Gold Pendant Depicting Emperor Volusian

Gold Pendant Depicting Emperor Volusian

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Viking Gold Repoussé Bracteate Pendant Depicting Gryphon - 41 mm

Description: Early Viking broad repoussé Bracteate gold-foil pendant ribbed loop depiction of a Gryphon in oval frame.
Material: Solid Gold
Condition: Extremely Fine / Wearable
Date: 7th - 9th century
Measurements: 41 mm 5 grams
Provenance: From an old British collection, property of a collector from Birmingham acquired in 1970s in Germany.

Depiction of Gryphons are found on bronze and silver pendants, but gold pendants are extremely rare and none were recorded in Cf. Korshun, V.E. Yazcheskye Priveski Drevnei Rusi X-XIV Vekov, which is the largest database for Viking pendants.

In Viking culture, bracteates probably are derived from Roman portrait medallions, presented by the emperor to forge personal and political alliances. Here, however, the imperial image has been transformed into a depiction of a mythological creature. With their skilful workmanship and allusions to the Romano-Byzantine world, The Viking gold bracteates conveyed both the sophisticated taste and high social status of their female owners, who wore them as fine jewellery and hoarded them as treasure.

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Nebu: Gold in Ancient Egypt

Ancient egyptian gold statue of the protecting goddess Serket at the Tutankhamun exhibition. / Photo by mountainpix, depositphotos, Creative Commons

Ancient texts report the vast quantities of statuary of gold, silver, bronze, and other metals.

Egypt is a land rich in gold, and ancient miners employing traditional methods were thorough in their exploitation of economically feasible sources. In addition to the resources of the Eastern Desert, Egypt had access to the riches of Nubia, which is reflected in its ancient name, nbw (the Egyptian word for gold). The hieroglyph for gold—a broad collar—appears with the beginning of writing in Dynasty 1, but the earliest surviving gold artifacts date to the preliterate days of the fourth millennium B.C. these are mostly beads and other modest items used for personal adornment. Gold jewelry intended for daily life or use in temple or funerary ritual continued to be produced throughout Egypt’s long history.

This cone, found among the items in the Tell Basta treasure, would have been attached at the inner center of an elaborately decorated bowl. (c.1279–1213 BCE) / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

The gold used by the Egyptians generally contains silver, often in substantial amounts, and it appears that for most of Egypt’s history gold was not refined to increase its purity. The color of a metal is affected by its composition: gradations in hue that range between the bright yellow of a central boss that once embellished a vessel dating to the Third Intermediate Period and the paler grayish yellow of a Middle Kingdom uraeus pendant are due to the natural presence of lesser or greater amounts of silver.

Pendant in the Shape of an Uraeus (2030-1650 BCE). The uraeus was a royal symbol of protection, as the representation of a rearing cobra could magically spit fire at the enemies of Egypt from its perch on the king’s forehead. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

In fact, the pendant contains gold and silver in nearly equal amounts and is therefore electrum, a natural alloy of gold containing more than 20 percent silver, as defined by the ancient Roman author, naturalist, philosopher, and historian Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis historia.

Finger Ring depicting King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti as Shu and Tefnut (1353-1336 BCE). This ring was found at Amarna. The hieroglyphs may be read as an ideogram. The two seated figures are probably Akhenaten (left) and Nefertiti (right) as the deities Shu (air as indicated by the feather he holds) and Tefnut (moisture). They were father and mother of the earth and sky. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

A ring dated to the Amarna Period depicting Shu and Tefnut illustrates a rare occasion when an Egyptian goldsmith added a significant amount of copper to a natural gold-silver alloy to attain a reddish hue.

Child’s bracelet (c.2650 BCE). / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

The survival of gold artifacts is skewed by accidents of history and excavation Egyptian sites have been looted since ancient times, and much precious metal was melted down long ago. Overall, relatively few gold pieces survive from the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods, which are represented in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection by a small bangle bracelet from the tomb of Khasekhemwy, the last ruler of Dynasty 2. It was made from a broad band of hammered gold sheet. Small stone vessels that had been sealed with hammered sheets of gold textured to resemble animal hide and tied down with gold wire “string” were also found in the royal tomb.

Ram’s-head Amulet (c.712-664 BCE). This amulet was probably made for a necklace worn by one of the Kushite kings. Representations show these pharaohs wearing a ram’s-head amulet tied around the neck on a thick cord, the ends of which fall forward over the shoulders. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

Malleability, a physical property shared by many metals and most pronounced for gold, is the ability to be hammered into thin sheets, and it is in this form that most gold artifacts from ancient Egypt survive: solid, cast gold objects, such as a ram’s-head amulet dated to the Kushite Period, are generally small and relatively rare.

Model collar of Hapiankhtifi (c.1981-1802 BCE). Elaborate broad collars were worn by the Egyptian elite for a variety of festival and religious occasions. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain Heart Scarab with a Human Head (c.1550-1070 BCE). Heart scarabs were very popular amulets. Positioned on the chest of the mummy, they usually take the shape of a large scarab beetle (which was a symbol of regeneration). / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

Gold leaf as thin as one micron was produced even in ancient times, and thicker foils or sheets were applied mechanically or with an adhesive to impart a golden surface to a broad range of other materials, including the wood of Hapiankhtifi’s model broad collar dating to Dynasty 12, and the bronze mount of a basalt heart scarab dating to the New Kingdom.

Bes-image of the god Hor-Asha-Khet (4th-2nd Century BCE). This statue has the visual form known for the god Bes, but the form was actually adopted for depictions of numerous other gods, usually ones related to Horus. This association might be related to the protector role of Bes-type demons in relation to the newborn sun. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

On the broad collar, the leaf was applied onto a layer of gesso (plaster with an adhesive gum) over linen on the scarab, a somewhat thicker foil was crimped between the bronze mount and the stone scarab. Gold inlays were also used to enhance works in other media, especially bronze statuary.

