Collection online

pendant / cameo

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Pendant formed of cameo bust; set in open-work gold frame; enamelled and set with four rubies; onyx cameo of two layers with bust to right of helmeted head, helmet formed of mask of Pan; mount of cruciform design with fleurs-de-lis between arms, each with quatrefoil at base; modern pendant pearl.

  • Date

    • 1500-1600 (cameo)
    • 1850-1898 (pearl and frame)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 1.7 centimetres (cameo)
    • Length: 4.9 centimetres
    • Width: 3.5 centimetres
    • Depth: 0.6 centimetres
    • Weight: 13 grammes
  • Curator's comments

    Text from Tait 1986:-

    Origin: Uncertain; carved in the 16th century, perhaps in a workshop north of the Alps; setting of later date, apparently modified; pendant pearl added in the late 19th century.

    Provenance: Baron Anselm von Rothschild, Vienna, before 1866.

    Commentary: The attribution of the cameo to Italy in the early sixteenth century, as published in Read 1902, was partially abandoned in Dalton 1915, where it was grouped with a number of other sixteenth-century cameos depicting the bust of a lady in contemporary dress, two of which entered the British Museum's collections in 1753. It would seem that Dalton remained unconvinced by the arguments for attributing the cameo to Italy because in 1927 in the revised edition of the ‘Catalogue’ he omits any reference to a country of origin but reiterates the sixteenth-century provenance. In none of these publications is the bust identified as a head of Minerva, and yet in its essential compositional elements it corresponds with the incomparably finer and more powerful larger jasper and chalcedony commesso cameo of Minerva by Ottavio Miseroni, which has been preserved in the Imperial Collections in Vienna and had been recorded in the Shatzkammer inventory of 1750 (see F. Eichler and E. Kris, ‘Die Kameen im Kunsthistorischen Museum’, Vienna, 1927, no. 307, pl. 43). In Dalton 1915 attention was drawn to the existence of numerous cameos representing ladies in dresses with high collars and puffed sleeves, even citing, as an example, “the bust once described as "Mary Queen of Scots" in the Cabinet des Medailles” (for an illustration of three such examples see Joan Evans, ‘A History of Jewellery, 110-1870’, London, 1970 (rev. edn), pl. 92). This cameo, however, does not have puffed sleeves or any of the other details (such as buttons) of contemporary female attire but a simple curving fold of drapery that is looped up across the shoulder in the Classical manner, obscuring part of the armour beneath.
    On the reverse the use of four lugs to hold the cameo in place seems to be a surprisingly crude and clumsy method which contrasts sharply with the reverse of the mounted Renaissance cameos in the Imperial Collections in Vienna. The latter, being well-documented, provide valuable evidence of the care and beautiful quality of finish bestowed on the reverse of the gold enamelled settings. The design of this particular setting is puzzling, partly because of the unusually prominent fleur-de-lis motif and partly because at the extremities (on left and right) are two c scrolls of two different sizes placed back to back, thereby creating an asymmetrical, almost disjointed outline that is not in keeping with Renaissance design. Neither its style nor its workmanship seems older than the nineteenth century, and a second example, hitherto unrecognised as such, is in America; it frames a two-sided cameo (see Parker Lesley, ‘Renaissance Jewels and Jewelled Objects from the Melvin Gutman Collection’, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, 1968, pp. 119-21; Donald F. Rowe, ‘The Art of Jewelry, 1450-1650’, exh. cat., Martin D’Arcy Gallery of Art, Loyola University of Chicago, 1975, no. 34). Even the two tiny suspension loops (on either side near the top) are identical.

    Bibliography: Franz Schestag, ‘katalog der Kuntsammlung des Freiherrn Anselm von Rothschild in Wein’ Vienna, 1866, no. 345; Charles Hercules Read, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest: Catalogue of the Works of Art bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898’, London, 1902, no. 187; O.M. Dalton, ‘Catalogue of the Engraved Gems of the Post-Classical Periods in the British Museum’, London, 1915, no. 485a (illus. p. 65); O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 187; Hugh Tait, 'Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. 1., The Jewels', British Museum, London, 1986, no. 44, pl. VIIB, fig. 192.


  • Bibliography

    • Tait 1986 187 bibliographic details
    • Read 1902 187 bibliographic details
    • Dalton 1927 187 bibliographic details
    • Dalton 1915 485a bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G2a/dc6

  • Condition

    The cameo is unchanged, the setting generally good, but there are repairs and damage to each of the four fleurs-de-lis. The reverse of the setting reveals a number of signs of alteration. The two lower fleurs-de-lis have both been drilled near the end of the central point; it is possible that the upper two were similarly drilled, but a later oval patch of gold covers the back of both areas. From each oval patch projects a suspension loop, an indication that at one time the setting had been used with three suspension chains, like several other pendant jewels in this catalogue. The markings on the reverse suggest that the centre may have had a different form, perhaps a locket compartment, which had to be removed to accommodate the cameo. Despite the inset of a plain fillet of gold, the cameo does not fit perfectly and at least two gaps are wide enough to let the light through.

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    This collection is known as the Waddesdon Bequest under the terms of Baron Ferdinand Rothschild’s will.

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


Cameo pendant carved in an onyx of two layers, grey and white, with the bust of a lady facing to right, wearing armour and, on her head, an ornately decorated helmet, the upper part depicting a male face, perhaps the mask of a satyr. A plain gold fillet f

Cameo pendant carved in an onyx of two layers, grey and white, with the bust of a lady facing to right, wearing armour and, on her head, an ornately decorated helmet, the upper part depicting a male face, perhaps the mask of a satyr. A plain gold fillet f

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Object reference number: MCN5073

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