Artist or maker:
c 1575 {body}
c 1830 {upper sections, tail and chain}
Place of production:
Flanders, Belgium
gold, enamel and freshwater pearl
Type of object:
pendants (jewelry)
Accession number:


Based on a printed emblem of 1549 advising the benefits of discretion, this centaur pendant appears to be a skilfull 19th-century restoration incorporating an original body made of 'baroque' pearls. Now identified as from of the renowned collection of Louis Fidel Debruge-Duménil, this pendant was part of the 'exquisite' display of Renaissance jewellery formed by Betty de Rothschild.

Jewelled centaurs, or more properly minotaurs, with maces, are derived from Andrea Alciato's emblem for the motto 'the secret plans of leaders must stay concealed' from his "Emblemata", first published in Latin in 1531 (see P. E. Muller, "Jewels in Spain, 1500-1800" (New York, 1972), p. 82). Alciato explains that minotaurs featured on the military standards of ancient Rome because the plans of leaders should be no less concealed than the Minotaur's Labyrinth. The mace denoting leadership that appears carried over the minotaur's shoulder in the French and Spanish editions published in Lyon in 1549 was repeated in several other editions dating from 1549 to 1567 and also in 1615. Although the motto refers to a minotaur, several of the illustrations do appear like centaurs, although they are never sitting down as in the Waddesdon pendant.

Close examination reveals that the top of the figure, the pendant pearl, the tail and the chain of the Waddesdon pendant are 19th-century in date. It is likely therefore that the centaur/minotaur meaning was created by a learned goldsmith working in the early part of the 19th century. The jewel appears to be identical to one listed in a catalogue of the collection of Louis Fidel Debruge-Duménil, assembled between 1830 and 1838: '1019 - Figurine en or = Un centaure. Le buste de l'homme et la croupe du cheval sont formés par des perles baroques. - H. 27 mill., Long. 40.' Betty de Rothschild definitely acquired another of her jewels from this collection (see acc. no. 863). It is therefore highly likely that the Waddesdon centaur was also that owned by Debruge-Duménil.

Scholars have suggested the Waddesdon centaur was made in Central Europe, England or Italy. Not much is known about where Louis Fidel Debruge-Duménil acquired the 15,000 items he amassed during his retirement from his property business in the last 8 years of his life. He did acquire things from Parisian auctions, on travels to Belgium and England, and also from his son who had eloped with a married woman to Florence (see Françoise Arquié-Bruley, 'Debruge-Duménil (1778-1838) et sa collection d’objets d’art', "Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore de Pisa, Classe de lettere e Filosofia", ser. 3, 20 (1990), 211-48).

Following the Italian suggestion, it may be that Debruge-Duménil's son acquired the jewel from an Italian goldsmith versed in local skills as well as obscure Renaissance iconography. Florentine dealers such as Giovanni Freppa and Francesco Lombardi are known to have been forging and selling a variety of 'Renaissance' items including goldsmith work from at least 1840 (see M. Westgarth, 'A Biographical Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Antique and Curiosity Dealers', "Regional Furniture" 23 (2009), pp. 105, 133). The first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos bought forged Renaissance jewels during a grand tour of taly in 1829, most probably in Florence (C. Truman in "Decorative Arts in the Robert Lehman Collection" (New York, 2013), p. 96).

In contrast to the upper sections, the base of this jewel is most probably original. The enamelling is of very fine quality consistent with similar 16th-century examples of small animals with misshapen or 'baroque' pearl bodies from the collection of Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici (1667-1743) now in the Museo degli Argenti, Florence. Two in particular, of a rabbit and a horse, are also very similar in the pose of the legs, suggesting that the Waddesdon pendant could have started life as quite a different animal (inv. nos 2531, 2494). Anna's pendants have been attributed to Flemish makers, perhaps where the body of the Waddesdon centaur was originally made.

Baroque or freshwater pearls ingeniously incorporated into bodies of figures and animals became popular in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, inspired by Mannerist design. Artists began using misshapen pearls as found objects to spark the imagination, combining them in intriguing and inventive ways - as heads, stomachs, helmets or bodies - with gold, enamel and normal pearls. Forgers in the early 19th-century were also attracted to this aesthetic as another pseudo-Renaissance jewel of a unicorn with two baroque pearls from the Debruge-Duménil collection attests (see H. Tait, "Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. 1: The Jewels" (London, 1986), p. 18).

In Betty de Rothschild's home, the ingenious combination of pearls and enamelled gold on this centaur made it a valid companion to her more celebrated pendants, published in Éduoard Lièvre's "Les collections célèbres d'oeuvres d'art" between 1866-1879. In this book, the expert Paul Mantz described Betty's collection as 'brillante'. He saw it as an exquisite selection of jewels that once graced the women of the Renaissance, marvellously re-unified in a display of artistry, delicateness and elegance, as much as expensive materials. Betty and her husband James were renowned for their lavish parties and social events which enabled vistors to admire their jewel collection displayed in vitrines in their home on the rue Laffitte, Paris.

Phillippa Plock, 2015

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
54 x 38 x 15; 65 (with suspension ring); weight 16g.
[C. 14]
Owner's mark
[recorded in object file pre 1934, mark of Betty de Rothschild, no longer extant]
GG 3
Printed label
[on base, printed label, possibly relating to acquisition by National Trust]


Owned by Louis Fidel Debruge-Duménil (b.1778, d.1838); acquired by Baroness Betty de Rothschild (b.1805, d.1886); by descent to her son Baron Edmond de Rothschild (b.1845, d.1934); by descent to his son James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); accepted by The Treasury Solicitor in lieu of taxes on the Estate of Mr James de Rothschild in 1963; given to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1963.
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1963



Charles Jules Labarte; Description des objets d'art qui composent la collection Debruge-Duménil, précédée d'une introduction historique, par Jules Labarte; Paris; Didron; 1847; p. 662, no. 1018.; H. 27 mill., Long. 40.
Kirsten Piacenti, Renaissance and Baroque Jewellery, Apollo, 105, 1977, 422-427; p. 425.; not dated.
John Benjamin; Starting to Collect Antique Jewellery; Woodbridge; Antique Collectors Club; 2003; p. 42; as 16th century Spanish.

Indexed terms