Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Pendant with a Pelican in Her Piety

first quarter 17th century
probably Spanish
Rock crystal and enameled gold set with a ruby and with pendant pearls
Height: 3 5/16 in. (8.4 cm)
Metalwork-Gold and Platinum
Credit Line:
The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 540
The pelican sustaining her young by means of her own blood, here represented by the ruby mounted on the breast of the bird, is the Christian symbol for loving sacrifice and hence for Christ the Redeemer. From the Middle Ages onward jewels have been presented as votive offerings to religious shrines or cult figures, and the religious nature of this jewel suggests that it may have had some such provenance. Charles Oman has noted the existence in Spain of several richly endowed shrines as well as many lesser ones before the Napoleonic invasions of 1808.[1] The widespread destruction and looting by the French armies was followed by further depredations of religious treasure by both radical and impecunious governments throughout the century, but the last of the great treasuries was not dispersed until its sale in 1870 by the canons of the Cathedral of the Virgin of the Pillar in Saragossa.

The frame of this jewel, made of rock crystal and enameled gold, is similar both in media and in style to those of several originally from the treasury of the cathedral in Saragossa now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.[2] While there is some evidence that at least one of these might be Italian in origin, there exists, on the other hand, a design for a pendant with a similar frame by a Spanish goldsmith, Honoffrio Fornes, who signed and dated his drawing April 5, 1589. The drawing was published by Baron Charles Davillier in the late nineteenth century.[3] (Baron Davillier did not give the location of the design, but it is probable that the Llibres de Passanties in the Barcelona Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad was his source.) It seem likely, therefore, that this jewel is Spanish.

[Clare Vincent, The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, pp. 182–83, no. 101]

[1] C. Oman, “The Jewels of Our Lady of the Pillar of Saragossa,” Apollo n.s. 5 (June 1967), pp. 400–406.

[2] Princely Magnificence: Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500–1630 (exhib. cat.), London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1980, p. 81, figs. 96, 99, 108, pp. 80, 81, 83, nos. 96, 99, 108.

[3] C. Davillier, Recherches sur l’orfévrerie en Espagne au moyen age et à la renaissance, Paris, 1879, pl. XV opp. P. 242.
Jack and Belle Linsky (until 1982; to MMA)
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