Caravel Pendant

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Origin of name

The late 16th century Caravel Pendant of Spanish origin, which is today considered as one of the finest items of jewelry in the Treasure Gallery of the Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, Russia, gets its name from its ship-like shape, which is similar to the 15th and 16th centuries highly maneuverable and incredibly fast vessel known as the caravel.  The pendant which is made up of emeralds, gold and enamel, is a masterpiece in jewelry crafting of 16th century Spain, that depicts the skill of the jeweler and the ease with which he had been handling both gold and precious stones, in turning out the unique piece of jewelry.

Description of the Caravel Pendant

The Spanish pendant designed in the shape of a caravel, is made up of emeralds, gold and enamel. The base of the caravel, which is its hull, is made up of a single carved transparent emerald of a deep herbal-green color, characteristic of emeralds originating from Colombia. The weight of this emerald is not known, but it appears to have been carved out of a larger rough emerald, in the shape of the hull of a ship. The emerald is set in a golden frame which also takes the shape of the hull.

Please Click here for the Photograph of the Caravel Pendant

The masts of the ship are made of gold and the sail of white enamel. Emeralds are also incorporated at the lower and upper ends of the sail and also in the cross above. Except for the white enamel used as the sail, the entire caravel is made out of emeralds and gold. This unique Caravel Pendant is one of the most prized pieces of jewelry in the Hermitage museum.


History of the Caravel Pendant

The source of the emeralds

The Caravel Pendant was designed and crafted in Spain in the 1580s to the 1590s during the renaissance period. During this period Spain had already colonized the countries of South America, including Colombia, the only source of emeralds in the world around this time. The Spanish conquistadors had already subjugated the Chibchan Indians by the year 1537, and after a few years were able to locate for the first time, one of the sources of emeralds that supplied the entire South and Central American regions with the sacred green stone. The source discovered was known as Somondoco, which subsequently came to be known as the Chivor mines, and was situated 70 miles northeast of Bogota, high up in the Andes Mountains, at the southeastern end of the NW-SE emerald belt known as the "Cordillera Oriental." The exploitation of the mines started around 1550s in spite of the difficult terrain and the inaccessibility of the region, and continued uninterruptedly until the year 1675, when King Charles II of Spain issued a royal decree closing down the mines indefinitely due to the unbearable cruelty and brutality inflicted on the Indian workers who operated the mines.

Even though the Spanish conquistadors were able to subjugate the Chibchan Indians with ease, subjugating the Muzo Indians proved very difficult, as they were a war-like tribe, who fiercely and successfully resisted all attempts by the Spanish to conquer their lands for over two decades. However in the year 1555, the Spanish were able to partially subdue the Muzo Indians, but it took them another 40 years  to discover the source of the Muzo emeralds in the year 1594. This was mainly due to the policy of non co-operation adopted by the Muzo Indians. Soon after the discovery of the Muzo mines, the Spanish started their exploitation, which continued through out the 17th century and up to the middle of the 18th century, when a disastrous fire swept through the mines and halted all production, and led to the abandonment of the mines, which was not re-activated until after Colombia gained its independence from Spain in 1819.

Thus if the Caravel Pendant was crafted in the 1580s, the possible source of the emeralds used in the pendant, could be the Somondoco (Chivor) mines, which was the only mines in active production at the time. If however the pendant was crafted in the late 1590s, the emerald could have originated from two possible sources, Somondoco (Chivor) and Muzo mines, both of which were under active production during this period.


The fate of the emeralds exploited from the mines of Colombia

The emeralds produced in the Somondoco and Muzo mines were then loaded into Galleons at the Cartagena port, from where the ships sailed to Havana in Cuba, the assembly point for all other ships carrying goods from the other Spanish colonies, bound for Spain. The assembled ships then moved as a fleet  across the Atlantic, escorted by fully armed vessels to protect against the menace of pirates who frequented the Caribbean and the Atlantic. After the unloading of emeralds at the Spanish ports, 10% of the production was given to the Crown, which also included emeralds of significant sizes. The remaining emeralds were re-exported to other countries in Europe and Asia.


The Spanish monarch associated with the Caravel Pendant

The emeralds in the Caravel Pendant were most probably emeralds acquired by the  Spanish Crown. It appears that the Caravel Pendant was executed by jewelers to the Spanish Crown on an order placed by the royal household. The monarch who was involved in this transaction is not exactly known, but given the fact that the piece of jewelry was executed in the 1580s or 1590s the Spanish monarch associated with the pendant could be Philip II who ruled Spain between 1556-1598, a period during which the Spanish Empire attained its greatest power, extent and influence. Philip II was succeeded by his son Philip III who reigned between 1598-1621.


