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Description

This skillfully crafted silver pendant with a figure of the Virgin was likely a pilgrim’s souvenir acquired along the famous pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The pendant is shaped like a small shrine: an architectural niche with an arched top surmounted by a crown. The egg and dart frame and its glass insert can be removed like a lid. Inside, a finely carved jet figure of the Virgin stands on a crescent moon in the orans position. The figure is mounted to a flat backplate with a textile backing, probably faded velvet; a small hole has been drilled near the waist the figure. Ornamental cartouche motifs in relief embellish the sides of the pendant. A loop may have originally been attached to the crown at the top. The piece shows signs of age but is in good condition.

Jet, a gemstone made of fossilized wood, was considered a precious material in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was mined extensively in Spain. The largest jet mines were located around Villaviciosa, Villaverde, and Argüero in the region of Asturias, which lay on the way to Santiago de Compostela, a major place of pilgrimage since the ninth century. Jet carvers were highly regarded artisans and their workshops gained fame with pilgrims. They made beads, jewelry, amulets, rosaries, crosses, and small sculptures to sell as souvenirs to pilgrims traveling from across Europe to the celebrated shrine of Saint James the Great. While imagery of Saint James was especially popular, the Holy Family, the Virgin, and Pietàs were also favorite subjects.

Literature:

A similar pendant is in the Museo Sorolla, Madrid (inv. no. 70045), which is enclosed like a reliquary and contains a figure of Saint Teresa of Avila. A comparable sculpture of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception made is in the Museo Arquelógico Nacional, Madrid (Franco Mata 1986, pp. 131-167, figs. 15-17). For the use of jet in Spain and its history see Gilman Proske 1966; Muller 1987; Franco 2001; and Franco Mata 2005. On pilgrim’s souvenirs from Santiago de Compostela see exh. cat. Wallfahrt kennt keine Grenzen 1984.

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