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Head Ornament

Head Ornament

  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (made)

  • Date:

    1850-1872 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver gilt wire wrapped round sheet silver

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The 1851 Great Exhibition inspired a series of ‘London International Exhibitions’ which took place in South Kensington in 1871, 1872, 1873 and 1874. Fine arts and scientific inventions and discoveries remained central display themes but each exhibition presented different aspects of manufacture. In 1872 one emphasis was on jewellery, including ‘peasant jewellery’. The Exhibition Commissioners arranged with the South Kensington Museum (later V&A) to make a collection of peasant jewellery from ‘all parts of the world, which should become public property, for exhibition in the Museum after the close of the Exhibition’. A letter was sent by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to British representatives overseas asking for their help in securing pieces of jewellery, particularly examples with ‘a direct connection with the native instinctive art, which has been handed down by a long tradition’. The outcome was considered to be ‘most satisfactory … a collection of characteristic ornaments never before equalled was obtained’.

This forehead ornament is part of this collection. It was used with a face veil or burqu. The Egyptian veil worn by lower class Moslem women at that time consisted of a long rectangle of black cloth, made of an openwork panel of crocheted cotton or pierced crepe, about 15-20 cm wide. It had strings attached at either side of the top edge which were tied at the back of the head. A third string, which ran over the top of the head, was attached to the centre of the top edge to prevent the veil from slipping down. This tube was strung on the centre thread where it joined the veil, over the bridge of the nose.

Face veils became unfashionable after Egyptian independence in 1922, and with them these tubes also became obsolete.

Physical description

Cylinder of gilded sheet silver, open at each end, which is entirely covered with very fine wire wrapped round the outside. The wrapped wire is interrupted in three places by a ring of sheet metal with a serrated edge standing out at right angles to the cylinder. The wrapped wire in the two spaces between the three rings is separated in the centre to leave two bands of plain sheet metal visible.

Place of Origin

Egypt (made)


1850-1872 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Silver gilt wire wrapped round sheet silver


Length: 6 cm, Diameter: 1.8 cm

Object history note

Acquired by the Exhibition Commissioners of the London International Exhibition of 1872 as an example of 'peasant jewellery' and then transferred to the South Kensington Museum.

Historical context note

Its purpose is to hold the strings that are tied at the back of the head to keep the burku' or veil in place, it is worn dangling over the forehead or top of nose,

Descriptive line

Silver-gilt cylindrical forehead ornament (Arusa) with three serrated rings sticking out, Egypt, 1850-1872.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington Museum, acquired during the year 1873, London: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode






Jewellery; Africa; Islam; Metalwork


Middle East Section

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