Possible ways in which the Caravel Pendant would have entered the Hermitage Museum

There are several possible ways in which the Caravel Pendant would have reached St. Petersburg, Russia, after its design and manufacture in Spain in the late 16th century. One possible way this could have happened was that the pendant was given as a gift to one of the Emperors of Russia after the 16th century. It is not known exactly to which monarch the caravel pendant was gifted. But, it might be possible that the presentation took place either during the regime of Peter the Great, or any one of the Romanov monarchs after him. It was Peter the Great, who in 1719 established the Russian Crown Treasury, the forerunner of the Kremlin Diamond Fund, which according to him, was to house a collection of jewels that belonged not to the Romanov family, but to the Russian State. Peter the Great, placed all state regalia in this fund and declared that the state holdings were inviolate and could not be altered, sold or given away, and he further decreed that each subsequent emperor or empress should leave a certain number of pieces acquired during their reign to the State, for the permanent glory of the Russian Empire. Peter the Great's gem and jewelry collection was stored in the "Diamond Chamber" of the Winter Palace, in St. Petersburg and all succeeding monarchs added their contributions to the chamber, Thus whoever the Romanov emperor was, who acquired the Caravel Pendant either as a gift or as an outright purchase, left it to the Russian Crown Treasury, for the greater glory of the Russian Empire.

A second possibility of how the Caravel Pendant reached St. Petersburg was, that the celebrated piece was purchased either in Spain or another European capital by an agent of a Russian monarch, on the specific instructions of the monarch. Two of the greatest rulers of the Romanov dynasty, who ruled Russia for more than 300 years from 1613 to 1917, were Peter the Great (1682-1725) and Catherine the Great (1762-1796). Both of these great emperors left significant number of pieces to the crown collection initiated by Peter the Great himself. Peter the Great left all state regalia used in his coronation ceremony, as well as several important pieces of 15th. 16th and 17th century jewelry to the Russian Crown Treasury, which was housed in the "Diamond Chamber" known as the "Renteria" in the Winter Palace. It was possible that among the 16th century pieces of jewelry left by Peter the Great, the Caravel Pendant was also included.

Catherine the Great, who turned out to be one of Russia's greatest rulers also added many pieces to the state jewelry collections. Some of these pieces she purchased herself through her crown jewelers based in Russia, or through her agents in the capitals of other European countries. It was possible that the Caravel Pendant was purchased by one of Catherine's agents based in Spain or the capital of another European country. Catherine the Great also received many gifts from foreign rulers such as the "Caesar's Ruby" which was gifted by King Gustav III of Sweden, when he came to St Petersburg on a state visit in 1777.


The History of the Hermitage Museum

Catherine the Great, a great patron of the arts

Catherine the Great was a great patron of the arts, literature and education. She was an enlightened ruler and corresponded with the great French philosophers and writers of her time as Voltaire, Diderot and d'Alembert. She even lured some of the great scientists such as Leonhard Euler and Peter Simon Pallas from Berlin to the Russian capital. She established the Free Economic Society in St. Petersburg, and leading economists such as Arthur Young and Jacques Necker joined this society. Catherine was also a writer, and wrote a manual for the education of young children, besides writing comedies, fiction and memoirs.


The Hermitage collection of art first initiated by Catherine the Great

Catherine was also a great connoisseur and collector of Art works. In the year 1764 she started her famed art collection by purchasing a collection of 317 paintings from the German city of Berlin that belonged to Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. This was the beginning of a collection that eventually  transformed into greatest collection of arts in the world, the Hermitage Museum. Catherine later instructed the Russian ambassadors in other foreign capitals to acquire the best collections offered for sale in those countries. Some of the collections so acquired by her ambassadors were the Bruhl's collection from Saxony, Crozat's collection from France, the Walpole Gallery from England. As her art collection expanded, Catherine commissioned the famous French Architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe to construct an extension to the Winter Palace to house her collection. The building that was completed in 1769, was known as "My Hermitage" by Catherine (today "my hermitage" is known as the "small hermitage). Soon "My Hermitage" was filled up with her collections, and to keep pace with her rapidly expanding collection she was forced to commission another major extension in 1770, which came to be known as the "Old Hermitage." During her life time Catherine the Great, is reputed have acquired 4,000 paintings, 38,000 books, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals, 10,000 engraved gems and a natural history collection filling two galleries.


Further expansion of the collection after Catherine the Great

After Catherine the Great, the imperial art collection expanded further, and was enriched by relics of the Greek and Scythian culture, and also Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities. To accommodate the ever expanding collection Czar Nicholas I (1825-1855) commissioned a German architect Leo von Klenze to design a building for a public museum, which was constructed and opened  in the year 1852, and came to be known as the New Hermitage Museum.


The present state of the museum

Today the State Hermitage Museum occupies  six magnificent buildings situated along the embankment of the River Neva, in the heart of St. Petersburg. The Winter Palace, the former residence of the Russian Czars is the main building in this complex. The museum complex holds over 3 million works of art, representing the development of world culture and art from the stone age to the 20th century. The collection includes works by world renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, Rembrandts, Rubens, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gaugin, Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet and Pissaro. Besides, paintings there are other collections such as the Russian Imperial Regalia, jewels and jewelry that include an assortment of Faberge jewelry, and also the celebrated Caravel Pendant, the subject of this webpage, and also the largest existing collection of ancient gold from Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The collections in the Hermitage Museum is so vast that even if one spends just one minute looking at each exhibit it will take almost 6 years to see all the 3 million exhibits. Today, international branches of the Hermitage Museum are located in Amsterdam, London. Las Vegas and Ferrara in Italy.


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External Link:

Hermitage Museum


1.Website of the State Hermitage Museum   
2.Hermitage Museum - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia   
3.The State Hermitage Museum -
4.The Emerald Deposits of Muzo, Colombia - Joseph E. Pogue, Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, Vol. 15, 1917.  
5.Encyclopaedia Britannica - 2006 

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