Gilded glass earring (1st Century BCE – 1st Century CE). Gilded or silvered glass was especially popular from the mid first century BC to the mid first century AD. Here a gilded bead hangs as a pendant from a hoop with ring beads of granules above and below the bead. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

During Ptolemaic and Roman times, gilded glass jewelry was popular in Egypt. A fusion process for gilding silver was developed in the Near East, most likely in Iran. Its probable use in Egypt during the late first millennium B.C. has not yet been well studied during the Roman Period, mercury gilding, an import from East Asia, became the most common process for gilding silver or cupreous substrates used in the Mediterranean world, and it remained so into early modern times.

Pectoral and Necklace of Sithathoryunet with the Name of Senwosret II (c.1887-1878 BCE).This pectoral is composed around the throne name of King Senwosret II. It was found among the jewelry of Princess Sithathoryunet in a special niche of her underground tomb beside the pyramid of Senwosret II at Lahun. Hieroglyphic signs make up the design, and the whole may be read: “The god of the rising sun grants life and dominion over all that the sun encircles for one million one hundred thousand years [i.e., eternity] to King Khakheperre [Senwosret II].” / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

Excavations at Dahshur, Lahun, and Hawara in the early twentieth century unearthed much jewelry that belonged to elite women associated with the royal courts of the Dynasty 12 kings Senwosret II and Amenemhat III. Sithathoryunet’s pectoral was made using the cloisonné inlay technique: scores of hammered gold strips known as cloisons, a French word for partitions, form cells on the gold back plate assembled from multiple hammered sheets and several cast elements. The reverse of the back plate was elegantly scored with the same patterns and additional details. The pectoral certainly was valued for its exquisite form and execution, but its function was primarily ritual: inscribed with the name of Senwosret II, it reflects Sithathoryunet’s role in assuring his well-being throughout eternity.

Cylindrical pendant (1887-1425 BCE) / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

Although gold as a commodity appears to have been largely controlled by the king, Egyptians of less than royal status also owned gold jewelry: Middle Kingdom cylinder amulets often feature granulation, a technique for adding details and creating relief using small metal spheres (granules), here arranged in zigzags. The granules were generally attached using a method known as colloidal hard soldering, which relies on the chemical reduction of a finely ground copper-mineral powder that locally lowers the melting point of adjacent gold surfaces. The ensuing diffusion of gold and copper atoms between the surfaces of the granules and the hammered sheet support creates a physical bond.

Necklace of Gold Ball Beads (c.1981-1975 BCE). Five of Wah’s necklaces were probably worn during his lifetime, although some may have been restrung for his burial. After Wah’s mummy had been partially wrapped, this necklace of gold beads was tied around the neck. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

Another important method used to join precious metals in antiquity and in modern times is soldering. In order to carry out this process, an alloy—e.g., the solder—is formulated so as to have a lower melting point than the metals it is intended to join. The solder is hammered into a sheet and cut into minute squares or strips known as paillons. Once placed in strategic locations, the paillons are heated, so that they melt and locally reduce the melting point of adjacent gold surfaces, thereby facilitating diffusion of the molecules between the solder and the components to be joined. A primitive form of soldering has been observed on an early Dynasty 12 gold ball-bead necklace found on the mummy of Wah, and more accomplished work can be observed on the electrum uraeus pendant.

The staggering amount of gold found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, the only ancient Egyptian royal burial to have been found in a relatively intact state, illustrates almost unfathomable wealth, but Egyptologists suspect that the kings who ruled into middle or old age were accompanied into the next life with even more numerous luxury goods. Far less important members of New Kingdom royal families were also interred with lavish gold treasures.

Sandals (c.1479-1425 BCE). These gold sandals belonged to the funerary accoutrements of an Egyptian queen of Thutmose III in the middle of Dynasty 18. Similar gold sandals were found on the mummy of Tutankhamun, one of Thutmose’s descendents who ruled at the end of the same dynasty. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain Wide-necked jar and lid naming Thutmose III (c.1479-1425 BCE). In Theban tomb paintings dating to Dynasty 18, servants are sometimes shown anointing guests with perfumed oils and ointments stored in small stone jars. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

Three foreign women known to have been minor wives of Thutmose III were interred together with similar assemblages of gold jewelry and various funerary articles. For example, each queen had a pair of gold sandals made of hammered gold sheet with scored decoration on the insole, and cosmetic vessels made from an assortment of stones and other materials fitted with gold sheet.

Statuette of Amun (c.945-712 BCE). The god Amun (“the hidden one”) first came into prominence at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. From the New Kingdom onward, Amun was arguably the most important god in the Egyptian pantheon. As a creator god, Amun is most often identified as Amun-Re (in the typical Egyptian blending of deities, Amun is combined with the main solar deity, Re). / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

Ancient texts report the vast quantities of statuary of gold, silver, bronze, and other metals that were used in Egyptian temple ritual, but of these only a single gold statue is known to survive. The body of this figure of Amun, minus the arms, was solid cast in a single piece, and the separately cast arms were soldered in place. His regalia was also produced separately: in his right hand he holds a scimitar, in the left an ankh sign, the latter made of numerous components joined using solder. It has been suggested, on technical grounds, that the absence of Amun’s crown, a triple attachment loop, and the statue’s support, each also made separately and originally soldered in place, do not represent ancient damages or the effects of burial, but were removed before the statue was acquired for the Carnarvon Collection in 1917.

Strap chain with one decorated terminal preserved (332-30 BCE). ‘Straps’ consist of two or more loop-in-loop chains fastened side-by-side. This one consists of fourteen chains held together by linking wires at regular intervals. / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

Wire technology is an essential part of goldworking, especially for jewelry. For example, wires were used to produce surface decoration, often in conjunction with granulation work, and they were applied using the same colloidal hard soldering method. The wires could be twisted, braided, or woven to make chains, and then used structurally to join individual components. The wires themselves were made from tightly twisted metal strips or rods or from square section rods that were hammered to attain roundness. The yards of wire that make up the strap chain fragment were produced using the former method the wires on the electrum uraeus pendant were hammered.

