Word Gallery: Granulation

Throughout art history, scholars have devised a special vocabulary to talk about art. These terms are very useful, but they are not always self-explanatory. Enter into the art historical word gallery, where we provide some definitions commonly used to describe artistic styles, techniques, or movements in art.


Fibula (Pin), 625–600 BC. Italy, Etruria. Gold. California Midwinter International Exposition, through M.H. deYoung. 391. Currently on view in the Hall of Antiquities on the Lower Level at the Legion of Honor.

The term "granulation" is used to describe a specific type of metallurgy in which tiny spheres or granules of gold are gathered together and applied to a surface as decoration, usually on jewelry. An ancient technique in use since the 3rd millennium BC, granulation was perfected by the Etruscans during the 7th–3rd centuries BC.

Granulation in jewelry can take a variety of forms; the tiny spheres can be placed singly, in small clusters, or as an overall pattern used to cover larger areas. The case of Etruscan granulation is particularly fascinating, since the people of Etruria employed this technique without the aid of soldering, a bonding method using a fused alloy to connect metal objects, which did not come into use until much later. It is believed that the ancient Etruscans used a non-metallic (or colloidal) fusion welding system that combined an organic glue, perhaps derived from fish paste or cowhide, with a copper-based mineral to affix tiny gold granules in delicate and intricate patterns onto gold surfaces.

On October 15 at the Legion of Honor, Dr. Gertrud Platz, the retired deputy director of the Antikensammlung National Museums of Berlin, delves into the mysteries of fine Etruscan granulation and jewelry design, detailing these ancient methods and their relationship to trends in 19th-century jewelry making.