Medieval Manuscripts Meet Modern Jewelry At New York Jewelry Week

Open in New York this week, is The Color of Medieval Life, a fascinating exhibition presented by the specialist dealer of art from the Middle Ages, Les Enluminures, which sets out to demonstrate why the Dark Ages were anything but. The jewel in the crown of the event, is the first US solo show from British artist jeweler Joy BC, whose work taps into Classical history to explore Ancient mythology and motifs. In Deconstructed Classics – Seeing Life in Color, both existing and new jewels by Joy BC are set in dialogue with manuscripts and jewelry from the Middle Ages, presented by Les Enluminures.

“The manuscripts and the jewels are both venerating narratives which are of great importance,” says Joy BC, on the interplay between her own work and the Medieval artworks. “They also both use precious materials to tell or illustrate these stories.” Seen here in photographs by artist Olivia Rose, her jewels have been organized by color, into white, blue, red and yellow, each of which are significant in the rainbow world of Medieval manuscripts, as well as early jewelry.

A silver necklace from the Artemis collection (above) responds to the pale white moon representing femininity, along with the bright silver of a deconstructed Classical column bracelet (bottom). Meanwhile, red bronze and garnets signify blood and pain, which came to symbolize strength and courage in Medieval times. Elsewhere, yellow denotes gold and sacred objects, symbolizing the sun, radiance and hope, through jewels like the 22ct recycled gold Persephone ring. Finally, blue conveys inspiration and dreams, including Joy’s Precious Tear ring (below), with a sapphire tear, part of an ongoing series by the artist exploring the emotional and physical significance of tears.

Les Enluminures sets out to provide a fresh reading of the art of the Middle Ages, through intricately embellished manuscripts, finely worked miniatures and Medieval jewels. Founded in Paris and Chicago in 1991 by Medieval and Renaissance historian Dr Sandra Hindman, Les Enluminures has a gallery in New York and is active in the international art world, from Frieze London to the Winter Antiques Show in New York. A team of art, jewelry and manuscript experts based on both sides of the Atlantic regularly work with institutions of international renown, like the Louvre in Paris, as well as private collectors.

Describing her work as “emotive, socially and politically loaded”, London-based Joy BC has risen to prominence in recent years for the exquisitely rendered jewels through which she explores Classical art and mythology, reinterpreting them for our times in precious metals and gemstones using ancient techniques like wax casting. A graduate of the prestigious Glasgow School of Art, with an MA from the Royal College of Art, she regularly shows at the Goldsmiths’ Fair and was included in the seminal exhibition Force of Nature in 2021 at Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery, curated by Melanie Grant. In 2022, she produced a bespoke series as part Fuli Gemstones’ designer program, including a variation on the Medusa comb brooch (above), in bronze, yellow gold and Fuli peridot, which explores transformation and power, through the myth of the snake-haired Gorgon, Medusa.

“Having a first first solo show in NYC with Les Enluminures is iconic,” says the artist. “I’ve been in my studio intensely working, like a Renaissance goldsmith, and to bring the works out to show and meet the world is really special; especially in the city of dreams.” As well as commissions from international museums including the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Swiss National Museum, Joy BC’s modern reinterpretation of Antiquity as jewelry art has won her a grant from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Training fund, to study with Italian goldsmith Giovanni Corvaja. After spending time living and working in what was once the heart of the Roman Empire, it’s exciting to imagine where her creative practice will take her next.

Deconstructed Classics – Seeing the World in Color by Joy BC, is on as part of The Color of Medieval Life exhibition presented by Les Enluminures, November 13 to 19 2023, by appointment only, at 23 East 73rd Street, 7th Floor Penthouse, New York, NY 10021.

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