Victor Borges is a Senior Sculpture Conservator at the V&A. One day when I was delivering an object to Victor in Sculpture Conservation I noticed he was wearing a chain full of small and curious pendants. Looking at it closer, I suddenly noticed a beautiful small gold pendant in the shape of a Qur’an with Arabic inscriptions. Knowing Victor was from Spain and a Catholic, I was both surprised and intrigued to find out more about how he had acquired these pendants. After hearing the fascinating stories behind all the different amulets around his chain, I asked whether he would be willing to include this particular pendant in my display and he kindly agreed. Here is the story of how Victor acquired this wonderful object and what this pendant means to him.
In June 2016, the V&A opened a new display entitled ‘Amulets, Talismans and Fortune-telling in the Middle East’ in the Jameel Gallery of Islamic art, curated by Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam, Exhibition Research Assistant in the Asian Department.
As part of this display there is a precious little pendant bought by me in the Gold Bazaar of Aleppo during my stay in Syria in the spring of 2010. This amulet embodies the essence of Islam in the shape of a tiny Qur’an, which bears the names Allah and Muhammad on each side, beautifully set in gold on blue enamel.
This pendant is very dear to me. Although I am not a Muslim myself, I carry it on a thin golden chain around my neck with other little amulets and talismans, all of which have a special place in my heart as they relate to cherished moments of my upbringing.
From left to right:
A shell from a Galician beach given to me by my baby niece Claudia, a small gold medal with the image of newly born Jesus given to me by my great auntie Esther when I was born, a Galicia figa, a black jet amulet set in gold, symbolizing a hand with its thumb flexed into the fingers. This is a traditional Galician amulet that protects against witches and evil eye. There is even similar objects in the V&A collection. The last pendant on my chain is the object discussed here.
As a Spaniard and an art conservator, working in sculpture conservation at the V&A, I have always been fascinated by Islamic art and its strong connections to Spanish art and culture.
My trip to Syria where I bought this amulet was to me, an extraordinary encounter. Visiting Damascus, the former home of the Umayyad dynasty before they fled Syria and established themselves in al-Andalus, was a wish come true. While there, I could see and experience first-hand how my culture related to the Syrian’s day to day life.
Among the many fabulous activities and sites that I had the opportunity of visiting were world heritage sites such as the Umayyad desert castle Qasr al-Hayr al–Sharqi in the South East of the country. The striking similarities of this site and castles still standing in Spain such as the Aljaferia in Zaragoza, North East Spain were astonishing to me. Imposing architecture separated by thousands of miles, yet so close in their essence.
At the end of my trip I wanted to take a piece of Syria with me. My choice became clear when I found this beautiful amulet in the shop of an Armenian goldsmith. Surrounded by gold jewelry in his small vaulted shop, he sold it to me while telling me the fascinating story of how he had inherited the business from his father. In a way this blog is also dedicated to him, wherever he might be and his fellow men.
That is how much this amulet means to me.