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Renaissance Silver

The era we call the Renaissance conventionally runs from 1500 to 1600 but as a style the Renaissance has it’s origin at the end of the 13th century in Northern Italy. Trade with the Levant intensified over the last two centuries of the Middle Ages. The European population recovered after its decimation by the plague and there was an expansion of trade centers in the Northern coastal areas like the Netherlands. Here a large middle class developed and cities grew exponentially.

The Byzantine empire fell in 1453, and many exiles from the areas now controlled by the Ottoman Turks flee to Europe, bringing knowledge that had been forgotten through the Middle Ages. Italy became the center for many developments, having the wealth from trade with Asia and Europe, as well as the power of the Church.

Following the discovery of America, a great age of exploration followed. Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English explorers fought to claim the world for their countries. Christopher Columbus led Spain into the forefront of world exploration when her claimed his landfall in the Americas for Spain. Portugal and Spain are the front-runners in the New World for this century, which includes Pizarro’s subjugation of the Incas and Cortez’s similar conquest of the Aztecs. Silver mines provided vast amounts of silver for trade from 1546 on when significant deposits found in modern day Mexico. Some of this went directly from South America to China, to secure Asian items.1

Silver working techniques remained the same as in medieval times, the big difference with the preceding era was the availability of silver which was brought to Europe in large quantities from the Americas. With a growing population and level of prosperity in Europe, this was a welcome event which allowed silver to remain to be used as a currency and (relatively) affordable as a precious metal for jewelry.


Early to Mid 16th Century Silver and Silver Gilt Badges.

© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Early 17th Century Locket.

© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Brooch, c.1600.

© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Reliquary Pendant, South American Silver, c.1600.

© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Silver Medal with Bust of Elizabeth, 1588.

© The Trustees of the British Museum.


  1. Rubylane Hubpages, adapted