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Sixteenth and seventeenth century sources reveal that precious stones served a number of important functions in Elizabethan and early Stuart society. The beauty and rarity of certain precious stones made them ideal additions to fashion and dress of the day. These stones also served political purposes when flaunted as examples of a country’s wealth, bestowed as favors, or even worn as a show of royal support. Lapidaries and medical texts advised readers to use stones in myriad ways ranging from the subtle and common, to the bizarre and mystical.
Stones and gems are excellent tools for studying diverse aspects of the cultural history of a society. A close examination of the gems people owned, how they were used, and what people thought about them reveals those circumstances and processes whereby an ordinary object becomes special or precious because of its investment with particular meanings and values. From this cultural perspective, the precious stones provide a means to an end; a way to resurrect thoughts, feelings, emotions, and other intangible threads that once interwoven, bond together a rich comprehension of a society. An understanding of precious stones gives us a unique insight into the motivations, aspirations, fears, and dreams that embodied Elizabethan and early Stuart society.
Adviser: Carole Levin