Pendant (Christ at the Column)

Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka)
Late 16th-early 17th century
Gold, rock crystal, ivory, and rubies
4.5 cm in height
Provenance: private collection, Lisbon

A devotional pendant consisting of a cylindrical tube of rock crystal protecting a figure of Christ at the Column. The figure serves as a fixing element between the top and the base in gold set with small rubies on the sides and the rosette that constitutes the small dome-shaped top. This pendant “made from gold and small gems from Ceylon” is part of a small group of jewels produced as a result of Portugal’s contact with Ceylon. Its shape derives directly from medieval religious traditions, in which relics or small devotional images were protected within rock crystal. Some Islamic works from the Fatimid period were adopted to protect relics, set with precious metal bezels, usually suspended from silver or gold chains. A rock crystal pendant, in the shape of a fish, carved in Egypt in the Fatimid period, features thirteenth-century silver mounts, probably of French origin, with the inscription “AVE MARIA GRACIA PLENA”. It belongs to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, reliquary pendants in transparent materials, of which rock crystal was the most common, were widely used. This allowed for the relics to be both seen and venerated. The last will of Queen Beatriz, wife of Afonso IV, from 1338, records a “long barrel of crystal, with a silver foot, filled with relics”, as well as a “round box of the same crystal, which has chapiters, feet and bands, and four enamelled silver birds”. The oldest example known that is similar in shape to the present pendant dates from the end of the twelfth century; composed of a rock-crystal tube with gold filigree mounts, it was probably made in Hungary. It belonged to the Wawel collection in Krakow. This typology was well suited for vertical relics, namely for pieces from the Crown of Thorns or even for small images. This form was not only deployed in devotional jewellery, but was also used for religious implements with several well-known examples. Its larger dimensions allowed not only to display the Holy Sacrament but also the bones of saints. This typology developed further during the Renaissance, with gold mounts in the shape of columns. Such is the case of the pendant depicted in the portrait of Anna Vich, attributed to either António Stella or Rolán de Moys, in the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes in Valencia. As mentioned below, European models from the 1540s arrived in Ceylon where they were quickly adopted, giving rise to a unique production for export. However, pieces using gold, rubies and rock crystal were not only made in Ceylon. The same happened in Goa, which makes it difficult to establish well-founded attributions. We know that between 1626 and 1628 the lapidary and goldsmith from Goa Domingos Nunes made eight crystal columns set with gold and rubies “filled with relics” for the Viceroy D. Francisco da Gama. Such documentary evidence attests to how some of the known examples may have been made in Goa in the seventeenth century in a style that was greatly appreciated for almost eight decades.


