Lot 224
  • 224

Probably Scottish, circa 1570-1580

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
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  • The Fettercairn Jewel
  • enamelled gold, set with an almandine garnet
  • Probably Scottish, circa 1570-1580


Heirlooms / Fettercairn Estate, 1946, no. 37, 'Gold & Enamel Pendant’


Overall the condition of the pendant is good with minor dirt and wear to the surface consistent with age. The basse taille enamelling to the reverse is generally in very good condition. Consistent with the age of the pendant there are some small losses to the basse taille enamelling, including: to the sky at the top; to the tips of the diving bird's tail; to the flying bird's proper left wing; to the dragonfly next to the seated bird; to Mercury's proper right arm and to areas of the fleshtones; to the tip of his caduceus; and to some of the flowers and vegetal motifs. There are various losses to the enamelling at the edges of the pendant. To the obverse there are some small losses particularly to the white enamel at the edges, and a few small losses elsewhere, including to the green crescent at the top. There are a few small scratches to the garnet. There are various minor nicks and scratches to the gold. There is dirt to the interior.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The emergence onto the art market of this virtuoso enamelled gold pendant represents an important rediscovery for the history of Scottish Renaissance jewellery. The superb reverse panel, émail basse-taille, finds a direct comparison in the celebrated Darnley or Lennox Jewel in the Royal Collection (inv. no. RCIN 28181), which was recently described by Kirtsen Aschengreen Piacenti and John Boardman as being 'one of the most important early jewels in the Royal Collection' (op. cit., no. 280).

The closeness to the Darnley Jewel is such that the two should be ascribed to the same enameller. This argument is substantiated by a comparison between the lyrical figure of Mercury émail basse-taille on the reverse of the Fettercairn Jewel with the triumphant swordsman on the interior figurative plate of the Darnley Jewel. The graceful pose is near-identical, as is the costume, with azure blue cuirass, conical blue helmet with visors, and scarlet boots. The similarities extend to the arrangement of the enamelled scenes across the surface of the gold. Note the sheer proliferation of delicately executed enamelled motifs in a manner that is principally decorative, but lends itself to the iconographic and narrative significance of the scenes. Compare the red volutes forming the throne of the seated woman on the Darnley Jewel with the symmetrically arranged scrolls delimiting the lower edge of the scene on the present pendant. Note also the joy with which the enameller has represented different species of flowers in the Fettercairn Jewel, including daisies, and, of course, thistles. These are similarly conceived to the sunflower which flourishes from a coronet on the reverse of the Darnley Jewel. The opaque white enamel with black detailing of Mercury's obedient hound is very close to the skull and crossbones beneath the sapphire on the Darnley Jewel. Particularly similar is the manner in which the deep blue sky has been conceived with a wavy border, mimicking the scalloped edge of the starry night sky on the reverse of the Darnley pendant. Both jewels are adorned with exotic and fantastical birds, which dive and swoop in a magical sea of motion. Most charming, in the Fettercairn pendant, is the dragon fly which hovers in the space between Mercury's left arm and face, as if in conversation with the god. The identity of the maker of the Darnley Jewel is not known, though he surely must also have been responsible for the Fettercairn Jewel as well. Piacenti and Boardman note that jewellery of this quality was being crafted in Edinburgh and mention the names of three of the city's goldsmiths as potential candidates for the authorship of the Darnley Jewel: George Heriot, Michael Gilbert II and James Gray (op. cit., p. 185). Whilst it seems likely that the Darnley Jewel was made in Scotland, the scholarship remains open to the possibility that it could have been produced by an English or even French enameller. That said, however, the presence of two very similar jewels with Scottish provenances, strengthens the case for them both having been made by Scottish makers.

Pendants such as the Fettercairn Jewel would have been known as 'tablets' in the 16th-century. Whilst it is, in truth, difficult for the modern observer to decipher the iconographic meanings of the finest examples (which were frequently imbued with elaborate symbolism), the 16th-century noble would have easily understood individual resonances. The classical god Mercury, in the present pendant, represents commerce and good fortune - appropriate for a goldsmith (as he is sometimes represented with bullion), but also for a contemporary aristocrat. The jewel may have been conceived as a token for a beloved son or spouse, its symbolism willing good fortune on the recipient. It is likely that the birds and flowers allude to the identity of the family who commissioned the jewel. Most tantalising is the cityscape, which includes a prominent spire, reminiscent of the 15th-century steeple of Glasgow Cathedral.

The probable iconographic significance of the Fettercairn pendant is highlighted by the extensive theories surrounding the Darnley Jewel, which is rich in symbolism. Believed to have been commissioned by Margaret Stewart Lennox, Countess of Lennox, to celebrate the life of her husband, Matthew Steward Lennox, the Regent Lennox (d.1571), the jewel is emblazoned with their cipher beneath a jewelled crown. On the obverse are figures of Faith, Hope, Victory and Truth, enveloped by an inscription which reads 'Who hopes still constantly with patience shall obtain victory in their claim' (Modern English translation). The reverse is adorned with the Salamander from the crest of the house of Douglas, and the three fleur-de-lis on azure from the Lennox arms. Below, the reclining man is believed to represent their son, Lord Darnley (1545-1567), consort of Mary Queen of Scots and father of James VI of Scotland and I of England, who is represented by a sunflower emerging from a coronet, whose head faces the burning sun, symbolic of Queen Elisabeth I. To the interior the figures represent events in the lives of Lord and Lady Lennox, whilst comprising lessons for their grandson, King James.

The superb quality of the basse-taille enamelled detail on the Fettercairn Jewel, which extends to the outer foliate border of the pendant, and contrasts with the elegant, if more conventional, opaque black enamelling around the garnet, cannot be overstated. The use of the garnet in the jewel is also significant as it was believed to have medicinal and magical properties. The almandine garnet was thought to help with feelings of worry, panic, and fear, and to be beneficial to those involved in astronomy and astrology. For a hessonite garnet and peridot mounted pendant worn by Jane Seymour and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna see D. Scarisbrick (op. cit. pp. 51-52). The craftsmanship of the Fettercairn jewel is at a level seldom seen in Renaissance jewellery and represents an unparalleled opportunity to acquire a unique piece of Scottish history.

Princely Magnificence: Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630, exh. cat. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1980, pp.57-60, nos. 31 and 36; R. K. Marshall and G. R. Dalgleish, The Art of Jewellery in Scotland, exh. cat. Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, 1991, pp. 16-17, no. 5; D. Scarisbrick, Tudor and Jacobean Jewellery, London, 1995, pp. 51-52; K. Aschengreen Piacenti and J. Boardman, Ancient and Modern Gems and Jewels in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London, 2008, pp. 183-185, no. 280