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hat-ornament / badge

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Enseigne or hat badge; gilt-bronze; circular; Minos, judge of the Underworld (enthroned) deciding who is the greatest hero of classical antiquity: Scipio Africanus, Alexander the Great and Hannibal are seated below Minos. Fire in background. Cast in one piece with wreath border.

  • Date

    • 1550 (circa)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Diameter: 4.2 centimetres
    • Weight: 21 grammes
  • Curator's comments

    Exhibited in BM, Renaissance Medals and Plaquettes of Northern Europe, June-october 1995, no.101. Abstruse literary theme. Two other examples are known: one in Vienna, one in Munich. The subject is taken from Lucian's Dialogue of the Dead. Subject identified by Elizabeth McGRath at the Warburg Institute, who identified this as the subject of a drawing by Giulio Romano at Sotheby's, 4 July 1988, lot 326. See Hackenbroch, Enseigne, p.308.Hat ornaments were worn by men in their caps from the end of the fifteenth century and could be either purely decorative or symbolic. Those of the latter type are traditionally termed enseignes, since they either conveyed the personal intent of the wearer or carried a visible message. This type of jewel finds its origins in the medieval pilgrim badge, an object that was mostly mass-produced and often in base metal. It has been suggested that the transition from this type to a fashionable male ornament is attributable to the arrival of the French king, Charles VIII, into Naples in February 1495. On his cap, the king wore a gold circular jewel and his men had similar jewels (though not of gold) on their caps or sleeves. The Italians soon adopted this fashion and it then spread north reaching most of the European courts. The fashion lasted only until the late-sixteenth/early-seventeenth century, when the wearing of aigrettes became more popular.

    The hat ornament was usually commissioned of gold, and was enamelled or jewelled, or both. A group of gilt-bronze plaquettes in the British Museum’s collection, with the characteristic loops or pierced holes for attachment, suggests that this was a fashion that trickled down to lower classes of society. The majority of these plaquettes show scenes from classical mythology, allowing for the meaning to be understood by a larger audience. This category of objects has been cast, which was a much cheaper and quicker mode of production than those that were commissioned. One of these plaquettes (1915,1216.133) has visible traces of enamel. This combined with the gilded decoration and placed at the apex of the body would have deceived any casual passer-by that this was a costly piece.

    Although this particular object lacks the loops or pierced holes, which would indicate its use as a hat-ornament, the architectural setting on the obverse is suggestive of the designs for jewelled hat-ornaments by the Frenchman Etienne Delaune.


  • Bibliography

    • Hackenbroch 1996 pp.108-109, fig.287. bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number



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Object reference number: MCT8738

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