a stunning private collection

Glanz und Geheimnis

A hidden gem: the exhibition of traditional silver jewellery and dress from the wonderful collection of Swiss collector Peter Hösli is on show in the Knauf Museum, Iphofen, until November 2023. I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful exhibition – so many rare pieces that I had to return for a second visit!

First, what is the Knauf Museum? This is the museum that the Knauf family (if you have ever done home renovation, you have used their products) has founded in their hometown of Iphofen in Germany. Its permanent exhibition shows plaster casts of many famous archaeological sites and artworks from the Classical world, South America, Asia, and ancient Egypt. And in the newly added wing, the museum hosts a variety of temporary exhibitions on a wide range of cultural topics. This year, that topic is silver jewellery from the Arab Peninsula and the Levant, so I had to see this: lots of Bedouin jewellery, and much more!

The accompanying book was already a delight (see more about that here), but seeing these pieces in person and being able to observe every detail was, of course, even better. The exhibition is spread over two floors, and I loved the sight of a magnificent dress of as-Salt, Jordan, greeting me in the bright and airy conservatory between the new and the old wing. It circled gently, allowing visitors to admire its detail on every floor, and I personally thought this one of the best ways I have ever seen such a dress displayed. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about: these dresses are huge!

The jewellery pieces themselves were even more beautiful in real life. Polished to a shine, they were placed either lying down or mounted on mannequin heads. The showcases were spacious and accommodated the jewellery well, with each piece allocated enough ‘breathing space’ to be admired without being spread too thin. The only truly incomprehensible thing about the exhibition is the designers’ choice of background colour for the jewellery: detailed and delicate silver pieces become near invisible against the variegated grey background they were placed on. Instead of an even, contrasting colour, this melée of grey made dainty filigree and granulation very hard to see. A background colour for silver does not even have to be black…but I implore anyone thinking about a jewellery exhibition to just not use variegated grey. The jewellery deserves better.

And especially this jewellery, because like I wrote in the book review, you are in for a treat if you have a chance to see this exhibition. It shows many rare pieces that are impossible to find, such as Najd hair ornaments strung on a strip of cotton, superb filigree work from Yemen, and Palestinian ‘iznaq chin chains that made me gasp. The addition of dresses adds colour and life to the showrooms: several beautifully embroidered Bedouin gowns from Tiraz collection and a number of dresses from Peter’s own collection illustrated how adornment goes beyond just jewellery. And I really enjoyed seeing the small cotton pouches attached to Saudi women’s dresses, that once were filled with aromatics such as oudh…such a wonderful way of perfuming oneself.

In addition to the jewellery itself, a short film explained the various techniques of silversmithing in the Levant. This was curated by Salua Qidan of both Tiraz centre and Folkglory Designs. Seeing the jewellery made lifted something of the inevitable static nature of any exhibition, and I found this to be a very valuable addition to the exhibition itself. In the same room where the film could be watched, several fully dressed and adorned mannequins brought jewellery and dress together, and I loved seeing how the two interact.

If you are in the area, or have a possibility of traveling there, you should absolutely go see this exhibition!

Glanz und Geheimnis/Shine and Mystery

Knauf Museum, Iphofen, Germany

March 26 – November 5, 2023

More museum recommendations on personal adornment from North Africa & Southwest Asia? Browse them all here!

Want to learn more about the world of Bedouin jewellery from Saudi Arabia, and traditional silver jewelry from the Middle East and North Africa as a whole? Check out the online courses!

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Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. She considers jewellery heritage and a historic source. She has authored several books on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and on archaeological jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the Society of Jewellery Historians, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, among many others. She curates exhibitions and teaches online courses on jewellery from North Africa & Southwest Asia.