The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, is the home to some of the finest surviving examples of sculptural pendants of the late Renaissance period that originated in Western European countries during the 16th and 17th centuries. During this period large quantities of irregular shaped baroque pearls accumulated among the stocks of pearl dealers, with no apparent use in traditional jewelry settings, and the dealers not knowing what to do with their accumulated stocks.
It was then that the genius, inventiveness and skill of the late Renaissance jeweler, came up with a solution, in order to make use of these large, irregular-shaped, nacreous pearls, by incorporating them as the centerpiece of jewelry, which together with other gemstones, diamonds, gold and enameling, formed a pre-conceived shape, that bore fruit in the fertile imagination of the Renaissance jewelry craftsmen. This resulted in the production of a range of different "sculptural pendants" with various fancied shapes such as monsters, dragons, mermen, mermaids, and other mythical figures, as well as naturalistic shapes such as birds and animals and bunches of flowers and fruits. The ultimate shape of the pendant was determined by the shape of the baroque pearl that was incorporated as its centerpiece. Such pendants were worn by the royalty and aristocracy, not only as adornments, but also as amulets to ward off evil. Besides the baroque pearl, the gemstones used in the settings were cut as cabochons, and the diamonds were table-cut with few facets. The gemstones and diamonds were mounted deep in their settings. The enameling used on the pieces were very bright. A common motif seen in these sculptural pendants is the caravel (sailing ship), which was a reflection of interests in this age of great geographical discoveries, that witnessed the discovery of the New World.
The Treasury Gallery in the Hermitage Museum, created during the time of Catherine the Great in the 18th century, hosts some of the rarest, most valuable and prized collections in the entire museum. The gallery is divided into two sections :- the Gold Rooms and the Diamond Rooms. While the Gold Rooms contain around 1,500 works made of gold, dating from the 7th century B.C. to the 19th century A.D., the Diamond Rooms contain pieces that trace the development of jewelry crafting during the course of mankind's history from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the beginning of the 20th century. The valuable collection of Renaissance jewelry is also kept in the Diamond Rooms, and listed under the section, "Western European Jeweler's Art of the 16th and 17th centuries." Among the renowned pieces of sculptural pendants incorporating baroque pearls, displayed in this section of the Diamond Rooms are :-
1) The Swan Pendant
2) The Siren Pendant
3) The Cupid Pendant
4) The Mars Pendant
5) The Italian Caravel Pendant
The internationally renowned "Swan Pendant" is a prized possession of the Hermitage Museum, and originated in the 1590s in the Netherlands, during the late Renaissance period. The pendant which is a masterpiece among baroque pendants is exquisitely crafted and a living testimony to the ingenuity, inventiveness and craftsmanship of the Renaissance jewelry craftsmen of 16th century Netherlands.
The Swan Pendant
© Hermitage Museum
The materials that constitute the pendant are gold, enamel, pearl, diamonds and rubies. The dimensions of the pendant in the vertical and horizontal directions are 19.2 cm and 5.9 cm respectively. A large nacreous baroque pearl, which is almost oval in shape, constitute the centerpiece of the pendant, forming the body of the swan. The wings, tail and the curved neck, that completes the composite figure of the swan, are made of gold, set with small cut stones and covered with black and white enamel. The swan is suspended from three points on the upper side, at the neck, tail and center of the body by three gold chains. The longest chain is the one attached to the tail, and the shortest the one attached to the center of the body, which also incorporates another small baroque pearl. The three chains are attached to a floret like arrangement made of gold directly above the swan, and set with a ruby at its center. Another floral arrangement, directly below the swan made of enameled gold and set with uncut diamonds, and rubies, forms a perch for the swan, from the underside of which a small drop-shaped pearl is suspended by a short gold chain.
A Siren was a Greek mythological creature that was part woman and part bird, whose singing in the high seas lured sailors on to rocks. The sirens of Greek mythology, were sometimes portrayed in later folklore as mermaid-like, and in some languages the same word had been used for both bird and fish creatures, such as the Maltese word "sirena." Such mythological creatures were a common theme of the Renaissance jewelry craftsmen who tried to incorporate baroque pearls of odd shapes in creating them. The theme used in the famous Siren Pendant, one of the prized possessions of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, is the mermaid-like form of the siren, with both human and fish-like features.
