The images you'll see as you scroll down to the current text are all part of the story telling in my novel, Realms of Gold:Ritual to Romance.

Bianca Caldwell, pen name, Bianca Fiore, is a writer for an art magazine. In each of her monthly stories she describes an object used in ancient ritual.

Etruscan Gold Diadem

The Etruscans are famous for their stunning craftsmanship which is reflected by this diadem of golden oak leaves and acorns.

National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia, gold jewelry

Etruscan Gold Jewlery:Etruscan Gold Jewelry: Metropolitan Museum of Art

This tomb group represents one of the richest and most impressive sets of Etruscan jewelry ever found. It comprises a splendid gold and glass pendant necklace, a pair of gold and rock-crystal disk earrings, a gold fibula (dress fastener) decorated with a sphinx, a pair of plain gold fibulae, a gold dress pin, and five finger rings. Two of the rings have engraved scarabs that revolve on a swivel bezel, one is decorated with embossed satyr heads, and the other two have decorated gold bezels. The disk earring is originally a Lydian type of jewelry that became fashionable in Etruria in the latter part of the sixth century B.C., when the Etruscans were strongly influenced by eastern Greek artists and their works.

Early 5th century b.c.; late Archaic
Etruscan Gold, glass, rock crystal, agate, carnelian

Etruscan Gold Fibula (brooch) with Lions and Sphinxes

This remarkable gold fibula has a small bow formed from three curved tubes and a very long catchplate of gold sheet. On the catchplate is mounted a procession of ten pairs of gold lions, each glancing over its shoulder, while more lions, sphinxes and heads of lions and horses decorate the bow, as well as the tip and butt of the catchplate. Details of the animals are picked out in gold granulation, and lines of granulation ornament the other parts of the brooch. The lions are of a type typically produced by goldsmiths at Cerveteri, and this was probably where the brooch was made, although it was found at Vulci, probably at the Ponte Sodo necropolis.

Such an elaborate form of this particular type of brooch is unique. Its predecessors were simple bronze examples of the 'serpentine' (snake-like) type produced locally in Italy, but this example follows the fashion for luxurious and ostentatious gold jewellery in seventh-century Etruria.

Etruscan, about 675-650 BC
From Vulci, ancient Etruria (now in Lazio, Italy)

London British Museum


Etruscan Gold Brooch with a Bow in the Form of a Winged Chimaera

There are a number of surviving examples of this type of gold brooch, popular in Etruria towards the end of the sixth century BC.

This brooch is decorated with a chimaera (a beast composed of parts of various animals), with the head of a lion and another of a goat behind it, mounted on wings stemming from the lion's chest and linked at the top to form its neck. The chimaera was a popular beast in Etruscan mythology

The brooch is made from gold sheet with the lion made in two halves which have been pressed into a mould and soldered together lengthwise down its body.

Etruscan, 525-500 BC Found in Italy, London British Musuem

Etruscan Gold Earring

Etruscan Earring decorated with bosses, globule clusters, rosettes and filigree. 400–300 BC.

Etruscan Gold: Crown and Jewelry

Crown and Etruscan gold jewelry discovered in the necropolis of Vulci Camposcola - Gregorian Etruscan Museum

Etruscan Gold: Baule earring

 This earring represents one of the most common types in Etruscan jewelry but with exceptionally elaborate embellishment. The curved body consists of two metopes, both containing floral ornaments. The flower at the top was made separately and attached; the more stylized motif below was made of wire fused to the underlying surface. The very top of the object preserves two heads showing women wearing tiny disk earrings inlaid with enamel; there would have been a third. Immediately below is a band of tongues in alternating lighter and darker blue enamel. The whole conception is markedly architectonic, on the one hand, and executed with the most delicate means, on the other.

 6th century b.c. Etruscan Gold and enamel

Etruscan Gold: Regolini-Galassi Tomb - Arm Bands

Gold Arm Bands

The arm bands came from the Regolini-Galassi tomb at Cerveteri. They were manufactured in the middle of the 7th century B.C., in the local area; each bracelet is made of a rectangular band of gold and has a length of 26 cm, a width of 6.9 cm and a diameter of 10 cm.

The central part of each bracelet is decorated with repeated scenes of three standing female figures, who hold a palm in each hand.

At each end, the bands are decorated with a more complex scene: two palms surround a woman who stands between two lions, each stretching out a front paw and leaning the other on her shoulder.

A New Way to Heaven : Titian's "Assumption of the Virgin" (1516- 1518).


