A rare 17th century bodice jewel, c. 1650-80, of a two-sectioned pendant form in high-karat gold, the front with vibrant green foiled quartz and the back with Afghan lapis lazuli, the body enamel decorated with tulip and floral scrolls. This piece was acquired from SJ Phillips in 1966; the original receipt has been preserved. Pendants of this type were made throughout Europe during the third quarter of the 17th century. Portraits from this period—for example, the c. 1679 portrait of Maria Sibylla Merian by Jacob Marrel, the c. 1656 portrait of a young woman by Isaack Luttichuys—suggest these jewels were often secured to the front of the bodice. A c. 1680 pendant of similar form is illustrated on p. 137 of “Royal Jewels” by Diana Scarisbrick. Another is in the Hanns-Ulrich Haedeke collection (cat. 330). A c. 1650 bottom section with the top element missing is in the Victoria & Albert Museum (M.252-1975). By the second half of the 17th century, the present pendant’s pink-yellow-blue enamel palette became very popular and was applied to diverse subjects, from renderings of exotic flowers—which reflected the era’s horticultural and botanical obsession—to devotional images of saints. The vibrant Naples yellow and Cassius pink enamels were relatively new to the 17th century, with the pink appearing c. 1640 after artisans discovered a method to prepare purplish ruby – pink hues by using colloidal gold.
While most pre-1700 jewels are engraved or enameled on the backside, those set with stones are unusual. The lapis lazuli on the present pendant’s backside was not meant to be seen for decorative appeal, but set so that direct contact with the wearer could ‘activate’ its amuletic powers. A fascination with the magical, medicinal, and talismanic properties of natural materials persisted throughout pre-Enlightenment Europe; all levels of society, from kings to peasants, believed special gems had the power to heal ailments and ward off calamity. For example, Charles V of France owned a ring with “an oval oriental sapphire for touching the eyes”, a gesture believed to heal cataracts. The deep blue of lapis lazuli was associated with heaven and the Virgin Mary; in an amuletic context, it was believed to ward off evil by invoking the divine. Prior to the late 18th century, lapis lazuli was scarce and greatly prized: it could only be sourced from Afghanistan and was frequently ground up to make a vibrant blue pigment called ultramarine, a color so precious its source material was worth its weight in gold (throughout the 15-17th centuries, an ounce of lapis was equivalent of an ounce of gold). Its demand as a color pigment was so great that, aside from cameos and intaglios, it was rarely used for jewelry prior to the 19th century. The present pendant was likely a custom-made jewel of amuletic intent for a specific occasion or recipient. 17th century enameled jewel. 17th century enameled jewel. 17th century enameled jewel.