearer’s eyesight as well as cure paralysis, forgetfulness and ailments of the heart and stomach.

Kaylan Mosque in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, photo by Marco Torrazzina, Pixabay

The Bukharan people have a long and rich traditional history. During the reign of the Manghit Dynasty (1785-1920), when our bejeweled headdress was created, Bukharan jewelry was not only decorative, it served an important cultural and spiritual role. Worn in sets, as opposed to single pieces, decorative ensembles were believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune, especially during major life events such as weddings. For women, jewelry also established their marital, social, and economic status, as well as their cultural identity

Young girls began wearing small bracelets and earrings, leveling up to larger, more elaborate pieces as they grew older. Bukharan brides were arrayed in sets of jewelry weighing up to 30 lbs. This weighty good luck charm was worn with the hope of a happy and fertile marriage.

Bukharan Jewelry Set (mid to late 1800s), Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)

In a gesture of modesty, Bukharan women began to decrease the amount of jewelry worn when they reached their 30s. And once in their 40s they gifted these treasures to their daughters or female relatives, like their mothers before them. If you’d like to learn more about the jewelry of Bukhara, click on this Vanishing Beauty: Asian Jewelry and Ritual Objects from the Barbara and David Kipper Collection, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Fun Bejeweled Bukharan Fact #2: Earrings were always made in pairs, and if a wife lost an earring it meant she could lose her husband.

That concludes our look at Bukharan bling. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. Until then be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂

Cover photo by Inno Kurnia, courtesy of Pixabay.



Art Institute of Chicago: Jewelry from Bukhara (2018)

Art Institute of Chicago: Ornamental Traditions: Jewelry from Bukhara (2019)

Art Institute of Chicago: Vanishing Beauty: Asian Jewelry and Ritual Objects from the Barbara and David Kipper Collection (2016)

BBC: Uzbekistan

Britannica: Bukhara

Britannica: Russian and Soviet Rule

Britannica: Uzbekistan

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Islamic Jewelry

Oxford Research Encyclopedias: The Emirate of Bukhara (2017)


World Digital Library: Emir of Bukhara

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