Artist or maker:
Place of production:
Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain
gold and enamel
Type of object:
pendants (jewelry)
Accession number:


Once a precious jewel worn by a deeply religious noblewoman, this seemingly insignificant pendant is actually the most original 'Renaissance' piece of jewellery in Waddesdon's Smoking Room today. Unpublished in modern times, it provides evidence that Ferdinand's father, Anselm de Rothschild, competed with collectors eager to acquire original examples of historic jewellery. It also reveals something about the tastes and expertise of Anselm's daughter, Alice, also Ferdinand's heir.

Standing on a small pillar, the Virgin Mary, wrapped in a star-studded blue cloak, gazes tenderly at the Christ Child in her arms. This small pendant was made in Zaragoza for pilgrims who visted the shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar located in the cathedral of the capital of Aragon, in Northern Spain. Legend has it that the Virgin was miraculously transported to this spot from Palestine to help Saint James the Greater in his hour of need. In return, she asked for a miraculous statue of herself and a small pillar made by angels to be placed at the centre of a new church dedicated to her name. Different craftsmen made a range of pendants with this subject throughout the Renaissance and on into the 17th century. Pilgrims who prayed to the Virgin of the Pillar, and received divine aid, would often leave small pieces of jewellery such as this, or other tokens known as 'ex-voto', to the shrine.

Worn enamel on the back of the jewel indicates it must have hung against a lady's dress for some time. A very similar jewel was worn by Maria, widow of Archduke Charles of Austria (1551-1608), in a portrait painted around 1600 (Bavarian State Paintings Collection, inv. no. 4200 (see "Princely Magnificence, Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630", (London, 1980), pp. 109-110, cat. no. P24). She was a very pious lady and is pictured in widow's weeds adorned only with religious jewels. The Virgin of the Pillar hangs round her neck.

At some point in its life, the Waddesdon jewel was most probably given to the shrine by its owner. In 1868, the Cathedral authorities in Zaragoza decided to sell some of the jewels from its treasury to raise much needed building funds, a not uncommon phenomenon. In May 1870, 523 items were auctioned. Buyers from the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert, London), saw this as a unique opportunity to acquire some spectacular Renaissance pieces for their collection (see C. Oman 'The Jewels of Our Lady of the Pillar at Saragossa', "Apollo" (June 1967), 400-6).

A piece almost identical to the Waddesdon pendant came from the sale and is now in the V&A, dated to 1625-50 (acc. no. 343-1870). According to Charles Oman, before the sale, Henry Cole, the head of the South Kensington Museum, heard a rumor that the Rothschilds had been alerted, however Oman could not identify the family member involved (ibid, p. 406). The Waddesdon pendant indicates it may have been Anselm who was interested in these jewels, most probably acquiring one or two through an intermediary dealer.

Waddesdon's Virgin pendant appears in the additions to the catalogue of Anselm's collection written by the art historian and curator Franz Schestag. First published in 1866, further items were added in 1872, including 5 jewels: a Neptune figure on a sea horse, a heart-shaped jewel, and 3 jewels of the Virgin (see British Museum, WB.191). The jewels included (in translation) a 'Virgin and Child. Half round figure of gold, enamelled, the clothes covered with golden stars. With an eyelet for hanging. 16th century. Height 43mm'. This description matches the Waddesdon Virgin almost exactly.

In the 1870 Zaragoza sale, 11 Virgin of the Pillar pendants made of gold enamel were sold (nos 467-477). The similar pendant in the V&A was no. 469. As Oman has noted, exact identification without other evidence is extremely difficult as the descriptions are so slight (ibid, p. 404). However, ten of the pendants are described as adorned with precious stones, pearls or false stones. One is simply described as of gold and enamel of various colours. Given the lack of stones on the Waddesdon piece, and the date of Anselm's acquisition, this may very well be the same pendant under discussion.

The pendant was not listed in Ferdinand de Rothschild's 1898 inventory of Waddesdon Manor, nor was it mentioned in his will in relation to his house at 143 Piccadilly, London. It next appears in Alice's inventory in 1922, when it was displayed with other small treasures in a glass table. It therefore seems probable that Anselm left this piece directly to Alice. Alice certainly went on to acquire other pieces with Virgin and Child iconography for the Smoking Room at Waddesdon but also for her own day pavillion at Eythrope suggesting such a gift would have appealed to her personal tastes (see acc. nos 2979, 4103, 8073, 8078).

It is also interesting that she removed from the Smoking Room most of the jewels Ferdinand intended to replace those given to the British Museum (see acc. nos 865,866.1 and 868). In their place, she displayed a small collection of jewels in a glass table, along with miniatures and other treasures. Alice's pieces included another devotional pendant inherited from her father (acc. no. 2918), as well as a an Austrian 17th-century pearl and garnet chain she may have acquired herself (untraced). Two other pieces came from Ferdinand: a Hungarian jewelled belt thought to be 17th-century in date (acc. no. 7153); and a French 18th century dress ornament (acc. no. 4259).

Phillippa Plock, 2015

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
43 x 10 x 9; weight 6g.


Acquired by Baron Anselm de Rothschild (b.1803, d.1874) most probably from the sale of the jewels of Our Lady of Saragossa, May 1870; by descent to his daughter Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); inherited by his wife Dorothy de Rothschild (b.1895, d.1988); given to Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1971.
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Gift of Dorothy de Rothschild, 1971



Catalogue des bijoux de La très sainte vierge del Pilar de Saragosse. Lesquels avec l'autorisation compétente seront mis en adjudication publique pour la continuation des travaux de ce temple métropolitain; Madrid; C Molinier; 1870; p. 27, no. 477; possibly this jewel.
Franz Schestag; Katalog der Kunstsammlung des Freiherrn Anselm von Rothschild in Wien; Vienna; [n. pub.]; 1866-1872; [1872], p. 21, no. 546

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