Collar with medallions containing coins of emperors (c.225 CE). This collar displays medallions containing coins of Emperors Lucius Verus (r. AD 161-169) and Alexander Severus (r. AD 222-235) and of Julia Domna, Wife of Emperor Septimius Severus (r. AD 193-211) and mother of Geta (r. AD 211-212) and Caracalla (r. AD 211-217). / Photo courtesy MMA, Public Domain

In Macedonian, Ptolemaic, and Roman times, jewelry made elsewhere circulated in Egypt, and local production reflects these and other foreign influences. One foreign practice in jewelry design introduced into Egypt during the Roman Period was the incorporation of gold coins—the Egyptian economy was commodity-based until about the time of Alexander the Great—along with the pierced settings framing the coins, which were produced by a typically Roman technique known as opus interassile.

Christ Crucified, a Hispano-Philippine ivory

This ivory sculpture of Jesus traveled between three continents, demonstrating the global flow of materials, objects, and Christianity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Christ Crucified, 17th century, ivory (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City), speakers: Dr. Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Steven Zucker

Trade between the Philippines, New Spain and Spain

Both the Philippines and Mexico formed part of what was once called the Viceroyalty of New Spain , which was controlled by the Spanish Crown. Beginning in the sixteenth century, Spanish galleons (large, multi-decked ships) began to sail between Manila (in the Philippines) and Acapulco (in Mexico). This trans-Pacific Manila Galleon trade created an important route for the global exchange of materials (such as silk, spices, porcelain, and ivory from Asia and silver and gold from the Americas). Many of the resources and goods coming from Asia would also travel overland from Acapulco to the Gulf Coast of Mexico, at which point they would be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.

These objects are often labeled “Hispano-Philippine ivory sculptures” to denote their creation in the Philippines (or possibly even China) but made for a Spanish clientele (whether in the Spanish Americas or the Iberian Peninsula). The artists may also have been originally from China.

Artists carved a number of small-scale devotional objects, like Christ Crucified from i vory— a luxurious material in the sixteenth and seventeenth century . While some of these ivory sculptures were ultimately destined for Spain, many remained in the Americas. An object like Christ Crucified also demonstrates the global reach of Catholicism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


Historically, the Chinese dragon was associated with the Emperor of China and used as a symbol to represent imperial power. The founder of the Han dynasty Liu Bang claimed that he was conceived after his mother dreamt of a dragon. [2] During the Tang dynasty, Emperors wore robes with dragon motif as an imperial symbol, and high officials might also be presented with dragon robes. [3] In the Yuan dynasty, the two-horned five-clawed dragon was designated for use by the Son of Heaven or Emperor only, while the four-clawed dragon was used by the princes and nobles. [4] Similarly during the Ming and Qing dynasty, the five-clawed dragon was strictly reserved for use by the Emperor only. The dragon in the Qing dynasty appeared on the first Chinese national flag. [5]

The dragon is sometimes used in the West as a national emblem of China though such use is not commonly seen in the People's Republic of China or the Republic of China. Instead, it is generally used as the symbol of culture. In Hong Kong, the dragon was a component of the coat of arms under British rule. It was later to become a feature of the design of Brand Hong Kong, a government promotional symbol. [6]

The Chinese dragon has very different connotations from the European dragon – in European cultures, the dragon is a fire-breathing creature with aggressive connotations, whereas the Chinese dragon is a spiritual and cultural symbol that represents prosperity and good luck, as well as a rain deity that fosters harmony. It was reported that the Chinese government decided against using the dragon as its official 2008 Summer Olympics mascot because of the aggressive connotations that dragons have outside of China, and chose more "friendly" symbols instead. [7] Sometimes Chinese people use the term "Descendants of the Dragon" (simplified Chinese: 龙的传人 traditional Chinese: 龍的傳人 ) as a sign of ethnic identity, as part of a trend started in the 1970s when different Asian nationalities were looking for animal symbols as representations, for example, the wolf may be used by the Mongols as it is considered to be their legendary ancestor. [2] [5] [8]

State symbol Edit

The dragon was the symbol of the Chinese emperor for many dynasties. During the Qing dynasty, the Azure Dragon was featured on the first Chinese national flag. It was featured again on the Twelve Symbols national emblem, which was used during the Republic of China, from 1913 to 1928.

Imperial jade seal, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)

Flag of the Commissioner of Weihaiwei with the Chinese dragon in the center, 1899–1903

State emblem of Republic of China, 1913–1928

Chinese dragon was one of the supporters of the colonial arms of Hong Kong until 1997

Chinese dragon was carrying a shield from the arms of Portugal in the colonial arms of the Government of Macau until 1999

Due to influences by Chinese culture, the dragon was also adopted as state symbol in Vietnam. During the Nguyễn dynasty, the dragon was featured on the imperial standards. It was also featured on the coats of arms of the State of Vietnam, and later South Vietnam.

Imperial standard of emperors Khải Định and Bảo Đại, 1922–1945

Imperial pennon of Nguyễn dynasty, 1802–1945

Vertical imperial pennon of Nguyễn dynasty

Coat of Arms of the State of Vietnam, 1954–1955

Personal standard of Bảo Đại as the Chief of State of Vietnam, 1948–1955

Flag of the Vietnamese National Army have a dragon in each corner

Chinese dragon was the supporters of the coat of arms of South Vietnam, 1963–1975

Origin Edit

The ancient Chinese self-identified as "the gods of the dragon" because the Chinese dragon is an imagined reptile that represents evolution from the ancestors and qi energy. [9] The presence of dragons within Chinese culture dates back several thousands of years with the discovery of a dragon statue dating back to the fifth millennium BC from the Yangshao culture in Henan in 1987, [10] and jade badges of rank in coiled form have been excavated from the Hongshan culture circa 4700–2900 BC. [11] Some of the earliest Dragon artifacts are the pig dragon carvings from the Hongshan culture.

