Friday, June 21, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Bejeweled Pelican in her Piety

A Pelican in Her Piety
The Royal Collection

This strange and beautiful pendant heralds from the late Seventeenth or early Eighteenth Century and is most likely Spanish or Portuguese in origin. Perched on a round base of gold and surrounded by diamond-studded foliage, the pelican has pierced her breast so that she might feed her three children. Without getting into a discussion of more practical ways a pelican could feed her children, we’ll just accept that this rather grisly image is meant to be allegorical of Christ and also representative of works of charity.

Regardless of the unusual subject matter, this pendant is a true masterpiece. The figure of the pelican and her children are rendered in beautiful white enamel with blue markings. On one of the three babies, red enamel shows where his mother’s blood has spilled upon him. The pelican’s wound is a rather sizeable ruby surrounded by diamonds. The mother’s wings are also set with diamonds, faceted much like those that surround the entire piece. The whole is topped by a diamond and black enamel cross, and is finished with five dangling pearls.

This piece entered the Royal Collection in 1872. Little is known about its origins though the gold work and design correspond to Spanish jewelry-making of the time. Today, the piece is on display as part of the Royal Collection thereby continuing to prove that piety can be found in the oddest of places.

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