Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress: Objects, Texts, Images

Earrings: From Antiquity to the Present

Oon more hier of stature þan x feete, blac of body, with houndis teeth, bisshop of that Oracle or praieng place, to vs appiered, of whom the earis perced and ouches and bies erin hangyng, and clad was with skynnes.

Letter of Alexander to Aristotle
(Worcester F. 172, ll. 677-682)

When earrings appear in western European artwork in the Late Middle Ages, earrings are a sign that the individual wearing them is not part of the norm -- the "other," to borrow the term from "Marked Difference: Earrings and 'The Other' in Fifteenth-Century Flemish Art" in Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress -- often indicating that the person being depicted or described is meant to be Eastern or African. Note, for example, the use of earrings on scenes of the Adoration of the Magi. (Think of it as a sort of late medieval artistic shorthand for "exotic," rather than a depiction of something that followed the conventions of western European fashions at that time.)

Following are examples of earrings used as a artistic sign of an exotic or Oriental/Eastern/Asian character, rather than as a record of contemporary fashionable jewelry.