The coiled dragon or snake form played an important role in early Chinese culture. The character for "dragon" in the earliest Chinese writing has a similar coiled form, as do later jade dragon amulets from the Shang period. [12]

Ancient Chinese referred to unearthed dinosaur bones as dragon bones and documented them as such. For example, Chang Qu in 300 BC documents the discovery of "dragon bones" in Sichuan. [13] The modern Chinese term for dinosaur is written as 恐龍 恐龙 kǒnglóng ('terror dragon'), and villagers in central China have long unearthed fossilized "dragon bones" for use in traditional medicines, a practice that continues today. [14]

The binomial name for a variety of dinosaurs discovered in China, Mei long, in Chinese ( 寐 mèi and 龙 lóng ) means 'sleeping dragon'. Fossilized remains of Mei long have been found in China in a sleeping and coiled form, with the dinosaur nestling its snout beneath one of its forelimbs while encircling its tail around its entire body. [15]

Mythical creature Edit

From its origins as totems or the stylized depiction of natural creatures, the Chinese dragon evolved to become a mythical animal. The Han dynasty scholar Wang Fu recorded Chinese myths that long dragons had nine anatomical resemblances.

The people paint the dragon's shape with a horse's head and a snake's tail. Further, there are expressions as 'three joints' and 'nine resemblances' (of the dragon), to wit: from head to shoulder, from shoulder to breast, from breast to tail. These are the joints as to the nine resemblances, they are the following: his antlers resemble those of a stag, his head that of a camel, his eyes those of a demon, his neck that of a snake, his belly that of a clam (shen, 蜃 ), his scales those of a carp, his claws those of an eagle, his soles those of a tiger, his ears those of a cow. Upon his head he has a thing like a broad eminence (a big lump), called [chimu] ( 尺木 ). If a dragon has no [chimu], he cannot ascend to the sky. [16]

Further sources give variant lists of the nine animal resemblances. Sinologist Henri Doré lists these characteristics of an authentic dragon: "The antlers of a deer. The head of a crocodile. A demon's eyes. The neck of a snake. A tortoise's viscera. A hawk's claws. The palms of a tiger. A cow's ears. And it hears through its horns, its ears being deprived of all power of hearing." [17] He notes that, "Others state it has a rabbit's eyes, a frog's belly, a carp's scales." The anatomy of other legendary creatures, including the chimera and manticore, is similarly amalgamated from fierce animals.

Chinese dragons were considered to be physically concise. Of the 117 scales, 81 are of the yang essence (positive) while 36 are of the yin essence (negative). Initially, the dragon was benevolent, wise, and just, but the Buddhists introduced the concept of malevolent influence among some dragons. Just as water destroys, they said, so can some dragons destroy via floods, tidal waves, and storms. They suggested that some of the worst floods were believed to have been the result of a mortal upsetting a dragon.

Many pictures of Chinese dragons show a flaming pearl under their chin or in their claws. The pearl is associated with spiritual energy, wisdom, prosperity, power, immortality, thunder, or the moon. Chinese art often depicts a pair of dragons chasing or fighting over the flaming pearl.

Chinese dragons are occasionally depicted with bat-like wings growing out of the front limbs, but most do not have wings, as their ability to fly (and control rain/water, etc.) is mystical and not seen as a result of their physical attributes.

This description accords with the artistic depictions of the dragon down to the present day. The dragon has also acquired an almost unlimited range of supernatural powers. It is said to be able to disguise itself as a silkworm, or become as large as our entire universe. It can fly among the clouds or hide in water (according to the Guanzi). It can form clouds, can turn into water, can change color as an ability to blend in with their surroundings, as an effective form of camouflage or glow in the dark (according to the Shuowen Jiezi).

In many other countries, folktales speak of the dragon having all the attributes of the other 11 creatures of the zodiac, this includes the whiskers of the Rat, the face and horns of the Ox, the claws and teeth of the Tiger, the belly of the Rabbit, the body of the Snake, the legs of the Horse, the goatee of the Goat, the wit of the Monkey, the crest of the Rooster, the ears of the Dog, and the snout of the Pig.

In some circles, it is considered bad luck to depict a dragon facing downwards, as it is seen as disrespectful to place a dragon in such manner that it cannot ascend to the sky. Also, depictions of dragons in tattoos are prevalent as they are symbols of strength and power, especially criminal organisations where dragons hold a meaning all on their own. As such, it is believed that one must be fierce and strong enough, hence earning the right to wear the dragon on his skin, lest his luck be consumed by the dragons. [ citation needed ]

According to an art historian John Boardman, depictions of Chinese Dragon and Indian Makara might have been influenced by Kētos in Greek Mythology possibly after contact with silk-road images of the Kētos as Chinese dragon appeared more reptilian and shifted head-shape afterwards. [18]

Ruler of weather and water Edit

Chinese dragons are strongly associated with water and weather in popular religion. They are believed to be the rulers of moving bodies of water, such as waterfalls, rivers, or seas. The Dragon God is the dispenser of rain as well as the zoomorphic representation of the yang masculine power of generation. [19] In this capacity as the rulers of water and weather, the dragon is more anthropomorphic in form, often depicted as a humanoid, dressed in a king's costume, but with a dragon head wearing a king's headdress.

There are four major Dragon Kings, representing each of the Four Seas: the East Sea (corresponding to the East China Sea), the South Sea (corresponding to the South China Sea), the West Sea (sometimes seen as the Qinghai Lake and beyond), and the North Sea (sometimes seen as Lake Baikal).

Because of this association, they are seen as "in charge" of water-related weather phenomena. In premodern times, many Chinese villages (especially those close to rivers and seas) had temples dedicated to their local "dragon king". In times of drought or flooding, it was customary for the local gentry and government officials to lead the community in offering sacrifices and conducting other religious rites to appease the dragon, either to ask for rain or a cessation thereof.

The King of Wuyue in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period was often known as the "Dragon King" or the "Sea Dragon King" because of his extensive hydro-engineering schemes which "tamed" the sea.

Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City

François Boucher’s A Bourgeois Breakfast (below) features an upper middle class French family in their fashionable home. In the corner of the room, nestled on a small shelf, is a Buddha statuette, perhaps imported from China, but also possibly created in Meissen, Germany in imitation of Chinese porcelains. “Chinoiserie,” (and later, “Japonisme”) are terms used to describe eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe’s fascination with East Asian goods. In reality Europeans had long sought spices, silks, and porcelains from the East, but the Ottomans controlled the trade in these and other luxury goods.

