Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gifts of Grandeur: The Salting Salamander, 16th C.

The Salting Salamander
Europe, Sixteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A large Baroque pearl forms the body of this salamander. Jewelers have always appreciated the irregularity of the baroque pearl which affords a chance to be creative. Renaissance jewelers especially enjoyed the challenge of taking the natural shape of the pearl and forcing it into the very controlled compositions of the era. 

Made in the Sixteenth Century, this European pendant, known as the Salting Salamander, was treasured not only for its beauty, but also for its symbolic meaning. Since antiquity, salamanders were thought to be impervious to fire. Aristotle and Pliny actually claimed that a salamander had the power to extinguish flames. Within time, the salamander became a symbol of fire itself and was often used to communicate ardent passion. It’s likely this pendant served as a token of affection.

The pendant, hung with a pearl, is meant to be viewed from all sides and represents a salamander in three dimensions.  A table-cut emerald is set at the creature's head and the whole is adorned with fine enamel work.

Its last owner, George Salting, bequeathed the piece to the V&A in 1910.

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