The Siren Pendant
© Hermitage Museum
The Siren Pendant like the Swan Pendant, originated in the Netherlands in the late Renaissance period, but around a decade or two later, in the 1610s to 1620s. Like the Swan Pendant, the craftsmen involved in creating the Siren Pendant are also unknown. The centerpiece of the Siren Pendant is an anchor-shaped baroque pearl, that constitutes the body of the siren, partly woman-like and partly fish-like. Features such as the face, and the hands are completed in polished, chased and engraved enamel. The flowing hair of the siren is made of gold, and so is the frame on which the siren is set. The pendant is suspended by three gold chains arising from a point above the head of the siren. The lower golden frame of the pendant is set with diamonds and sapphires. Both the Siren Pendant and the Swan Pendant, having originated from the same country Netherlands, during the same period have certain common features, such as suspension by three gold chains and the type of enameling used.
The Cupid Pendant is the third baroque pendant of Netherlands origin, that belongs to the priceless collection of Renaissance jewelry, in the Diamond Rooms of the Hermitage Museum, at St. Petersburg. The origin of the pendant is believed to be in the 1580s, almost the same period as the Swan and Siren Pendants, which falls under the late Renaissance period. The use of gold and the techniques of enameling in the Cupid Pendant, is similar to that used in the Swan and Siren Pendants, which is obvious, due to the common origins of the three pendants, from the same country and the same period. Other common features in the pendants include the use of gold chains to suspend the cupid, and the suspension of a drop-shaped pearl by a gold chain, from under the chest of the cupid.
Cupid in Roman mythology was the God of erotic love and beauty, also known as Amor, and believed to be the son of Venus, the Goddess of love and Mars, the God of war. In Greek mythology Cupid was known as Eros. Cupid was usually depicted in paintings and statutes as a naked winged boy or baby, carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows. The boy was depicted in the process of shooting an arrow. Cupid has now become a symbol for Valentine's day.
The Cupid Pendant
© Hermitage Museum
In the Cupid Pendant, Cupid is represented as a naked winged boy, made up of a baroque pearl. The plumes in the wings are set with rectangular shaped rubies, and so are the arrows in the quiver. The bow appears to be set with table-cut diamonds, and the arrow the boy is about to shoot, appears to be set with rubies. The wings, quiver, bow and arrow are all made of gold. The Cupid is suspended by two gold chains, a short chain attached to the head and a long chain attached to the heel of a foot. An enameled floret is placed in the middle of the short chain, and two enameled florets are placed on the long chain. A drop-shaped pearl hangs from below the cupid, by a chain carrying another enameled floret. Two other pearls are attached directly, one to the lower foot and the other to one end of the bow. The floral arrangement above from which the Cupid hangs, also carries three pearls. Thus the materials that constitute the Cupid Pendant are gold, enamel, pearls, rubies and diamonds.
The Mars Pendant is another delicately executed, stunning piece of renaissance jewelry of mid-16th century origin ascribed to an unknown craftsman of France, and currently housed in the Diamond Rooms of the Hermitage Museum, at St. Petersburg, Russia. The pendant executed in gold, silver and enamel, chased, polished and carved, is set with pearls, rubies, chalcedony, lapis lazuli and opals.
Mars- Roman God of War
Mars was the Roman warrior god, the son of Jupiter and Juno, and one of the most worshipped and revered gods in ancient Rome. Mars was the husband of Bellona and the lover of Venus, and the most prominent of the warrior gods worshipped by the Romans, who considered him second in importance only to Jupiter. Festivals for Mars were held in March, the month that was named after him, the month of Spring, the beginning of the period for military campaigns. Previously, Mars was considered as the God of spring, fertility and vegetation, the protector of cattle, fields and farmers. Mars later became associated with battle, as the seasons associated with vegetative growth and agricultural production, spring and summer, seem to coincide with the beginning and ending of military campaigns. Two festivals held for Mars, Feriae Marti on March 1st and Armilustrium on October 19th, marks the beginning and end of the season for military campaigns. Mars came to be identified with the Greek god Ares. Mars was also regarded as the legendary father of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, and because of this mythological lineage, the Romans considered themselves as the children of Mars, who was regarded as their protector. In statutes Mars is portrayed as a warrior in full battle armor, wearing a crested helmet and carrying a shield in the left hand, and in coins struck in ancient Rome, Mars also carries a spear or javelin in the right hand.
The Mars Pendant
© Hermitage Museum
In the Mars Pendant, the depiction of Mars does not correspond to the depiction in ancient Roman times, as he is bare-headed without a crested helmet. However the depiction of the shield in the left hand and the sword in the right hand somewhat resembles the original depiction. An open flag is also depicted behind his left hand. The dress worn by Mars appears to be of gold, and the gemstones on the breastplate a baroque pearl. The figure of Mars is surrounded by an oval shaped fruit and foliage setting in gold, where the fruits are represented by rubies or spinels and the foliage leaves of green chalcedony. There are 10 rubies or spinels on the pendant, of which seven are set on the border of the pendant, and three inside. One of the three inner rubies is placed on the battle dress of Mars. A hook just above the head of Mars is meant for suspending the pendant on a chain or necklace.