Taprobane has always been a mythical place in the Portuguese and European imagination, as well as in cartographic depictions. It was the beginning of another world, or paradise. The Portuguese were always in search of precious stones from their early contacts with the island, namely in the Kingdom of Kotte. As early as 1519 they tried to include twelve gold rings in the tribute paid by the king to the Portuguese State of India. Ceylon supplied mainly sapphires and rubies, as well as jacinths and pearls, which were as popular in Europe as in India. Yet the Portuguese soon discovered more than raw materials, as they found jewellery workshops whose production embodied the very idea of abundant wealth, which was always associated with the island. The appreciation for jewellery and other objects set with stones made on the island was unparalleled in other parts of Asia, except for Goa. The Portuguese first became aware of Sri Lankan jewellery traditions when the embassy of King Bhuvanekabahu arrived in Lisbon in 1542 with a view to obtaining the support of King João III in the matter of succession to the throne of the kingdom of Kotte. Among the embassy’s gifts was an ivory casket, with its original gold mounts set with rubies and sapphires, which miraculously survives in the Rezidenz treasure in Munich. In the same treasure there is another of the caskets gifted to the Portuguese Crown, but without its original mounts. The impression that these precious mounts, as well as those of other gifts, and also the jewels worn by the diplomatic delegation, which included a gold figure of the grandson of the king of Kotte who wished to receive the crown, had an unimaginable impact. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Significantly, in the previous decade, a gold and rock crystal casket had been commissioned by Queen Catarina, and sent to Lisbon, but it never arrived. In the manuscript guide kept at the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal on the acquisition of precious gemstones in Goa, dating from the 1580s, travellers are encouraged to purchase “gold trinkets and small gems from Ceylon”. Works that are characterised as being “of lustrous and very well burnished gold with very vivacious small gems”. Although the gemstones were mostly fake or of low quality, such jewels, made by “well-trained craftsmen, nicely made and very lustrous”, could be sold in Lisbon for twice their original value in Ceylon. It was mostly their decorative effect that was praised, more than the material value of the object. Craftsmanship was privileged. The reference to “very lustrous” gold is of no less importance. Ceylon jewellery is part of a wider production centred in southern India where the kundan technique was frequently used, with gold foil strips successively superimposed on a lac body where the precious stones were fixed. A technique that would reach the north of India in the Mughal period, albeit with very marked differences. The “gold of Condena”, as this technique is referred to in Portuguese documents, allowed, without the use of bezels, for a surface covered with numerous small precious stones, almost all of the same dimension, as if forming a mosaic; in reality “inlaid" over a lac body, separated by small lines made of gold. The visual effect is impressive still today, mainly thanks to the contrast of the lustrous yellow gold with the rhythmically placed gemstones.

One of the main reasons for the dissemination of Sri Lankan works was their rapid adaptation to Western jewellery models, such as pendants, combs, thimbles and even forks and spoons – the latter in rock crystal or other hard stones – and richly ornamented. Lust for Sri Lankan jewellers’ work – and I repeat, this was unparalleled in any other regions in Asia – meant that in 1545 the Portuguese queen herself sent one of her jewellers, Diogo Vaz, to Ceylon. This is a very well documented trip, attesting to the special interest of Queen Catarina, which is here summarised, given its importance for all the production destined for Portugal that would follow. In March of that same year Queen Catarina wrote to João de Castro recommending her goldsmith. His primary mission would be to oversee several commissions for the queen. Returning to Goa in 1547, he sent her jewels, of which unfortunately the surviving documents fail to reveal the nature. He returned to Ceylon, for a second time, to Kotte, with a letter from the queen addressed to king Bhuvanekabahu himself, a vassal of the Portuguese, in which she asked for all his support to Diogo Vaz, and to provide him with all the goldsmiths he needed for the production of her new commissions. In this way, we know that the Portuguese goldsmith would have always moved within the royal workshops, and that in his first trip, not everything must have gone as he had wished. In 1549 ninety-nine aiglets in gold and precious stones, to adorn the clothes of Queen Catarina, were sent from Goa. The goldsmith brought with him about a thousand rubies, five hundred emeralds and a large rock-crystal specimen. Unfortunately he was unable to find a second similar gem to make a pair of pieces.

The queen`s inventories, studied in detail by Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, reveal the existence in her wardrobe of countless jewels in “the style of Ceylon”, in gold with small rubies and sapphires. In the quittance given to her jewellery-keeper Francisco Velasquez from 1548, countless pieces are recorded of the most different types coming from Sri Lankan workshops: buttons “of fine gold with many small rubies in the style of Ceylon”, a needle case, a thimble, knife handles, and also an ivory casket given by Infante D. Luís “all carved with imagery, with its gold mounts, lock plate and gold key set with small rubies and sapphires from India”. Throughout the 1570s, D. Catarina remained faithful to Ceylonese workshops. From the carrack Chagas, several works disembarked in Lisbon, such as rock-crystal forks and spoons set with gold and rubies, needle cases, ivory combs and thimbles, all set with gold and precious stones. On board the Chagas there were several pieces of rock crystal, some rough, others carved. These were book covers, vases, plates, cups and pitchers.