After San Marco, the most famous church in Venice is Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. The vast 15th-century building, its wide, high central nave and chapels lined with important monuments, has been described as a Pantheon of the glories of La Serenissima. There's a lot to look at, but the most spectacular of the Frari's many riches is the enormous painting above the high altar, Titian's "Assumption of the Virgin" (1516-18). Recent studies have revealed that the great panel, painted when the ambitious young virtuoso was 28 and intended to assert his mastery, is apparently all by his own hand, made without the aid of assistants. When this magnificent work was first unveiled, it announced a new conception of what an altarpiece could be, both in the grandeur of its scale and the simplicity and unity of its composition, and successfully staked Titian's claim to being the most important painter in Venice.

At nearly 23 feet tall, in a frame like a triumphal arch (probably designed by the artist), the "Assumption of the Virgin" dominates the space above the altar, against a haze of light spilling from the lancet windows of the apse behind it. It's an astonishing painting, first capturing our attention with its bold economy. Titian translated his dramatic motif into a nearly abstract, simple structure that declares itself clearly from a distance, making the powerful image of Mary's ascent to heaven intelligible to worshipers the length of the nave.

The painting is divided into three rather widely separated zones of activity: First, there's a horizontal mass of awe-struck, gesticulating apostles who fill the bottom third of the immense wood panel, tightly packed together below a band of pale blue sky. Next, there's a descending arc with a swaying vertical element in the center: the Virgin, arms raised and balanced on a cloud populated by a throng of putti and a few slightly older angels, as she floats upward from the painting's midpoint into a golden dome of heavenly light. Above her, in a narrow band seen from below, God the Father, flanked by a putto and an angel, swoops in at a slight angle that expands the space, framed by a curving band of closely pressed putti, like a smaller, more distant version of Mary's arc of escorts, all golden orange in the celestial light.

The more time we spend with the painting, the more brilliant and unexpected Titian's staging of the miraculous event appears to be. As we admire the generosity and amplitude of his forms, the simultaneous delicacy and boldness of the modeling, and the rhythmic folds of the drapery, we also note how subtly he played with our expectations of symmetry and marvel at how he created big, eloquent gestures across his huge image both to engage the eyes of even distant viewers and carry the narrative.

Each apostle reacts differently to the vision. One shades his eyes. One kneels in prayer. One raises clasped hands like a supplicant. The figure closest to us turns his back and reaches up, as if longing to embrace the Virgin before she vanishes. All of them gaze upward, as we do, at the rising figure of the Virgin in the implied golden dome of light. In her red robe, she forms the apex of a tall, narrow, slightly asymmetrical triangle. The triangle is visually supported by the apostle with his back to us, one bare arm extended, and his opposite number, who faces us, one arm bent and covered by an artfully draped sleeve. Like Mary, this crucial pair wear red. So does God the Father; a glimpse of his scarlet robe pulls our eye to the top of the panel, so that we metaphorically recapitulate Mary's journey heavenward as we explore the painting. But variations in each of the reds slow us down, making us consider each element individually.

The Virgin's mantle, blown to one side but prudently knotted for her upward voyage, forms a sweeping dark-blue arc that restates, at smaller scale and with new animation, the curving band of cloud and putti. Our perceptions of the different sizes and slightly altered orientation of the two arcs, like the differences in the amounts and types of the color red, as we move through the painting, intensify the sense of ascension. The play of reds, greens and blues—and even some purple—against the radiant ground further heightens the illusion of motion. (It has been suggested that Titian adopted a brighter palette than usual to counteract the sidelight from the apse windows.)

Thanks to Save Venice Inc., the American charitable organization that for decades has been preserving the city's gems, the "Assumption of the Virgin" has recently been treated to dust removal—the horizontal inflections of the wooden panel catch grime—and careful study to determine what might need to be done since it last received conservation treatment in 1972. Generally, the nearly 500-year-old painting is in good condition, but small test patches to remove discolored varnish have revealed its original splendor. Save Venice is poised to begin a campaign to raise funds for conservation, but work can't start until an extraordinary problem is solved. In the 1930s an organ was installed behind the painting, and in the 1970s the pipes were attached to the panel. (Don't even think about what the vibrations are doing.) Negotiations about relocating the instrument have been initiated. Let's hope they are successful so that Titian's Santa Maria Gloriosa can return to her full glory.

—Ms. Wilkin is a critic and independent curator.

A version of this article appeared July 13, 2013, on page C13 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A New Way to Heaven.