Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress: Objects, Texts, Images

Earrings: From Antiquity to the Present

Earrings appear to have been fashionable in the Early Middle Ages, and then not at all through the High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages -- and then become trendy again in the 16th century.

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 they do 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.)

El Piercing has detailed images of multiple piercings in ears in 16th century portraits.

What follows are links to information about extant earrings, as well as depictions of women (and men) wearing earrings. I've also started the process of moving these to separate pages for Ostrogothic earrings, Merovingian Frankish earrings, Lombardic earrings, Byzantine earrings, Persian earrings, Egyptian & Syrian earrings, English Renaissance earrings, Italian Renaissance earrings, French Renaissance earrings, and the earrings that mark exotic or Oriental characters.