Some of these types of objects, for  which a connection to the Portuguese royal collections is impossible to establish, have survived until the present, such as the magnificent spoon and fork in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the ivory combs, possibly from the 1540s in the Munich Residenz treasure or the thimble, the only known example, in the Távora Sequeira Pinto collection, which was at one time in the Dorothy Howell collection and later in that of her daughter, Dorothy Silvester. Between the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, a production of Christian imagery was developed, namely of images of the Child Jesus Saviour of the World or as the Good Shepherd, surviving in several European collections with different features showing diverse origins; not only Ceylon, and certainly Goa. As for personal adornments, a significant as well as restricted set of examples has survived, of which the pendants have pride of place. As a unique example, mention should be made of the bracelet in the Victoria and Albert Museum, made from a thick rock-crystal ring set with rubies, sapphires and applied gold filigree motifs.

The existing pendants follow European-type jewels from the late sixteenth and the early seventeenth century. They are fundamentally cylindrical, shrine-shaped and medallion. All follow the most popular models in jewellery in the Iberian Peninsula, which in itself is very significant and enlightening. Only one whistle is known, belonging to the Rijksmuseum, which is an exceptional work on all accounts. The earliest models seem to be those of the cylindrical pendants, consisting of a crystal cylinder closed at both ends and set with a loop for suspension on top. They are reminiscent, in a miniature scale, of the cylindrical containers of medieval and Renaissance period monstrances and reliquaries, of which the monstrance of Belém is a fine example in Portugal, albeit without its original cylindrical container. The shrine-shaped example, on the other hand, may be the most creative derivation of a type of architecturally inspired devotional pendants. However, being from the late sixteenth century, its shape may be seen in earlier works in Portugal. See, for instance, the detail of the illuminated title-page of Book 7 of Leitura Nova, Beira, from 1538, where a similarly shaped pendant is depicted. The pendant in the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda is clearly architectural, and of a classic repertoire that suggests a Goan origin. The oval-shaped rock crystal medallions seem to be the most recent, and were common from the end of the sixteenth century, with carved ivory plaques in the central receptacle, as is the case of the example in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga.

Let us recall the list of the Ceylonese pendants, as well as those that would have been made in Goa “in the manner of Ceylon” that survive in both public and private collections. The recent interest in this production has made it possible to identify some further examples here listed:


Whistle, Ceylon or Goa, late 16th-early 17th century; rock crystal, gold, rubies, and sapphires (10.5 cm). Owner: Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. RBK 17524. Literature: Hugo Miguel Crespo, Jóias da Carreira da Índia (cat.), Lisboa, Fundação Oriente, 2014, p. 19; Hugo Miguel Crespo, “The Plundering of the Ceylonese Royal Treasury, 1551-1553: Its Character, Cost and Dispersal”, in Michael Bycroft, Sven Dupré (eds.), Gems in the Early Modern World. Materials, Knowledge and Global Trade, 1450-1800, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, pp. 35-64, ref. pp. 41-42 (Ceylon, ca. 1550-1600).


Pendant, Ceylon, late 16th-early 17th century; gold, rubies and ivory (4 cm). Owner: heirs of Américo Barreto. Literature: Leonor d’Orey, Cinco Séculos de Joalharia, Lisboa – Londres, Instituto Português de Museus – Zwemmer Publishers, 1995, p. 22.


Cylindrical pendant, Ceylon, late 16th-early 17th century; gold, ivory, rock crystal and rubies (4.8 cm). Owner: Álvaro Sequeira Pinto collection, Porto. Literature:: Hugo Miguel Crespo, “Rock crystal carving in Portuguese Asia: an archaeometric analysis”, in Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, K.J.P. Lowe (eds.), The Global City. On the Streets of Renaissance Lisbon, London, Paul Holberton publishing, 2015, pp. 186-211, ref. pp. 187-188; Hugo Miguel Crespo, “Cristais de rocha da Índia Portuguesa”, in Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, K.J.P. Lowe (eds.), A Cidade Global. Lisboa no Renascimento. The Global City. Lisbon in the Renaissance (cat.), Lisboa, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 2017, pp. 160-161, cat. 123 (Ceylon, ca. 1550-1600).


