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Pendant

Artist or maker:
Unknown
Date:
1375-1425
Place of production:
Rhineland, Germany
Medium:
ivory, quartz crystal and silver
Type of object:
pendants (jewelry)
Accession number:
2918

Commentary

An angel swoops down to present two early Christian martyrs carved in miniature: Saint Denis, holding his severed head, and Saint Catherine, with her torture wheel which miraculously broke. One of a group of similar ivory carvings, this pendant belonged to the father of Waddesdon's creator, Anselm de Rothschild. Alice, his daughter, displayed it in the Smoking Room along with other small treasures.

The pairing of these figures was probably requested by its first owner, who must have had a special devotion for these two martyr saints. The silver frame is a little loose and may be a later addition, but probably echoes the original form. Two similar works, also apparently pendants or lockets, have pairs of saints - Saint Veronica and Saint Apollonia and Saint Christopher and Saint Catherine - suggesting it was a popular format for devotional jewellery. It is generally thought that these carvings were made somewhere in Lower Rhenish Germany, such as Cologne, or in Paris (Williamson and Davies, 2014, p. 454).

Connections between the depicted saints and German veneration may point to Lower Rhineland as an origin for this pendant. While Saint Denis is better known as the patron saint of Paris, he, along with Saint Catherine, is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. These saints were particularly venerated in Rhineland Germany following the Black Death that devastated medieval Europe not long before this pendant was made. The 14 saints were believed to be particularly powerful in strengthening faith and combatting disease. Saint Denis, because of his head iconography, was invoked against headache, while Catherine was called upon to guard against sudden death. This small but powerful ivory must have been kept close to its owner's chest.

The swooping angel cleverly evokes the power of God to intervene in the human world in a very small space. As others have noted, these ivory carvings relate to a growing interest in private worship and prayer that was expressed in intricate manuscript illumination and small-scale devotional works made in a range of material including precious metal and enamel (Williamson and Davies, 2014, p. 453). The visual similarity between this carving and altarpieces with flanking saints indicates how personal items such as jewellery could relate to larger devotional objects.

The ivory is not listed in Ferdinand de Rothchild's inventory of Waddesdon Manor taken in 1898 after his early death. It may well be that his father, Anselm, left the jewel to Alice, Ferdinand's sister and heir. Although it is described in the 1922 inventory as depicting Saint Valerie and Saint Catherine, it is clear that it was this jewel Alice displayed in a glass table in the Smoking Room.

Amongst miniatures and precious objects, including another devotional pendant that she probably inherited from her father (acc. no. 2783), Alice arranged a small collection of jewels. These were the two pendants; an Austrian 17th-century pearl and garnet chain (untraced); a Hungarian jewelled belt believed to be of the same date (acc. no. 7153, now 19th-century); and a French 18th-century dress ornament (acc. no. 4259). The other Smoking Room jewels that Ferdinand had left her, Alice consigned to her day pavillion at Eythrope, perhaps because of their more dubious quality (see acc. nos 865, 866.1, 868).

Phillippa Plock, 2015

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
45 x 23 x 10; 50 (with suspension ring); weight 12g.

History

Provenance:
Acquired by Baron Anselm de Rothschild (b.1803, d.1874); by descent to his daughter Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957);
Collection:
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1963

Bibliography

Bibliography

Franz Schestag; Katalog der Kunstsammlung des Freiherrn Anselm von Rothschild in Wien; Vienna; [n. pub.]; 1866-1872; p. 22, no. 152
Terence Hodgkinson, Anthony Blunt; Sculpture: The James A de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre; 1970; pp. 164-165, cat. no. 60, ill.
Paul Williamson, Glyn Davies; Medieval Ivory Carvings 1200-1550; London; Victoria and Albert Museum; 2014; pp. 454-455.

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