PROBABLY SOUTHERN GERMAN, AUGSBURG, CIRCA 1600Pendant Jewel with the Christ Child in Majesty
- Pendant Jewel with the Christ Child in Majesty
- enamelled gold, set with diamonds, and a verre églomisé medallion with the Agnus Dei on the reverse
- 9.2 by 6.4cm., 3 5/8 by 2½in.
private collection, Germany, acquired from the above
Creating a highly three-dimensional effect, the multi-layered pendant is composed of a back plate in embellished strap work, which joins with the diamond-set and figural components at the front. Formed around two large C-scrolls at the centre, the back plate shows translucent blue, green and red enamelling en basse taille, and opaque white and black champlevé enamel. The complicated openwork is decorated with diverse vegetal motifs. Distinguishing the pendant from others of its type, its reverse holds a small verre églomisé medallion depicting the Agnus Dei. The jewel’s front is centred by the white enamelled gold figure of the Christ Child with a cut diamond to His chest, holding the diamond-studded orb and cross. Surrounded by diamond-set enamelled gold leaf shapes and surmounted by a diamond three-point crown, the figure is set against layers of richly enamelled strapwork, with a halo behind His head. Three enamelled and diamond-set droplets are suspended from the bottom of the pendant.
By the end of the 16th century, the cross-border exchange between goldsmiths and related artists had led to a somewhat international style of jewellery. Nonetheless, attempts to localise surviving jewels to a particular centre have frequently been made. An origin of the present pendant in Augsburg, or at least Southern Germany, can be argued based on its relation to a series of prints by Daniel Mignot. A French printmaker, and possibly goldsmith, Mignot spent time in Augsburg, where he engraved a series of jewellery designs between 1593 and 1596. Characterised by elaborate Schweifwerk (bandwork) adorned with vegetation and grotesques, his designs for pendants compare closely to the structure of the present jewel (see fig. 1 and Princely Magnificence, nos. G32-34). Similar works incorporating such a structure, and therefore tentatively described as Augsburg or Southern German, include pendants at the Metropolitan Museum, New York (inv. no. 1982.60.375) and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (inv. no. 696-1898, fig. 2). The latter is particularly analogous in form and decoration, equally displaying cut diamonds set in leaf shapes at the front. A further comparable Augsburg(?) jewel, like the present piece a rare religious-themed jewel of this type, is a pendant depicting the crucified Christ with a diamond-set cross in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. no. Kunstkammer, 9022).
The figure of the Christ Child, too, can stylistically be placed among Southern German goldsmiths. For the white enamelling and the gold hair, compare a Blessing Christ Child formerly in the Thurn und Taxis collection, sold in these rooms on 12 October 1993 (lot 1147), and an Eros pendant in the Landesmuseum Württemberg (inv. no. KK hellblau 72), similarly set with cut diamonds. The latter was acquired by Duchess Barbaria Sophia von Württemberg in Stuttgart in 1609 and is said to have a possibly Netherlandish, rather than German, origin. However, many Netherlandish goldsmiths settled in Southern Germany, as did sculptors, such as Hubert Gerhard (circa 1520-1620), who worked for eminent patrons in both Augsburg and Munich. The Christ Child’s stance, physique, and curly hair find an intriguing parallel in the Angel with the cross and crown of thorns from Gerhard’s Fugger Altar (V&A, inv. no. A.23-1964).
The above-mentioned openwork pendant in the V&A, though now described as Southern German, has in the past been thought to originate from Prague or Austria (Princely Magnificence, p. 72, no. 73b). This may have been influenced by its reputed provenance from the imperial Schloss Ambras; it has since transpired that the pendant formed part of the marriage jewellery of the Habsburg princess Maria Christina of Austria (1574-1621), granddaughter of Emperor Ferdinand I. Given its large size, costly production, and rare subject of the Christ Child in Majesty, the possibility that the present jewel could have been an imperial commission is tantalising. The Habsburg emperors and related Renaissance rulers commissioned Kleinode (small precious objects) for diverse purposes: as personal items for wearing and collecting, as gifts of diplomacy or marriage, and even as security for loans (see Princely Magnificence, p. 5). These tended to be ordered from established goldsmiths’ centres such as Antwerp, Augsburg and Vienna, though Rudolf II also introduced the practise of calling goldsmiths to his court in Prague to work exclusively for him. One such artist was the Augsburg-based David Altenstetter (circa 1547-1617), who had perfected the en basse taille enamelling technique on silver. Another was Jan Vermeyen (before 1559-1608), who in 1602 created Rudolf II’s magnificent Imperial Crown, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. no. XIa 1, fig. 3), whose enamelling and use of diamonds relates to the present jewel; compare the enamel around geometrical lines of gold to that of the outer droplets on the pendant, as well as the vegetal motifs with enamelled fruit. These stylistic features reappear in the work of Andreas Osenbruck (active circa 1610-after 1625), who added an orb and sceptre under Emperor Matthias and still produced similar strapwork pendants with figurative motifs in the 1610s, which remain in Prague’s Cathedral treasury (see Prag um 1600, fig. 67).
Whether it was commissioned by a Holy Roman Emperor or Habsburg family member remains speculation, yet an origin within this princely milieu can undoubtedly be argued for the present, exceptional jewel.
Y. Hackenbroch, Renaissance Jewellery, London, 1979, pp. 107-202; Princely Magnificence: Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630, exh. cat. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1980; Prag um 1600: Kunst und Kultur am Hofe Rudolfs II., exh. cat. Kulturstiftung Ruhr, Villa Hügel, Essen, Freren, 1988, pp. 439-452; M. Leithe-Jasper and R. Distelberger, The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: The Imperial and Ecclesiastical Treasury, London and Munich, 1998, pp. 10-20