Cylindrical pendant, Ceylon, late 16th-early 17th century; gold, ivory, rock crystal and rubies (4.7 cm). Owner: London, British Museum, inv. 1872,0604.900. Literature: Nuno Vassallo e Silva, “Ouro, marfim, cristal e jade. Objectos preciosos da Índia e Ceilão. Gold, ivory, crystal and jade: Precious objects from Goa and Ceylon”, in Nuno Vassallo e Silva (ed.), A Herança de Rauluchantim. The Heritage of Rauluchantim (cat.), Lisboa, Museu de São Roque – Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, 1996, pp. 171-183, ref. p. 177.


Cylindrical pendant (top), Ceylon, late 16th-early 17th century; gold and rubies (3.2 cm). Owner: London, British Museum, inv. OA.4853.


Shrine-shaped pendant, Ceylon or Goa, late 16th-early 17th century; gold, ivory, rock crystal, rubies and turquoise (6 cm). Owner: private collection, Lisbon. Literature: Amir Mohtashemi (ed.), Amir Mohtashemi 2015, London, Amir Mohtashemi Ltd, 2015, pp. 30-33 (catalogue entry by Hugo Miguel Crespo; Ceylon, 16th century).


Pendant, Goa, early 17th century; gold, ivory, rock crystal and rubies (4.3 cm). Owner: Lisbon, Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, inv. PNA 1458. Literature: Hugo Miguel Crespo, “Cristais de rocha da Índia Portuguesa”, in Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, K.J.P. Lowe (eds.), A Cidade Global. Lisboa no Renascimento. The Global City. Lisbon in the Renaissance (cat.), Lisboa, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 2017, pp. 160-161, cat. 124 (Ceylon, ca. 1550-1600).


Cylindrical pendant, Ceylon or Goa, late 16th-early 17th century; gold, ivory, rock crystal and rubies (4.5 cm). Owner: private collection, Lisbon; V.O.C. Antiguidades, Lda.


Oval pendant, Ceylon or Goa, ca. 1600; gold, ivory, rock crystal, rubies and sapphires (6.9 cm). Owner: Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, inv. 868 Joa. Provenance: acquired by the museum in 1935. Literature: Hugo Miguel Crespo, Jóias da Carreira da Índia (cat.), Lisboa, Fundação Oriente, 2014, p. 195, cat. 108; Hugo Miguel Crespo, “Cristais de rocha da Índia Portuguesa”, in Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, K.J.P. Lowe (eds.), A Cidade Global. Lisboa no Renascimento. The Global City. Lisbon in the Renaissance (cat.), Lisboa, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 2017, pp. 160-161, cat. 123 (Ceylon, ca. 1550-1600).


Oval pendant, Ceylon or Goa, ca. 1600; gold, rock crystal, rubies and sapphires (7.8 cm). Owner: private collection. Literature: Nuno Vassallo e Silva, Pedro Bourbon de Aguiar Branco, Luxo, Poder e Devoção. Jóias do século XVI ao século XIX (cat.), Porto, V.O.C. Antiguidades, 2005, pp. 18-23, cat. 2, Pedro Dias, Portugal e Ceilão. Baluartes, Marfim e Pedraria, Lisboa, Santander Totta, 2006, p. 252.


Oval pendant, Ceylon, 2nd half of the 16th century; gold, rock crystal, ivory and pearls (4.6 cm). Owner: private collection. Literature: Hugo Miguel Crespo, A Arte de Coleccionar. Lisboa, a Europa e o Mundo na Época Moderna (cat.), Lisboa, AR-PAB, pp. 198-201, cat. 22.


Nuno Vassallo e Silva

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

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