François Boucher, Family Taking Breakfast (detail), 1739, 81 x 65 cm (Louvre)

In search for a direct route to Asia that bypassed Ottoman control, Christopher Columbus, a Genoese navigator backed by the Spanish crown, accidentally stumbled upon the so-called “New World,” though he believed he had found the Western route to Asia. Spanish navigators quickly realized they were not in fact in Asia and set about colonizing the Americas. Europeans soon made their way across the Pacific and the first Spanish settlement in Asia was established in San Miguel, present day Cebu (Philippines) in 1565. The Viceroyalty of New Spain eventually came to include much of North America including Mexico and Central America, as well as the Philippines.

Asia + the Americas (via Spain)

Routes of the Manila Galleon trade

Young Woman with a Harpsichord, 1735-1750, oil on canvas (Denver Art Museum)

These two disparate Asian and American territories were joined by a fleet of Spanish ships called the Manila Galleon that left biannually from the cities of Manila in the Philippines and Acapulco in Mexico. From Acapulco, Asian luxury goods were transported over land to Veracruz where they were placed onboard ships bound for Spain, or made their way either by boat or mule to port cities like Lima, Havana, Cartagena, and Portobelo.

Elite Spaniards and Creoles decorated their homes and adorned their bodies with stunning examples of East Asian textiles and manufactured goods, as seen in a Mexican portrait of a Young Woman with a Harpsichord (left). The sitter holds an Asian (or Asian-inspired) fan and wears an elaborate silk dress—both the height of fashion at the time. Soon local artists were inspired to create their own versions of Asian goods, or to inject East Asian styles and motifs into their work. The influence of Asian art is particularly evident in viceregal textiles, ceramics, and furniture. Some examples are the resplendent biombos, or folding screens, made in Mexico beginning in the seventeenth century.

Mexico City side, Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City, New Spain, late 17th century (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

What is a Biombo?

The word biombo is a Hispanization of the Japanese byobu, which can be translated as “protection from wind.” The first byobu arrived in Mexico City as early as 1614 and quickly became highly sought after luxury items. These screens, originally imported from China to Japan in the eighth century and made of separate folding panels hinged together, were used within homes to divide or enclose interior spaces. Japanese screens typically featured landscapes with people or animals, but biombo made in Mexico featured secular subjects set within a city or landscape. Popular subjects included Indigenous festivities, allegories of the four continents, and scenes from the conquest of Mexico.

Conquest side, Biombo showing the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City, New Spain, late 17th century (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

Biombo as Map

The Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City in the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City (above) is exemplary of the genre. Created in the second half of the seventeenth century, the screen features a panoramic birds-eye map of Mexico City on one side and scenes from the Conquest of Mexico on the other. While both sides of the biombo show the same geographic space (Tenochtitlan/Mexico City), the city is rendered very differently on each side.

Mexico City streets (detail), Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City, New Spain, late 17th century (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

This birds-eye view of the city (above) gives a cartographic rendering of the city in three dimensions. Likely based on a seventeenth-century map of the city, this side of the biombo focuses on the physical aspects of Mexico City. The image is idealized—privileging the elite Spanish view of the city. Notably absent, for example, are the small Indigenous dwellings that could be found on the outskirts of the city.

Tlatelolco and the landscape beyond (detail), Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City, New Spain, late 17th century (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

Devoid of people, the sweeping city on a lake appears picturesque, with mountains rising in the distance and causeways that radiate out from its carefully organized grid of plaza, streets, and canals. The grid was established by the Mexica (Aztecs) who founded the city. The Spanish troops who arrived in 1519 were amazed conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo wrote: “Among us there were soldiers who had been in many parts of the world, in Constantinople and all of Italy and Rome. Never had they seen a square that compared so well, so orderly and wide, and so full of people, as that one.” 1 He marveled also at the “straight, level causeway,” and “high towers, pyramids, and other buildings, all of masonry, which rose from the water.” For the Spaniards, they had arrived in a city of dreams—one that mirrored the Renaissance ideals of city planning that had yet to be realized in Spanish medieval cities.

Cathedral (detail), Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City, New Spain, late 17th century (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

Following the Conquest, Tenochtitlan was renamed Mexico City, and was transformed to more closely resemble a European city. Painted in one point perspective (a convention of European painting), the biombo showcases seventeenth-century Mexico City as a sprawling metropolis of stucco buildings with red slate roofs. Particular attention is paid to its most prominent structures: churches, schools, hospitals, monasteries, and convents. The perspectival focus is on the traza, the center of the city that was reserved for the Spanish elites, but the Indigenous city of Tlatelolco, the “sister” city of Tenochtitlan, is rendered on the left hand side of the island (above).

Battle scene (detail), Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City, New Spain, late 17th century (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

Biombo as Narrative

Cartouche (detail), Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City, New Spain, late 17th century (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

Assassination of Moctezuma II (detail), Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City, New Spain, late 17th century (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City)

Biombo in Context

Imagine this folding screen in a large and sumptuously decorated home in Mexico City. Its recalling of Asian art forms was a reflection of the sophisticated tastes of its cosmopolitan owners. The Spanish or Creole elites would have used the biombo as a conversation piece, or perhaps invented games and riddles that related one episode of the Conquest to a particular part of the city. The biombo could serve as a mnemonic device for recalling collective and oral histories of the city. 2 While the Conquest view illustrated the discord of the pre-Hispanic period, the map view celebrated order under Spanish rule. Though never visible at the same time, the two scenes are interrelated, and the act of going back and forth between the physical city and its historic Conquest was one that fascinated both the eye and the mind. Through the act of looking, its owners could superimpose themselves within both the physical and historical city, becoming a part of the transition of the Mexica capital of Tenochtitlan to the Spanish capital of Mexico City.

1 Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The History of the Conquest of New Spain, ed. John Cohen (New York: Penguin Books Limited, 1963), p. 235.

2 Barbara E. Mundy, “Moteuczoma Reborn: Biombo Paintings and Collective Memory in Colonial Mexico City,” Winterthur Portfolio, vol. 45, no. 2/3 (Summer/Autumn 2011), p. 164.

