Guest Blog Entry: Paper and Pearls: Hans Collaert’s Designs for Pendants

In the painting below, a girl dressed in a delicate lace collar stares off to the left of the viewer. Though her identity is now lost, the girl remains enchanting to behold. Framing her face are two pearl earrings and, around her neck, a double string of pearls.

V&A Inventory Number P.52-1962
Gerrit von Honthorst, A Young Girl Wearing a Lace Collar
Oil on oak panel, Utrecht c. 1635.

Simple and beautiful, the pearls add luster to the painting, drawing in the viewer’s eye. Such large pearls as those used for the earrings were rare at the time of the painting, and it is possible that the artist enlarged the ornaments to emphasize the sitter’s status.

In Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, pearls were valued for their beauty and rareness. Traders brought them to Europe from Asia, where local pearl divers harvested them from oysters deep underwater. Women and men across Europe adorned themselves with these gems.

V&A Inventory Number 625-1882
Francoise Couet, Portrait of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotts
Oil on oak panel, England, 17th century.
V&A Inventory Number A 525:1, 1910
Antonio Abondio Don Carlos of Spain
Wax relief in a copper-gilt locket, Vienna, 1570-1572.

In Elizabethan England, the right to wear peals was reserved for royalty alone.

V&A Inventory Number E.3288-1960
Crispijn de Passe after Isaac Oliver, Elizabeth I
Engraving, Köln, 1603.

Across the North Sea in the Netherlands, artists such as Antwerp’s Hans Collaert (c. 1525/30-1580) designed and printed engravings for the production of fine jewelry. Almost all of Collaert’s designs incorporate pearls.

V&A Inventory Number E.4686-1907 (above) & E. 4687-1907 (below)
Hans Collaert, Designs for pendants set with pearls
Engraving, Antwerp, mid 16th century.

Jewellers and goldsmiths working from these designs would have created pendants out of precious metals. The arabesque patterns could have been produced with elaborate metalwork or colourful enamelling. Finished products would have appeared similar to the one worn by the sitter in this portrait.

V&A Inventory Number 4833-1857
A Lady Aged 29 in 1582
Oil on oak panel, Germany, 1582.

Sometimes pearls were used not just as ornamental additions to pendants, but as the occasion for pieces. It was unusual to find a perfectly round pearl occurring in nature, but the irregularly shaped “baroque” pearls were still highly valued and provided scope for creative designs. Sometimes, for instance, designers would use pearls as the body of an animal, as seen in this salamander pendant from the sixteenth century.

V&A Inventory Number M. 537-1910
Salamander Pendant
Enameled gold set with pearls and an emerald, Europe, late 16th century.
In similar fashion to the salamander, Collaert’s series of designs for sea creature pendants provides designs for baroque pearls to be made into the bodies of mythical animals. 
V&A Inventory Number E.2212-1911 (above) & E. 2211-1911 (below)
Hans Collaert, Designs for pendants in the shape of sea creatures
Engraving, Antwerp, 1582.

In these pendants, the beasts and their riders are depicted with intricate and often whimsical detailing. Sometimes the designs referred to specific stories. Such as one engraving that illustrates a passage from the Old Testament book of Tobit, which centres on a fish.

V&A Inventory Number E.2205-1911
Collaert, Design for pendant showing Tobit, his dog and the angel with the fish,
Engraving, Antwerp, 1582.

Such a piece would speak not only to the wearer’s taste in ornament, but also to his or her piety.

These and similar designs retained their fascination with jewelers well beyond the early modern period. Below is an example of a nineteenth century pendant in the shape of a mermaid with a pearl used for her chest. The pendant is inspired by designs similar to Collaert’s nautical engravings.

V&A Inventory Number M.15:1-1996
Mermaid Pendant, gold, enamel and a baroque pearl, French, c. 1890.

Ultimately, not all of the designs in Collaert’s ten-print series would have been produced as jewellery. However, Collaert’s prints were reissued at least three times after the artist’s death and admired for their own artistic merit as well as for their inspiring designs.

2 thoughts on “Guest Blog Entry: Paper and Pearls: Hans Collaert’s Designs for Pendants

Wendy Harwood:

I have a jewel of an enamelled gold phoenix on its nest, with two small hanging baroque pearls. It is made as a pendant, the phoenix has raised wings and wears a jewelled necklace and a jewelled crest, its nest is formed of gold oak branches with leaves and acorns and is also bejewelled with tiny pearls and red stones. The flames are represented by a larger cabochon crystal foiled in pink. I have been trying to find its age, and think it is, or is based on Spanish 17th century jewels. The very odd thing is that I have found that Phillipe Wolfson had created an almost identical Peacock with raised wings in plique-a-jour around 1900. The birds are very similar. I could not think why, unless this jewel was made in his father’s workshop as a neo renaissance jewel…and perhaps there is a phoenix/peacock in the Hans Collaert ‘ Virtuosic designs for Golden Ornaments’….(.which he or his parent will have seen,since Brussels and Antwerp are close). Since you have studied Hans Collaert’s Publications I hoped you might be able to tell me if there is a phoenix golden ornament amongst his designs? I can ask my daughter to go to the V&A Library to search, if you feel I may be on the right track? I am not very agile any more, as I am over eighty, so I do not visit London very often. When I get some assistance from my children I could send you a photo of my jewel if you give me an address. Thank you so much for your help. Yours sincerely Wendy Harwood (Mrs)

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