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History of Jewelry: Baroque

Pendants in themselves have been around as long as jewelry has, but the late 16th century saw a rise in a peculiarly unique type of pendant. During the Renaissance, the Baroque pearl became fashionable. A Baroque pearl is one that is irregular in shape, and at this time the larger and more irregular, the better. Jewelers had a tough time deciding what to do with them. They began transforming them into the bodies of creatures like dragons, dolphins and sea monsters. These are the "Monstrous" animals of the Renaissance.

Mythical Creatures

Mythical creatures were favored in England, particularly ones that come from the sea. There are numerous examples of mermaids, mermen and sea monsters, as well as more natural fish and dolphins. Figure 1 above, shows two designs by goldsmith Erasmus Hornick (although German, many of his jewels ended up sold to English patrons). The first is an earthbound dragon being vanquished by the man on his back. The second shows Poseidon astride his magnificent sea stallion. These designs are very indicative of the types of pendants popular in England and other north countries at this time.

Sea Dragon, ca 1575

This sea dragon from about 1575 is made of two baroque pearls. The large, rather grotesque one makes up his body, while a smaller, more oval one makes up his tail. The dragon is made of gold with an abundance of enameling to give it color. He also has smaller pearls accenting his body, along with other gems (usually rubies or emeralds, but I cannot tell from this picture). The chain from which the pendant hangs also has pearls, and another drop shaped baroque pearl hangs from the bottom of the beast, giving it balance. Most pendants of this type have a single large pearl hanging from the bottom in this way.

The Canning Jewel

The most famous of these types of jewels is the Canning Jewel, so named after the 2nd Viscount Canning, who bought it in India in about 1860. It now resides in the Victoria & Albert Museum. It is a gorgeous jewel, 4 inches long, with a large pearl in the shape of his torso. He is made of gold and enamel, studded with rubies and diamonds. A masterpiece of Renaissance goldsmthing. The problem is, it may not have been made in the Renaissance.

All references but one name this as a late Renaissance piece. In Jewels and Jewelry, Clare Phillips puts it under the Pearls section (p.21), and says that it is now thought to be a Renaissance revival piece. Upon closer inspection, it seems she might be right. There are just too many small, faceted, square diamonds on this jewel. These types of gems did not come into popular use until the next century. Joan Evans in A History of Jewellery 1100-1870, does mention that the large ruby on his tail must have been added later (p.112), but she makes no arguments for it being entirely a later piece. The design elements are certainly late Renaissance, from the use of the pearl, to the subject of the merman, to the dangling drop pearl, but even to me, the ruby jewel from which the drop pearl is hanging has a distinctly Indian flavor to it.

Naturalism

Not all animals were monstrous or mythical. Any animal could be a pendant, from lions to rabbits.

This swan is a brilliant example of a late, naturalistic pendant. The body is a large, oval shaped pearl. Attached are gold wings, neck and head, all accented with small cut stones and black and white enamel. This is one of the finer examples of English naturalistic pendants. We know of many others that no longer exist. While Queen Elizabeth was being courted by Henry of Anjou, little jeweled frogs were all the rage because of her habit of referring to him as her "little frog". Existing inventories tell us of birds, bees, flies, butterflies and parrots, executed in diamonds and other precious stones, so they weren't always based on a baroque pearl.

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