The Art Medium Silver

Used as an art medium for thousands of years, silver has an ancient past. Mentioned in the Bible, silver was mined during the 4 th millennium B.C. (in the area of present-day Turkey) as new techniques were discovered to separate it from lead. Integral to the Roman Empire and its currency stability, silver has been used to produce coins, jewelry, and a myriad of functional items that range from buttons to utensils. As a precious metal, silver has long been regarded as second to gold, but its popularity as a precious substance has not waned over time. Artisans or, rather, silversmiths, historically trained to learn the properties of silver and techniques to fashion this metal into various objects.

The silver mining industry in Europe shifted from Anatolia to Greece around the year 1200 B.C. These early stores of silver helped support the ancient civilizations of Greece, Crete, and the Near East. By 100 A.D., the silver center shifted to Spain; soon after, more stores of silver were discovered in Eastern Europe and present-day Germany. The influx of silver led to the development of more elaborate techniques for crafting art works with the metal. Many of these works are revered as priceless works that are housed in the world’s most renowned museums.

Even so, the discovery of the New World and its rich silver stores catapulted silver into a major mining industry which would impact the entire world. Today, global silver production exceeds 670 million troy ounces. While often associated with coins, ingots, and other forms of currency, silver was frequently fashioned into useful objects such as goblets, plates, silverware, and various other vessels. The first silver coins date to the eastern Mediterranean around the year 550 B.C. Currently as well as historically silver is made into jewelry and is among the most popular metals used in jewelry design.

As a lustrous metal that is very resilient and resistant to corrosion, silver has been prized among artisans the world over. The formidability of this metal allows crafters to easily work with it; silver can even be transformed into a wire with the width of a human hair, so it can be used to create both rustic and ornate objects. In jewelry design, silver is used to make chains, rings, brooches, lockets, and nearly every type of jewel imaginable. Silver was particularly fashionable among jewelry designers during the Arts and Crafts era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Finally, silver has been used to render many precious objects from vases to frames. Its popularity as an art medium continues today.