Ex-votos and Contemporary Jewelers

Arash Naghdi  2/3/2018
Ex-votos and Contemporary Jewelers
Traditional ex-votos and contemporary jewelry both raise similar questions and concerns for viewers: What do they mean? What are they telling us? Their social purposes are different, and they belong to different worlds, but both are the product of materialized wishes: ex-votos and contemporary jewels are made with the techniques of the same trade, and both have things to say.

Ex-votos are not jewels per se, yet their materials, size, concept, and symbolic value make them precious, inviting us to view them as jewelry. “Jewelry” can be defined as any metal ornament designed to be worn on the body, but the term “contemporary jewelry” is also the name of a discipline that uses jewelry as a form of artistic expression, subordinating the techniques of the trade to the message the artist wants to convey. Contemporary jewels are not little art objects; their value is not determined by scale. Contemporary jewelry amounts to art because it is conceived as such, and the human body is entailed in the concept as much as it supports it.

Behind a traditional ex-voto, on the other hand, there is a votary who pleaded to a divinity, a granted favor, and, as a token of gratitude, a silversmith making an object, offered in turn to the saint who worked the miracle. Jewelers are intermediaries between a divinity and a devotee, and they have the opportunity to materialize the devotee’s gratitude. The Argentinian jewelers mentioned later in this essay were asked to make a contemporary ex-voto for an exhibition called True Is What Has Been at PLATINA in Stockholm, inspired by this process, rather than by the aesthetic features of the popular ex-voto.

As the Argentinian anthropologist Cesar Ceriani says, “The maker of the ex-voto is a specialist in handling the materials and forms that compose the gift offered to the divinity for the conceded grace—a key player in the realm of the relationships, symbols, and emotions that encompass this practice, and an artist of translation and intercession derived from the materiality of the votive object. The craftsman or artist materializes the votary’s religious wish, translating it into another language: that of textures, hard surfaces, pliancy and color, techniques, tools, and a patient work on matter.”


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