Representation of Mars on an ancient Roman coin
The pendant is designated here as the Italian Caravel Pendant, to distinguish it from another caravel pendant made in Spain in the late 16th century whose centerpiece is a carved emerald, and is also part of the Renaissance jewelry collection in the Diamond Rooms of the Treasury Gallery, in the Hermitage Museum at St. Petersburg. The centerpiece of the Italian Caravel Pendant, also made in the late 16th century, is a nacreous baroque pearl which forms the hull of the caravel. The caravel was a highly maneuverable and incredibly fast vessel, based on a successful Arabian model, that was made in Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries, the period of great geographical discoveries in the world, such as the discovery of America by Columbus. Thus the caravel became a popular theme in the crafting of jewelry during this period, especially in the designing of pendants such as the sculptural pendants.
The Italian Caravel Pendant
© Hermitage Museum
The hull of the Italian Caravel Pendant is made up of a crescent-shaped nacreous baroque pearl, which is set in a golden frame that also takes the shape of the hull. All other parts of the caravel, including the two masts, the bow and stern of the ship, except for the sail, are made up of gold. The sail is made up of white enamel. The upper end of the hull, closer to the deck, is decorated with a row of five almost rectangular-shaped precious stones, which appear to be emeralds and rubies alternating with one another. In the row there are three emeralds and two rubies, the emeralds being situated at the two ends and the middle. The emeralds undoubtedly are of Colombian origin, the only source of emeralds during this period, that arrived in Europe via Spain. Like all other sculptural pendants, the Italian Caravel Pendant is also a prized possession in the collection of Renaissance jewelry of the Hermitage Museum.
The State Hermitage Museum that presently occupies six magnificent buildings situated along the embankment of the river Neva, in the Heart of St. Petersburg had its beginnings as far back as the year 1769, when one of Russia's greatest Romanov rulers, Catherine the Great, commissioned a building known as "My Hermitage" to house her expanding art collection, that included collections belonging to Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky of Berlin, Bruhl's collection from Saxony, Crozat's collection from France, and the Walpole Gallery from England. "My Hermitage" which was an extension to the Winter Palace, was soon filled up with Catherine the Great's collection of Arts, and to accommodate her ever expanding collection, she was forced to commission a second major extension to the Winter Palace in 1770, which came to be known as the "Old Hermitage." By the time Catherine died in 1796, she is said to have acquired 38,000 books, 10,000 drawings, 4,000 paintings, 16,000 coins and medals, 10,000 engraved gems, and a Natural History collection filling two galleries. These statistics only go to consolidate the view, that the present Hermitage Museum is undoubtedly the brainchild of one the greatest connoisseurs and collectors of arts mankind had ever known in his history, Catherine the Great of Russia.
The State Hermitage Museum
After Catherine the Great, the Imperial Art Collection expanded further, and Czar Nicholas I who reigned between 1825 and 1855, commissioned a new museum in 1852, to house the ever expanding collection, that came to be known as the New Hermitage Museum. The collection was enriched by relics of the Greek and Scythian culture, and also Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities. Today, the Winter Palace, the former official residence of the Russian Czars, is the main building in the State Hermitage Museum complex. The entire complex holds over 3 million works of art, representing human kind's cultural development from the stone age to the 20th century. Besides works of art by renowned artists from around the world, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, Rembrandts and others, the collection also includes the Russian Imperial Regalia, jewels and jewelry collections of different styles and periods from around the world, that include an assortment of Faberge jewelry, and the largest existing collection of ancient gold from Eastern Europe and Western Asia. An estimate of the vastness of the exhibits can be estimated by allocating just one minute to each exhibit, which is equal to 3 million minutes for all the exhibits in the museum. This works out to nearly 6 years, which is approximately the time taken by anyone to view all the exhibits, spending just one minute to view each exhibit.
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1) Website of the State Hermitage Museum
2) Hermitage Museum - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
3) The State Hermitage Museum - saint-petersburg.com
4) A History of Jewelry, 1100-1870 - Joan Evans, New York, 1989
5) Jewels and Jewelry - Clare Philips, New York, 2000
6) Tudor and Jacobean Jewelry - Diana Scarisbrick, London, 1995
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