Sunday, January 27, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Hat Badge with St. George and the Dragon, 1520

Hat Badge
English, 1520
The Royal Collection
St. George has long been emblematic of Britain and his figure has graced many an important work of art from jewelry to painting. Here, we have a high-relief figure of St. George on horseback as he slays that eternally troublesome the dragon. St. George, as he usually does, holds aloft a sword with a seed-pearl handle. The saint’s armor is adorned with a pattern of crimped gold ribbons. The same pattern is repeated on the translucent red enamel of the horse's caparison. The background shows a walled town in opaque white and blue enamel. George is not the only figure in the scene. To his right is a Princess, kneeling in prayer. The whole of the scene is mounted in a raised frame with scale-like ornament in black enamel and gold and is meant to be worn as a hat badge.

The reverse of this badge which dates to 1520 features an arabesque-style ornament of the same crimped gold ribbons which are inset with stylized gold rosettes on a translucent green enamel.

This is part of a suite of small gold and enamel reliefs (émail en ronde bosse), made by the same workshop. The exact identity of the workshop is uncertain and theories about its location range from Spain and southern Germany to the Danube region.

The oddest thing about this hat badge is the unusual representation of St. George. In usual iconography, St George is represented as a young beardless knight with helmet. However, here St. George is shown with a full beard and curly hair.

How the badge came to be entered in the Royal Collection is unknown, however, it is exactly the type of jewel that shop-a-holic King George IV liked to purchase. It’s thought to have been acquired from Rundell, Bridge & Rundell (the Royal goldsmiths from 1797 to 1840). When one looks back at the historic log of inventories of the Collection, one can see an entry that states the existence of a “curious ancient enamelled Badge of the Garter, in glass case” listed in an inventory of jewels at Windsor Castle in 1830. Most likely, that refers to this particular jewel. 

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