Additional resources:

Barbara E. Mundy, “Moteuczoma Reborn: Biombo Paintings and Collective Memory in Colonial Mexico City,” Winterthur Portfolio, vol. 45, no. 2/3 (Summer/Autumn 2011), pp. 161-176.

Sofia Sanabrais, “From Byobu to Biombo: The Transformation of Japanese Folding Screen in Colonial Mexico,”Art History 38, 4 (September 2015), pp. 778-791.

Justinian Mosaic

T he emperor during late antiquity didn’t wear Roman magistrate dress anymore, but new imperial clothing that derived from the military one. In this mosaic Justinian wears a white knee-length tunic (divitision), decorated with golden bands (clavi) and a pair of purple leggings (tibialia). On his feet he wears a pair of purple sandals ornamented with precious stones, called campagi. Over the tunic, he wore a purple cloak (chlamys), which is pinned on by a brooch with pendants and is decorated on the right side with the tablion, an embroidered square of fabric (Ravegnani 136-138 D’Amato 12). In this case, the tablion is decorated with birds encircled by a golden background roundels filled with figures and animals were very common in Byzantine textile designs (Figs. 1,2/ Muthesius 1997). The chlamys was a trapezoidal piece of fabric, which should be distinguished from the square or rectangular pallium, which became smaller in the ecclesiastical clothing (Martorelli). At last, Justinian wore a crown (stemma) fully decorated with precious stones and four pendilia (Ravegnani 138-139).

The tunic worn by Justinian was a simple T-shaped garment that reached to the knees, with sleeves and was tightened by the cingulum militiae. Tunics were usually made of wool, linen, silk, or occasionally cotton, and were woven in on piece, folded in half, and then sewn on the sides. Tunics often featured embroidered decorative appliqués around the neck opening, on the wrists, hems, cuffs, or on the lower part of the tunic (Fig. 3). As shown in the Justinian panel, pure white tunics were reserved for the emperor and were finished with gold embroidered decorations (D’Amato 8-16).

The belt was a military symbol and it was used to identify soldiers from civilians. At the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries, the leather belt was characterised by bronze and iron plates, which were ornamented or chiselled. During the 6th century these also featured pendants. In this case, Justinian wore a simple, ungilded belt, unlike the one described by the sources on imperial clothing (Ravegnani 137-138 D’Amato 17).

Eastern-derived leggings (tibialia) were used from the 5th century onwards and, like the belt, became a distinctive sign of military status. These leggings then became a basic piece of military uniform, in association with the tunic (D’Amato 18). Tibialia were usually worn with campagi, a kind of shoes made of wool or felt, which covered only the toes and heel and were fastened with laces or a buckle (D’Amato 20-22).

Fig. 1 - Creator unknown (Egyptian). Round insert of a tunic, 5th-7th century AD. Linen and wool 5.5 cm diameter. Berlin: Berlin State Museum, 4600. Source: SMB Digital

Fig. 2 - Artist unknown. St. Servatius (Maastricht) fabric with Dioscurides, 8th-9th century AD. Source: Wikipedia

Fig. 3 - Creator unknown (Egyptian). Tunic, 3rd-6th century AD. Linen, wool. Berlin: Berlin State Museum, 9918. Source: SMB Digital

The guardsmen wear a richly decorated, colorful tunic called a paragauda due to the embroidered ornaments, with white tibialia and black campagi. They also wear a rigid circular necklace called a torque (D’Amato 45).

The two officials to the right of Justinian, identified as Anastasius and Belisarius, wear a tunic with a symbol on the right shoulder, which could be a sign of their rank (D’Amato 37 Ravegnani 140). They also wore a white chlamys pinned by a crossbow brooch and decorated with a purple tablion. At last, leggings and black campagi complete the look (D’Amato 37).

Justinian gave Maximian, the bald man who stands to his left, the title of archbishop and this elevation might be confirmed by his garment and the pallium, a strip of cloth ornamented by crosses draped around his head (Heyward 302). The pallium must also be link with the ambitions of the bishops of Ravenna against Rome (Delyannis 210-211 Hayward 302 Serfass). Under his pallium Maximian wears a tunic and a golden paenula, which probably derives from chlamys because it seems open on the right (Hayward 303).

The deacons wear a tunic like Maximian’s with wide sleeves and decorated with black clavi (stripes). This type of tunic could be the tunica alba, which was the garment intended for deacons between the 5th and the 9th centuries (Hayward 302 Encyclopaedia Britannica).


During the reign of Ananga Bhima Deva, the king of Utkal, Lord Jagannath was declared as 'Utkal Samrat' or "Lord of the Nation" in the 13th century, [7] and by then the Jagannath Temple at Puri had been built by him in 1198. [8] According to temple history, Suna Bhesha was introduced during the era of King Kapilendradeva in 1460 A.D. [6] When the king Kapilendradeva (r.1434-1466 AD) returned home triumphant after winning wars over the rulers of the Deccan (Southern India) he brought a huge bounty which was carried in 16 cart loads (on 16 elephants is also mentioned. [6] ). The trophies which he collected consisted of diamonds and gold. The day he arrived in Puri he donated all the booty to the Lord Jagannath. He instructed the temple priests to get ornaments crafted out of the gold and diamond he had donated to adorn the deities on the occasion of the Ratha Yatra festival. Since then the deities, Jagannatha, Balabharda and Subhadra are decorated with this jewelry after the Bahuda Yatra. [9]

During the 10th bright day of the month of Aswin (October) on Bijayadasami or Dassahara day, Lord Jagannath is fully bedecked as an emperor with all gold jewelry. [4] On the 12th Shukla paksha day of the month of Ashada, after returning from the Ratha Yatra to the main Jagannath Temple, also known as Srimandir, the three deities are adorned with gold ornaments. Again on the full moon day of the Kartika (November) the deities are decorated with gold ornaments. On the full moon day of Pausha (December) and Phalguna (March) also the deities are worshiped when gold ornamentation is done. [4]

