Pendants of this type were designed to hang from a paternoster or rosary (a string of prayer beads), a devotional object that became popular in the fifteenth century, particularly in the Netherlands. They functioned as a visible sign of the wearer's piety, as well as a fashion accessory. Despite their diminutive size, the Virgin and Child on the cameo obverse exhibit a monumentality reminiscent of fifteenth-century Burgundian sculpture. Employing a different medium in an unusual combination of techniques, the reverse is executed in basse-taille, whereby the design is worked into a bed of silver coated with a layer of translucent enamel. The rich glowing colors achieved through this technique recall those of stained glass. Few of these pendants of Franco-Burgundian origin survive, and this example in the Robert Lehman Collection is of unsurpassed quality and importance. The use of precious materials, the inclusion of Saint Anne (who was particularly venerated in Burgundy in the fifteenth century), the style of the figures, and the consummate craftsmanship of this object suggest that it was manufactured in a Burgundian court workshop, though the identity of the original owner is unknown. It shows considerable rubbing, no doubt from devotional handling.
Yvonne Hackenbroch has written an extensive and illuminating article on this piece, in which she discusses the possible origin of the jewel and its probable use as a pendant from a chain of prayer beads. The paternoster, whose use, despite its name, was not limited to the Lord’s Prayer, is an earlier version of the rosary.(1) Hackenbroch states that there was considerable demand for prayer beads in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, especially in the Low Countries, noting that in Bruges alone the guild of patrenotriers, which made these beads, numbered seventy masters and three hundred apprentices. Among other archival references, Hackenbroch notes that Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (r. 1419 – 67), possessed thirty-five paternosters at the time of his death, one of which is described as having a cameo somewhat similar to the Lehman pendant: “A cameo, mounted in enameled gold, the reverse enameled with the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Son, holding a small mill in her [or His] hand.” (2) She further illustrates a painting by Jean Hey, the Master of Moulins, now in the Louvre, Paris, (3) which is thought to depict Madeleine, natural daughter of Philip the Good, with Mary Magdalen. Madeleine is shown with a paternoster hung with a cameo of the Virgin, represented half-length, and Child, attached to her girdle. She also links the style of the cameo, with its rich combination of folds in the drapery, to the panels on an altarpiece by Jan van Eyck in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.(4) Furthermore, she illustrates the similarity of the style of the cameo to the cult statue of Saint Anne in the church of Saint Nicholas, Ghent, depicted in an illumination in the Register of the St. Anne Brotherhood now in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle.(5) Hackenbroch relates the scene of Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate, enameled on the reverse of the pendant, with the cult of Saint Anne, which was especially strong in Ghent.(6) However, recent scientific analysis of this jewel has revealed that the enamel on the back dates from the nineteenth or twentieth century,(7) and although this finding does not necessarily indicate that the engraved silver beneath is of that period, it might very well be. Hackenbroch notes that the inscriptions on the gold settings seem “to accord better with the decoration on the opposite side of the pendant than with its own side.” (8) She concludes that this effect is caused by the jewel’s having been unmounted and incorrectly reassembled. However, the gold mount may also be relatively modern, and added at the same time as the enamel on the reverse. This addition of the enamel, and possibly of the inscribed gold mount, presumably dates from sometime in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, but before the sale of the jewel in 1937. The same scientific research led James David Draper to describe the pendant as “Flemish or Burgundian, ca. 1440 – 50 . . . later mounted as a pendant in gold with enamel and a pearl.” (9) A further complication occurs with the examination of the purported provenance of the cameo. The London dealer John Hunt wrote the following to Robert Lehman in a letter of 8 July 1937: “This jewel belonged to the Carisbrooke family, and, as I told you, the tradition inthe family, which as you know is very ancient and intimately connected with the Stuarts, was that the jewel belonged to Mary Queen of Scots.” (10) However, there appears to be no trace of any family with the name of Carisbrooke. Carisbrooke is a village on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England, with a splendid castle, now ruined, in which Charles I was imprisoned from September 1647 until November 1648. The castle was once the property of the de Redvers family but was sold in 1293 by Countess Isabella de Fortibus to King Edward I, and it remained a royal residence until 1944, when Princess Beatrice Mountbatten, Governor of the Isle of Wight, died. Therefore, between 1293 and 1944, no single family is connected to the castle apart from the Crown. The title Marquess of Carisbrooke was given to Alexander Battenberg, grandson of Queen Victoria, when the family changed its name to the more anglicized “Mountbatten” in 1917. The Battenbergs had no relationship to the Stuarts, and, furthermore, there is no evidence of the marquess’s ownership of the pendant. It must therefore be that the provenance was an invention by, or passed on by, Hunt. In his letter Hunt also refers to the rarity of the translucent enamel on the back of the pendant, and it is not impossible that he was responsible for the addition of this piece and for the problematic mounting of the enameled gold inscriptions.
Catalogue entry from: Charles Truman. The Robert Lehman Collection. Decorative Arts, Vol. XV. Wolfram Koeppe, et al. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Princeton University Press, 2012.
1. For a thorough discussion of the paternoster bead, see Ronald Lightbown. Mediaeval European Jewellery, with a Catalogue of the Collection in the Victorian and Albert Museum. London, 1999, pp. 342 – 54.
2. “Ung camahieu enchassé en or, esmaillié, et de l’autre cousté esmaillée de Nostre Dame et son enfant, tenant un molenet en sa main.” Leon marquis de Laborde. Les ducs de Bourgogne: Études sur les lettres, les arts et l’industrie pendant le XVe siecle et plus particulierement dans les Pays-Bas et le duché de Bourgogne. 3 vols. Paris, 1849 – 52, vol. 2, p. 14, no. 2120, 123; quoted in Yvonne Hackenbroch. “A Paternoster Pendant in the Robert LehmanCollection.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 24, 1989, p. 129.
3. Louvre, 1005a (Hackenbroch 1989, p. 129 and fig. 4).
4. Erwin Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass. 1953, pl. 124.
5. Royal Library, Windsor Castle, MS 1132 (Hackenbroch 1989, p. 131, fig. 7).
6. Hackenbroch 1989, p. 132.
7. I am grateful to Pete Dandridge and Mark T. Wypyski, both in the Conservation and Scientific Research departments of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for their opinions.
8. Hackenbrock 1989, p. 133, n. 2.
9. James David Draper, “Cameo Appearances.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 65, no. 4 (Spring), 2008, p. 19, no. 33.
10. Letter in the Robert Lehman Collection files.
Inscription: [gold casing on cameo side] CONCEPTIO TUA DEI GENITRIX VIRGO GAUDIUM AN[NUN]CIAVIT IN UNIVERSO MUNDO (Your [immaculate] Conception, Virgin Mother of God, has announced joy to the entire world0;[on enamel side]OGLORIOSA DOMI [N] A EXCELSA SUPRA SIDERA QUI TE CREVIT P[RO]VIDE LACTASTI SACRO  UBERE (O glorious lady, raised above the stars, caringly you suckled with your holy breast the one who created you)
By repute, Mary Stuart (1542-1587), Queen of Scots; [John Hunt, London]. Acquired by Robert Lehman from Junt in 1937.
Artist: partly designed and perhaps made by Reinhold Vasters (German, Erkelenz 1827–1909 Aachen) orDate: ca. 1865–90Medium: enameled gold, rubies, and pearlsAccession: 1975.1.1513On view in:Gallery 951