A day after the Suna Bhesha event Lord Jagannath and other deities are formally offered a concoction of a sweet juice, known in local usage as Adharapana, which is a mixture made of milk, cream, cottage cheese, plantain pulp, grated coconut, nabata (brown sugar spiced with camphor), nutmeg and black pepper and so forth. The juice is offered as a token to the lips of the deities deified in their individual chariots to break their fast or ekadasi. Following this ritual the terracotta vessel with its contents is broken which is done to appease guardian deities (demi-gods) of the three chariots and the gods deified therein. Devotees assembled at the venue jostle to collect a small quantity of this juice as prasada (gracious gift of god). [1]

The gold ornaments are stored at the temple’s treasury known as Bhitara Bhandaraghara. According to the "Records of Rights", the bhandara (store) has 150 gold articles comprising three necklaces of 120 tolas (each tola is equivalent to 11.33980925 grams) weight each, limbs (hands and feet) of Jagannatha and Balabhadra made in gold of 818 tolas and 710 tolas weight. Also recorded are decorative crowns of the deities Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra in the order of 610 tolas, 434 tolas and 274 tolas in weight. The estimated value of these ornaments is said to run into several million crores. The security of all the jewelry rests with the Temple Police force, which is controlled by the Temple Managing Committee. [1] When the jewelry is brought out for decorating the deities in the chariots, armed policemen accompany it along with a minimum of 25 storekeepers. [6] Except the priests and the servitors no one else is allowed to remain on the chariots for security reasons. Devotees get a Darśana or a vision of the Suna Bhesha of the deities from a certain distance. [10]

According to the temple sources, in the past, the total weight of the gold ornaments used to adorn the deities weighed more than 208 kg initially made in 138 designs. However, now only 20-30 designs are used. [6]

The designs of the gold ornaments that are used to decorate the deities are known as: hasta (hand) payar (feet) mukuta (tiara or large crown) mayur chandrika, a peacock feather design which was used as head decoration by Lord Krishna chulapati (a forehead costume which highlights facial beauty) kundal (hanging ear-rings) rahurekha, a half square shaped decorative adorned across the face of the deity malas or necklaces of various types such as padam (lotus), sevati (small sun flower), agasti in the shape of moon flower in a kadamba flower shape, kante (large gold beads), mayoor in the form of peacock feathers, and champa, a yellow flower Sri chita representing the third eye of the deities chakra or wheel gada or mace padma a lotus flower and shankh or conch. [4] [7]

The chita or "Sri Chita" decorative ornament, which denotes the third eye of gods, is represented separately for each of the deities Lord Jagannath’s forehead is affixed with a diamond and Goddess Subhadra’s forehead is decorated with an emerald (panna). These forehead ornamentations are removed when the deities are brought out during the Deb Snana Purnima. They are then redecorated when the deities return to the sanctum, in the Chitra month on amavasya day (new moon day). [4]

A very large painting depicting Lord Jagannath in Suna Bhesha which is of 10.5x6.5 ft size was put on display in Puri during the Bahuda Yatra. [11]

A Brief History of Elegant Hands in Jewelry

For the last several years the hamsa has had a stronghold on the hand trend in jewelry. Before the hamsa renaissance, however, different types of hand jewels were popular—ones that had no use as amulets, but were just purely elegant. When I took a tour of the Hancock’s boutique in London and saw a pair of glam vintage Paul Flato hand earclips, I got very interested in the history of the expressive style.

Jewelry in the shape of hands first became fashionable during the 1830s and 1840s, when they appeared as gloved hands on clasps of gold necklaces. Unlike the ancient hamsa charms worn as defense against the evil eye, these jewels did not depict the palm and didn’t symbolize anything specific. Instead, they were modeled after elegantly posed hands, decorated with bejeweled cuffs, and topped with gemstone rings. They were often attached to long gold chains, adding a playful touch to a basic jewel.

During the Victorian era, hand jewels were carved from delicate materials like ivory and coral, decorated with cuffs and accented with gold and gemstones. These hands, could carry as much symbolic significance as the hamsa. They often held allegorical objects such as wreaths, which would have indicated memorialization, or snakes which stood for eternality.

Katharine Hepburn in ‘Holiday’ wearing a W Sign Language Initial Clip by Paul Flato Photo still from ‘Hollywood Jewels’

During the 20 th century, Cartier and American jeweler Paul Flato were among those who grabbed on to the hand concept inspired by Surrealist hand motifs among other cultural cues. Cartier created a series of brooches around the late 1930s with either coral or onyx hands clutching a gold or oynx rose. Diamond and gold bracelets decorated the wrist. The exact meaning of the motif is slightly mysterious. Author Nadine Coleno in her book Amazing Cartier (2009) cites everything from the rose in the castle in the novel Beauty and the Beast to the flower in the hand of Mogul emperors alluding to their legendary gardens.

Paul Flato first introduced his hand-shaped jewelry designs in the 1930s and he quickly became renowned for them. He created sign language initial clips in every single letter of the alphabet. Clients purchased custom pairs to represent their initials (or whoever else’s initials they wanted to wear). Katherine Hepburn sported a W sign language initial clip brooch from Flato in the 1938 screwball comedy Holiday . The letter was the first initial of her mother’s maiden name in the film. Anita Loos, author of the novel and screenplay for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, had A and L Sign Language Clips by Flato in her jewelry collection.

The A and L sign gestures, illustrated in a 1938 Paul Flato advertisement were created for Anita Loos

Inspired by astrology, Flato designed a ‘Hand of God’ brooch which depicted a gold palm surrounded by stars pavéd with diamonds. It is the hand design he made that is closest in relation to the ancient hamsa symbol, though it still possesses the elegant, longer fingers. Actress Joan Bennett loved her Flato ‘Hand of God’ brooch so much, she wore it as a pendant on a necklace in several publicity photos (see one at top on the left).

Another one of Flato’s play on the hand jewels did not represent specific letters of sign language and were not symbolic in any way, but they still said plenty through the way in which they were posed. The elegant pair of hand ear clips like the ones I spotted at Hancock’s (seen in the photo at top on right), for example, is topped with long fingernails, cuffs trimmed with diamonds, and large single-cut diamond ‘rings.’ The hands of each clip are spread in a graceful gesture, and they look like the type of manicured fingers that would naturally grasp a bejeweled cigarette holder in one hand while reaching for a champagne coupe with the other.

Today, elegant hands can be found in a few creative collections. Wilfredo Rosado designed carved ebony wood hand earrings decorated with jeweled bracelets that look like the bold descendants of Flato’s jewels.

Wilfredo Rosado Hand to Hand earrings of ebony, gold, diamonds and colored stones Photo courtesy

The designer, however, was inspired by a motif rich in history and symbolism. Majestic blackamoors were the muse behind Rosado’s Urban Prince collection. In researching the jewels Wilfredo noticed that very few blackamoors are depicted with arms or hands, so he chose to create pieces depicting only those body parts.

Wilfredo doesn’t attach particular symbolism to hand jewelry, as was done during the Victorian era, but he is fascinated by people’s hands. He explained, “I think hands can convey so much. I always make it a point to observe people’s hands. It’s become sort of an obsession. I remember taking notice of Andy Warhol’s hands when I worked with him. I loved to watch him draw. His hands were very strong in appearance but soft in how he executed his work. Hands can be very communicative, sometimes they are elegant and delicate, other times hard and strong. Hands are such an important part of our body language and I find it interesting to have them ‘freeze-framed’ in a piece of jewelry, where a message can be left to interpretation.”

While the hamsa, Flato’s sign languge clips and ‘Hand of God’ clearly come with sources of inspiration the elegance of most hands in jewelry over time seem to be inspired by the same type of elegance Wilfredo describes, the beauty of a gesture. Pure glamour.

Gold Pendant Depicting Emperor Volusian - History

SWNS Two metal detectorists who found $3.8 million worth of historical treasure are facing jail time for their indiscretion.

Two British metal detectorists who came across a 1,000-year-old treasure haul and failed to report their discovery to local authorities are facing jail time because of it.

According to The Guardian, it all started when George Powell and Layton Davies were hunting for treasure in the fields of Herefordshire. After probing the remote area, they came across an unimaginable haul: a treasure hoard dating back to 1,000 years ago.

Among the treasure they found was gold jewelry, including a chunky ring, a serpentine arm bracelet, and a small crystal ball pendant. They also found 300 silver coins and ingots made out of pure silver. Even before they could verify the haul’s worth, it was clear Powell and Davies had hit the jackpot.

But such findings are governed by a stringent procedure under British law. Metal detectorists who uncover treasure are legally required to report their findings to the local coroner within 14 days of the discovery. After that, a Finds Liaison Officer writes up a report about how and where the treasure was found, and the detectorist is issued a receipt.

Once an official report of the treasure has been filed, the coroner will hold an inquest over the treasure, where the detectorist along with the land owner and site occupier can ask questions regarding the haul. Finally, the Treasure Valuation Committee gets involved, too, to give an official estimation of the treasure’s worth.

The detectorist is entitled to a share of the findings only if their discovery is lawful, and even then it could take up to a year for the reward to be processed and paid. Maybe that’s why Powell and Davies decided to keep the valuable haul to themselves instead of reporting their discovery.

British Museum/PA One of the 300 old coins that Powell and Davies unearthed.

After visiting multiple experts around town to get their own estimate of the treasure’s value, the treasure hunters found that the crystal ball pendant was the oldest item of the haul, dating back to the 5th or 6th century. The ring and arm bracelet were a bit younger, coming from the 9th century. But the most valuable items in their loot were actually the coins.

Among the coins were extremely rare “two emperor” coins depicting two Anglo-Saxon rulers: King Alfred of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia. The two emperor coins were unofficially valued at more than $128,000 per coin by one expert who was contacted by the detectorists. In total, the Herefordshire haul was worth an estimated $3.8 million.

The old coins are historically significant because they give us insight into the situation in Wessex and Mercia, and how they were ruled when England was evolving into a single united kingdom.

Evidence of both kings on the two emperor coins suggests they had formed a pact. But it seems the alliance didn’t last long since the coins are so rare, suggesting King Alfred — the more prominent of the two figures — reneged on the deal.

There’s also the location of the treasure to consider. The fact that they were found near Leominster suggests that part of the Viking army, who were believed to have used Ceolwulf II as a political puppet, was in the area after their defeat in Wiltshire in 878.

Combined with another Anglo-Saxon treasure haul found in the same area by different metal detectorists, these finds are more than just relics.

“The two hoards together are fundamentally changing our view of history,” said Gareth Williams, an Anglo-Saxon and Vikings specialist at the British Museum. “These coins are encouraging us to go back to the written sources and re-examine them.”

British Museum/PA The crystal ball pendant, the oldest item in the treasure haul, dates back to the 5th or 6th century.

Soon after Powell’s and Davies’ discovery, word spread of their priceless haul. The treasure hunters received their first visit from local authorities about a month after their discovery, when Herefordshire Finds Liaison Officer Peter Reavill contacted Powell and Davies, and gently asked if they had anything to tell him.

Powell initially denied it but eventually gave up the gold jewelry and an ingot. However, the two denied finding anything else. When Paul Wells, the first expert Powell and Davies had visited to value their loot, showed inquiring police the five coins from the hoard that had been stitched into his magnifying glass case, the jig was finally up.

“I knew it would come to this,” Wells said as he was handcuffed. The two treasure hunters were both found guilty of theft and — along with Wells and another dealer who failed to report the haul to authorities — conspiracy to convert or conceal criminal property.

Powell was jailed for 10 years, and Davies was jailed for eight-and-a-half years. Meanwhile, a coin seller named Simon Wicks was jailed for five years and Wells is due to receive his sentence in December.

“These men would be rich by now if they had done things by the book,” said Williams. “They have chosen not to and in doing so have destroyed an important part of our history. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for them at all they have been greedy and selfish and the nation is the loser.”

Police are still looking for the rest of the treasure.

Next, read about 557 rare coins from the Black Death era that were dug up by amateur metal detectorists and check out the $2.4 million-worth of gold bars found inside a tank that was purchased on eBay.

Watch the video: Ανυποψίαστος ψαράς δε πιστεύει στη τύχη του!!!


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